Birth Defects

That Didn't Take Long: Exide Amortization Hearing Scheduled for June 18th

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sometimes officials can only see the light after they feel the heat. Less than 48 hours after anew map showing 50-years of lead fallout from the Exide lead smelter was sent to over 30,000 Frisco households, and less than 12 hours after a news release made it a story to follow, the City of Frisco posted an update on its official Exide website yesterday, the first since November. It announceda June 18th amortization hearing for the Exide smelter.All it took was hundreds of Frisco voters sending e-mails to the City Council and Mayor less than a month before the next municipal election, reporters quizzing them on when the city would follow-up on their January vote to begin amortization, and a national news story that reminded them of what was in store if they let Exide have its way with their city. Even though it's now set a hearing date, citizens remain skeptical of the city's sincerity, primarily because the Frisco city attorney's office has been openly biased against the amortization process. The FU flier with map that started it all can be downloaded here.  The city's puffy and defensive response that came out at the end of the business day on Thursday is here. By the way, when we asked Jess Mcangus, the engineer at Spirit Engineering in Houston in charge of putting together the map for us and Frisco Unleaded, to respond to Exide's claims that the lead emissions estimates used to draw the map were way too high, this is what he said: "The lead emission totals were derived from Exide's own reported annual lead emissions, and when annual emissions were not available, from the lead emissions from Exide's own permits (reduced by their historic operating capacity).  If anything, the 300,000 pounds of lead is lower that what was actually emitted by the company."  

Frisco Fallout: 300,000 Pounds of Lead

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Frisco Unleaded is unveiling this latest graphic showing of Exide's legacy of lead via mailers going to 33,000 Frisco households this week. Read the archived release here. 

There's an App for That: "Fracking 101" PowerPoint Now Ready to Download

Monday, April 02, 2012


Look over there on the right hand column of the site and now, finally, you can download the "Fracking 101" PowerPoint that Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck showed at last Tuesday's citywide organizing meeting on drilling in Dallas. There are short narration notes at the bottom of most of the slides to help guide you through the presentation. Please feel free to share and adapt to your own purposes. Thanks for your patience. 


Weekly Tuesday Evening Dallas Drilling Planning Meetings Begin Tomorrow at 7pm

Monday, April 02, 2012


Just a quick reminder to note that tomorrow evening theDallas Residents at Risk alliance (of which Downwinders is a member) that sponsored last Tuesday's successful citywide organizing meeting in Old East Dallas will be starting their weekly planning meetings to coordinate outreach and education connected to the passing of a new Dallas gas drilling ordinance. We'll be meeting every Tuesday from here on out until a final ordinance is passed, always at the same central location – the Texas Campaign for the Environment offices, on the 4th floor of an office building in Oak Lawn, right across from Lee Park, at at 3303 Lee Pkwy #402We don't expect everyone interested to make every meeting, but we want you to know where you can find us when you can make it. We're still struggling to get our slideshow to go through the Intertubes  and get posted on this site so you can download it, but meanwhile, here's where you can find all the written materials from last Tuesday's meetings. Some folks have asked if last Tuesday's show can hit the road and come to their enighborhood? YES WE CAN. Just contact Downwinder's Jim Schermbeck through this website at and we can work with you to bring the slideshows and speakers to your part of Dallas. And if you belong to a group of any kind, we encourage you to download the resolution at the top of the page, pass it at your next meeting and let us know so we can add yo to the list of organization endorsing these very basic public health protections. 


Fracking Makes Our Bad Air Worse

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A lot of people may think that the largest public health problems linked to horizontal gas drilling,or fracking, are all water-related. They are not, at least not yet.It's the huge amounts of air pollution fracking generates and its consequences for nearby residents, downwind dwellers, and the planet as a whole that are really pose the paramount risks to the most people. Take smog. Saturday's record-setting ozone levels remind us again that DFW is a 21-year old chronic violator of the Clean Air Act. Fracking generates both kinds of smog-forming pollutants identified by the EPA and the state – Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) from combustion sources, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the leakage and "upsets" of chemicals in tanks, pipelines, and other facilities and pieces of equipment. In 2006, NOx pollution from the gas industry was estimated to be over 68 tons per day by the state. That was more than all three cement plants in Midlothian combined, plus every other large stationary source of NOx pollution in the region. By this year that number is expected to drop by 2/3rds because of new rules by the state requiring more modern diesel engines and less drilling in the Barnett Shale in general. TCEQ believes NOx pollution has more of an impact on DFW ozone levels than VOCs, and so it got more serious about regulating the NOx pollution from fracking. But that theory is being seriously tested. This year, again according to the state, all the cars and trucks in DFW will produce 80 tons per day of VOC air pollution. Oil and gas production in DFW will produce 114 tons per day of the same kinds of pollutants – 34 more tons a day than all cars and trucks combined, and the largest emissions by far from any one industry in North Texas. TCEQ says not to worry about the smog impact of these gas VOC emissions because they're aren't as reactive or volatile as the kind vehicles emit and are less likely to form ozone. Independent scientists and regulators disagree, especially given the volume of the pollution. Denver officials believe that when already dirty air – from other urban areas, or coal plants or cement plants – combines with the VOCs from the gas industry, it actually makes the gas VOCs more volatile, and more likely to form ozone. This phenomenon has never been incorporated into the computer modeling TCEQ uses to predict ozone formation in DFW. In 2011, DFW had its worst smog season in five years, even as the state refused to significantly cut VOC emissions from the gas industry. You don't have to live near a gas well to feel the effects of the drilling going on in North Texas. All you have to do is breathe.  The same VOCs that cause smog are also the most responsible for making near-by residents ill with their toxic fumes. Benzene, formaldehyde, and other VOCs are routinely released or escape from gas facilities. A recent Colorado School of Public Health study found a resident's cancer risks increased 66% when they lived within a half mile, or over 2000 feet from a fracking operation. Many of the chemical exposures recorded residents near wells by way of state-issued hand held canisters are exactly the same ones Midlothian residents found when they used the same canisters to test their bad air downwind of the cement plants when they were burning hazardous wastes. And the official response is the same as well. Despite the fact that the resident is testing the air when he or she is feeling the health effects of air pollution, the levels of poisons never seem to reach above mandated levels of concern that would trigger action. But of course those levels are based on theory and never put to the test in any epidemiological way – except when residents' experience contradict the theory – and then its the residents who must be mistaken, not the theory. If you live next to a fracking well operation, you live next door to a hazardous facility that's capable of generating toxic air pollution just like a hazardous waste incinerator, a chemical plant, or refinery. Finally,  the same air pollution from gas operations that causes smog and sick people also contributes to climate change.  Fracking, along with gas processing, and especially compressors to generate pressure instead of wells and pipelines produce very large volumes of Greenhouse Gases. A recent EPA survey of GHG from all Texas facilities shows compressor stations spewing anywhere from 10,000 to over 90.000 tons of GHG pollution. Industry spokespeople say not to worry because most of this is methane that is relatively short-lived compared to other kinds of Greenhouse Gases like CO2.  The problem with that argument is that while it might have a shorter life span, methane is many times more potent in its greenhouse effect. So much so that a recent groups of climate change experts recently said that the best thing we could do in the short term for negating climate change would be to concentrate on reducing methane and particulate matter pollution. This is most relevant to Dallas because of all North Texas cities, it's the one that has officially pledged to cut its GHG pollution along a specific timetable. Just one compressor station within its city limits and any hope of meeting those goals is lost. So one kind of air pollution from the gas industry is responsible for all three impacts – local, regional and global. That's why the Dallas Residents at Risk alliance has endorsed off-setting, or balancing any increases in GHG emissions caused by the gas industry with industry-sponosored reductions in Dallas that keep our total air pollution burden from skyrocketing. It's the first time this strategy has been advocated and it is the only brand new idea to be included in the Dallas Gas drilling Task Force as a "suggestion" in its cover letter to the City Council. Even its members saw the collision of City of Dallas promises to clean the air with opening the door to fracking. Gas isn't cleaner than coal in DFW. It's just as bad or worse.   

Someone Tell the Task Force: Cancer Risks Two-Thirds Higher Within 1/2 mile of Gas Wells

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

People living within a half-mile of oil- and gas-well fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above a federal hazard standard, according to a new study by the University of Colorado School of Public Health. As a result, cancer risks were estimated toincrease by at least 66% for those residents. Scientists found toxic and smog-forming Volatile Organic Compounds such as trimethylbenzenes, aliphatic hydrocarbons, and xylenes at elevated levels as far as 2640 feet away from fracking sites over the last three years in Garfield County, Colorado. Those chemicals can have non-cancerous neurological or respiratory effects that include eye irritation, headaches, sore throat and difficulty breathing. "Non-cancer health impacts from air emissions due to natural-gas development is greater for residents living closer to wells," the report's press release says. "We also calculated higher cancer risks for residents living nearer to the wells." The report is believed to be the longest-term study yet of gas field air pollution risks but did not look at the full range of chemicals released from fracking operations, which also includes diesel fumes and methane, or impacts beyond a half-mile. "Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural-gas development that has focused largely on water," said Lisa McKenzie, the study's lead author. Most DFW cities have setbacks, or buffer zones surrounding gas wells of only 300 to 1500 feet, with most providing "variances" that allow drilling even closer to homes, schools and businesses. This report should cause all those previous distance requirements to be re-examined and is acutely embarrassing for most of the members of The Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force, who voted to roll back a recommended 1000-foot buffer zone to 500 feet only a couple of weeks ago. That decision looks even more seriously wrong-headed in light of this data. Downwinders at Risk board and Dallas Task Force member Cherelle Blazer kept insisting during the proceedings that there was plenty of evidence to show public health harms as far as a mile away from a fracking site. Here's one more piece. Over at Bluedaze, Sharon cites a local air monitoring study in the Bartonville-Argyle area just south of Denton where baseline testing when drilling was just getting started showed 7 detects of the 84 chemicals  typically tested for by TCEQ. After drilling took off there, testing showed 65 detects of the 84 chemicals typically tested for by TCEQ. This was on the lot where the high school band practices, about a half-mile from gas wells. Gas wells are toxic facilities that should not be allowed to operate in residential areas or close to people under any circumstances. Don't want to see the same threat to your family's health in Dallas? Come on out to next Tuesday's citywide organizing meeting on Gas Drilling in Dallas, 7 pm, at 2900 Live Oak in the Center for Community Cooperation. Download the flyer and resolution on this page.   

"Moderate" PM Pollution in DFW Kills and Maims

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's behind the paywall, but the Morning News and Randy Lee Loftis commit real journalism today in the form of anarticle on the dangers of Particulate Matter pollution, even at so-called "moderate" levels. It's based on two recent studies, inlcuding one we profiled here last week, but then does the right thing by localizing what the results of those studies mean for DFW air quality. The answer isn't pretty. It turns out there were an average of 41 days a year from 2007 to 2011when PM readings at one of two monitoring stations in Dallas were in the range that's associated with increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. By comparison, DFW experienced 38 days last summer when the new 75 parts per billion ozone standard was exceeded. Considering that there are about three times as many ozone monitors as PM monitors in DFW, you can see where some folks might think we have a problem: for more than a month every year, we breathe air that can make us sick or kill us. Unfortunately for future victims, it appears it will take some kind of threat from the federal government, or the courts, or both to make PM pollution as much of a target for control as ozone pollution, even thought the scientific evidence continues to mount that particulates cause much more widespread public health damage. That's because state and local governments risk losing federal highway dollars if they don't try and reduce ozone pollution, or smog. There is no such threat driving public policy regarding any other air pollutant. There are almost 40 posts on PM pollution listed in our category directory for this blog. Many of these summarize recent studies showing how pervasive PM pollution is and how insidious its health effects are. It damages you by being both a piece of dirty soot that can make it hard to breathe, and as a carrier of any number of toxic chemicals that attach themselves when the piece of soot is created. PM can have lead or mercury on it. It can have benzene or formaldehyde. It's a microscopic suitcase for toxins. PM can cross the lung/blood vessel barrier and travel throughout your body, affecting your brain, your reproductive health or your immune system. It's the most underestimated, and under-regulated pollution. Federal standards for PM pollution are stuck way behind the times and need to be updated, but the Obama Administration decided not to go forward with trying to write a new standard in its first term – probably because of projections about how far-reaching the solutions to PM pollution will have to be – taking in everything from cars to power plants to diesel trucks, to cement plants. You've seen the howling from industry over new ozone standards and power plant mercury rules. Imagine the reaction to a tougher PM standard. Yet that is the direction the science is sending us. We've often been critical of the dearth of local environmental reporting in DFW, but this piece today is an excellent example of he kind of work a major metropolitan daily needs to be churning out on a regular basis. Kudos to the News and Loftis.   

Pig's Blood vs. Lead Poisoning: How Serious is Frisco about Closing a Toxic Menace?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Word comes today via the Dallas Morning Newsthat the City of Dallas has referred the notorious Columbia meat packing plant to the Dallas Board of Adjustment to begin amortization proceedings.The plant's crime was dumping pig's blood into the Trinity River .. and using an illegal discharge pipe to do it. While gross and potentially toxic to wildlife,Columbia posed no threat to human health, except maybe to its employees. On the other hand, the Exide lead smelter is spewing lead into the air every day that we know can lead to everything from learning disabilities to hearing loss to death. It's doing this in the middle of a densely populated area. It's doing this despite accumulating a longer record of serious environmental violations than 20 Columbia packing houses combined, including illegally disposing of hazardous waste and dumping lead into Stewart Creek, a tributary of Lewisville Lake, a drinking water source. After initially feigning a move toward amortization on January, the Frisco City Council hasn't been as worried about this toxic threat as Dallas seems to be about its pig blood problem. It's dragged its feet in referring Exide to its own Board of Adjustment for amortization and has so far refused to follow through. So here's our new office pool – which facility will be amortized by it municipality first – the meat packing plant or the lead smelter? Place your bets now and let's see if Frisco is as concerned about lead harming its residents as Dallas is about animal blood in its river. And by the way, there's an election in Frisco in May with choices to replace the current city  council members who seem to be dragging their feet.  

What Causes Autism? Genetics and Pollution are "About Equal"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"….genetic factors and brain changes triggered by man-made chemicals in the environment are equally to blame for the development of autism in young children," according to panelists at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science panel in Vancover as reported in the Irish Times last Monday. Professor Scott Selleck of Penn State is quoted as saying "A number of genetic alterations have emerged as important in autistic disorders but persistent chemicals in the environment including flame retardants and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were also important. The balance of genetic and environmental contributors is about equal. It is 50/50.”  Dr. Janine LaSalle of the University of California, Davis talked about her research on "how exposure to persistent chemicals such as flame retardants could cause long-lived changes in how collections of genes were expressed, for example the genes associated with building neurological networks." She referred to this phenomena as “epigenetics”. That's when the genes themselves are not mutated but they way the genes express themselves is changed. And it can be caused or made worse "by low-level environmental chemicals." LaSalle "exposed mouse models to the flame retardant PBE-47 and polychlorinated biphenyl MECP-2 at minute levels that matched human exposures. It affected both sociability of these mice and also their learning behavior." The article ends by noting that "There were now upwards of 80,000 non-natural chemicals in the environment produced by industrial processes and other sources. Few had been tested for their neurotoxicity despite human exposures to these substances."  Autism now affects more American children than childhood cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. In the last decade, the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum has grown significantly. The Centers for Disease Control now puts the rate at one in 110.

EPA releases Non-Cancerous Half of Dioxin Report

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

After 21 years, four Presidents, countless political battles and lots of pollution, the EPA finally released its health reassessment of Dioxin this past Friday. Like so many environmental decisions from this Administration, the report splits important hairs. While confirming that ultra-low exposures (we're talking 1 millionth of a gram or less) to Dioxin can cause damage to a person's immune and reproductive systems, cause skin rashes and liver damage, EPA says that levels of exposure for most Americans have declined so much over the last two decades that there should be no significant risk. To at least one expert, that was an      "very odd statement." Arnold Schecter of University of Texas School of Public Health, noted that EPA's assurances really didn't jibe "because some people are more highly exposed than average and some groups, such as fetuses and nursing babies, are more sensitive to the effects." What other populations are more highly exposed to Dioxin? People who live downwind of facilities where its emitted – power plants, cement plants, and lead smelters, to name a few. DFW residents live downwind from all three. Exide's lead smelter in Frisco was the 9th largest dioxin polluter in Texas in 2009, releasing more of the poison than industrial facilities many times its size. While most exposures come through eating or drinking animal products that contain dioxin because the animals themselves were contaminated and store it in their fat, breathing in dioxins directly is also a pathway of exposure when you live near a place that burns hazardous wastes, smelts metals, or deals with a lot of chlorinated materials. Like millions of DFW residents. While there was a lot of disappointment by environmentalists at the lack of follow-through on the report, the food industry is sweating bullets over its conclusions. Last year, food industry groups wrote the EPA, stating that  most Americans could “easily exceed the daily [0.7 picogram limit] after consuming a single meal or heavy snack." Now they're afraid safer food advocates will use the report to push for new restrictions on how much of one of the most poisonous substances ever discovered can be included in their food products. Indeed. How unreasonable to expect less human-made poison dreck in your food. No release date for the part of the reassessment dealing with cancer risks.   



In Dallas, Citizens Draw Five Lines in the Shale

Monday, February 13, 2012

Last week, the coalition of local groups shadowing the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force (including Dallas Area Citizens for Responsible Drilling, Dallas Sierra Club, Downwiders at Risk, Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance, and Texas Campaign for the Environment) released a 9-page letter they had sent to Task Force and City Council members outlining five ways to strengthen regulations being proposed for a new Dallas gas drilling ordinance. With only two more meetings left on its official schedule, the suggestions come just in the nick of time for the Task Force to consider. Whether they will or not is another matter, since there seem to be only three or so reliably citizen-friendly members, including Downwinders at Risk board member Cherelle Blazer. Nevertheless, with the release of this letter the citizens have signaled a re-trenching of position as they get closer to the Council actually deciding on what the contents of a new ordinance will be.These five issues will be central from here on out as we see whether Dallas has learned anything from its westerly neighbors' unfortunate run-in with the reality of opening your city to urban gas mining and all that it entails…..1) A 3000 foot setback for residential and commercial properties that is truly protective. 3000 feet is the distance recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers between fracking and dams. If it's good enough for dams, it's good enough for foundations, water mains and other structures at risk.  Since the task force has also decided to allow huge compressor stations on the well pad sites, this distance requirement is also more protective from the toxic emissions and insidious low decibel sound pollution from these kinds of facilities. Recent studies show that distances less than this could pose problems for places like schools.  2) Fully disclosure all chemicals for first responders. Despite industry's assertions, new laws in Texas and voluntary industry disclosure still allows for plenty of "trade secrets" to keep the real make-up of fracking fluid ingredients unknown. This lack of full disclosure poses an unacceptable risk to fire fighters, police officers and medical professionals who will be called upon to show up when there's an accident, emergency or spill. Just this last week, an Ohio paper discovered that a single gas well in that state used almost 500 tons of chemicals. But right now in Texas, there's no way of knowing the identity of all of them, or the volumes and conentrations on-site. Dallas first responders have a right to know when they put their lives on the line. 3) Better protect Dallas water security. The groups are asking the Task Force to recommend that Dallas ban the exporting of its water to other places for fracking purposes (Arlington already does this), to cut-off water for fracking during drought conditions (Grand Prairie already does this) and to charge twice as much for water for fracking because once it's used, it cannot re-enter the hydrological cycle. Already, there's a controversy about how much water Dallas is selling to other municipalities in the region. On the verge of what could be a long-term "drought-event," the city needs to protect its water security from an industry that can use 5 to 7 million gallons per well per frack job. 4) Neutralize Greenhouse Gas pollution from drilling. Dallas has signed a national agreement to rollback its Greenhouse Gas pollution to 7% below 1990 levels by THIS YEAR.  A city-wide inventory of Greenhouse Gases in March will tell us how far the city needs to go to accomplish this, but based on numbers just released by EPA, one gas compressor station could easily surpass all the Greenhouse Gas pollution currently produced by all the stationary sources in the city. Without "off-setting" new GHG pollution from drilling with new reductions, emissions will skyrocket and the city will never meet its goals.  Off-setting is done in DFW by EPA to make sure new facilities don't make things worse. For every pound of new pollution created, the facility has to reduce a pound somewhere else in Dallas. No other Shale city has attempted this kind of regulation, but no other Shale city has made a national commitment to reduce its GHG pollution. 5) Provide a fully-funded, well-staffed and fully-equipped oversight effort. The past ten years tell us it's folly to expect the State of Texas or EPA to provide the kind of 24/7 response to accidents, upsets and spills that is needed to adequately monitor gas drilling and protect citizens and property. Unless Dallas is prepared to spend lots of money on the job that other levels of government are not able or willing to do, it shouldn't even allow gas drilling in the first place…..The next-to-last Task Force meeting is on Tuesday the 21st, from 2 to 5 pm at City Hall 6SE.  Expect more revelations and challenges by the citizens' group now that it's gearing up for a council fight.   

Air Pollution Worse than Smoking for Fetuses

Monday, February 06, 2012

A Swedish study that used relatively clean Stockholm as the laboratory shows that Particulate Matter and Ozone in the air does more damage to developing fetuses than if the mother were a cigarette smoker. "If we add up the effects of being exposed to high exhaust levels and ozone it has an even greater effect than smoking, said one researcher. Specifically, the pollution raised the risk of premature birth above that of smoking moms. This is the latest in a series of studies confirming that levels of air pollution considered "safe" are in fact not for the unborn. 

EPA Dioxin Report: 25 Years Late and Counting

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The EPAmissed yet another deadline for releasing its Dioxin health reassessment report. By the end of January, the Agency was supposed to publish the part of the report dealing with non-cancer health effects, but it didn't do it. It says the report will be out "as soon as possible," but this is the same report that's been due, since, oh, around 1987 or so. Makes you wonder what they really don't want us to know, doesn't it? Dioxin is one of the most toxic substances ever tested by EPA. It's considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and can really mess with a person's hormonal systems – to the point of affecting sexual reproduction and fetal growth. It's also one of those chemicals industry really doesn't like talking about or acknowledging. For one thing, thanks to the fact that it accumulates in human fat tissue, we're all carrying around bits of Dioxin already. Our current body burden might be so high as to render any additional exposures threatening, and so the correct regulatory response would be to severely curtail its production and release. But that kind of talk gets the EPA in trouble with the likes of DOW Chemical (which routinely releases over 7000 grams of the stuff at its huge Freeport plant – 2nd largest source in the US) and other manufacturers, as well as large paper mills. And then there's that little smelter that belches the stuff out right up the Tollway in Frisco – Exide is one of the largest sources for Dioxin in the entire state of Texas. Just last month, EPA reported that Dioxon releases went up 18% from 2009 to 2010, so it's not like the market is addressing the problem. Here's the reaction of Lois Gibb's group to the delay, which they blame on pressure from the chemical industry.      

What's the Largest Source of Dioxin in North Texas?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The chart to the right is a screen grab taken directly from the EPA's own TRI website (Toxics Release Inventory) ranking the largest Dioxin polluters in Texas in 2009. The emission numbers don't look all that big but that's deceiving becauseDioxin is the Black Mamba of industrial poisons. It's so toxic, it's measured in grams and not pounds or tons. It's a carcinogen, wreaks havoc with hormones and immune systems in adults, children and fetuses, and has a variety of other nasty human health impacts. There is no "safe" threshold level of exposure to Dioxin. It's what made Agent Orange so toxic. It's why Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri are federal Superfund sites. Dioxin is associated with hazardous waste incinerators, large chemical plants and paper mills because it's formed when chlorine is heated or burned. Now, knowing all that, maybe you'd think the cement plants in Midlothian would be the largest local source of the stuff. But no. Look at #9 on EPA's list. It's Exide's lead smelter in Frisco. Look at the company it's keeping.  Chemical plants, power plants, pulp mills and refineries. There's only one other North Texas plant in the top 22 (out of 74 total Dioxin polluters in Texas) and that's an aluminum smelter in Commerce. In 2009, the Frisco smelter released more Dioxin than any cement plant in Texas. More than the Valero Refinery in Corpus Christi, or the ExxonMobil Refinery in Beaumont. More than the Martin Lake coal-fired power plant. In 2009, Exide was Collin County's only source of industrial Dioxin. There were no facilities in Denton, Dallas or Tarrant Counties emitting Dioxin. And this high ranking was based on Exide's claim that most of the Dioxin that the smelter created onsite went "poof" after being treated, and left only 2 of 13 grams behind. If the company is fudging only a little bit, it means the smelter could in fact be in the top five for that year. What's remarkable is that all of the other polluters at the top of that list are much, much bigger operations than Exide's doublewide-looking smelter in Frisco. When it comes to the most toxic substance ever tested by EPA, Exide is the little smelter that belched. It produces Dioxin numbers all out of proportion with it size. Since reporting for Dioxin began in 2000, Exide's Frisco smelter has estimated producing over 94 grams, and releasing over 18. That latter amount alone is enough to give every resident of Frisco cancer several times over. But unlike heavier stuff coming out of the stacks at Exide, Dioxin can travel far, far downwind. Way past the smelter's puny "non-attainment" zone.  Way past the Frisco city limits. So next time you see some news about those citizens trying to relocate that old smelter, maybe you won't consider their efforts so provincial, and instead write them a check for helping you reduce your average daily intake of poison.   

What if you were breathing pig's blood?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Some of us are of a certain age where we can't think "pig blood" without flashing on "Lord of the Flies." The current Columbia meatpacking plant scandal in the Cadillac Heights neighborhood of Dallas has all the visceral shock value of the crescendo of the novel, as well as reminding us what kind of savage politics produces those revelations. How many lessons are wrapped up into the potent image of a river of blood? 1) Start with why there are meatpacking plants, chrome plating shops, lead waste landfills, and scrap yards crowded into poor sections of Dallas like Cadillac Heights. Because generations ago it was decided by local authorities that these dirty industries could all be given carte blanche in the worthless floodplain, as well as a free sewer system in the Trinity River. And along with the undesirable industries, they would also force those they believed to be undesirable people there as well – Blacks, Mexican-Americans and poor Whites. This segregation meant that no other neighborhoods had to deal with either problem for a long time. While many circumstances have changed, the Columbia scandal shows how much they remain the same. Just three weeks ago, the Dallas gas drilling task force voted to allow drilling in the floodplains, in part, its members said, because of the kinds of dirty industries already there. We still treat the Trinity River as a big bar ditch. 2) What about the fact that this blood spill would have escaped notice entirely had it not been for a random fly-over by an amateur model airplane enthusiast with a small camera attached? In 2012, with the combined resources of federal, state and local government supposedly protecting the Trinity River as a needed natural resource, it took a guy with a model airplane to catch a flagrant violation of this kind. What kind of chance does such a system have against less noticeable transgressions taking place in the gas patch, Midlothian, or Frisco in the middle of the night? Environmental protection is a do-it-yourself proposition. You cannot depend on the government to look out for you. Also, time to invest in iphones and model airplanes.  3) For all the sensationalism created by the dramatic pictures and "pig's blood" mantra, this kind of waste is pretty tepid stuff for the Trinity. By the time the river gets here, it's already mostly waste effluent from Ft. Worth and other cities upstream.  At least a pig starts out as a living thing. Any pathogens will be destroyed by time and weather conditions, and/or water treatment facilities downstream. Blood is mostly going to suck up oxygen. The internet is full of videos from the last 30 years of fish kills caused by the dumping of untreated or under-treated sewage by the city of Dallas itself. There are plenty of man-made pollutants that still haunt the River, like PCBs, and toxic metals, that are much more hazardous to the river and people than pigs blood. They're there 24/7, but because they aren't color coded, don't get the kind of press the meatpacking plant waste does. 4) You're breathing much worse stuff everyday. Imagine you could color-code air pollution. Because the stuff you see expressed as that brown-yellow layer of smog or haze is only the tip of the iceberg. And it's much, much worse for you than pig's blood. It contains things that can give you cancer, or your child to be borne with birth defects, or cause you to have strokes. or diabetes, or heart attacks. It just doesn't have that "ick" factor. You inhale approximately 2 million gallons of air every year. You drink 200 gallon of water. Nobody is going to drink the pigs blood in the Trinity, but plenty of people in Cadillac Heights and elsewhere are breathing worse stuff everyday because the same savage system that makes it so easy to by-pass a sewer line makes it even easier to slowly and routinely poison people over time with chemicals you can't always see so clearly. "Kill the beast" indeed.   

Tell EPA to Move Forward on Dioxin Regulation

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dioxin is the name given to a group of long-lasting, very potent toxic chemicals. It's the poison that contaminated Vietnam and Vietnam veterans as Agent Orange, as well as Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri as buried chemical waste. It's so toxic, emissions are measured in grams, not pounds or tons. Today, dioxin isn't manufactured. It's a by-product of facilities that use or burn chlorinated materials. Maybe you think dioxin isn't your problem since you don't live near a industrial polluter. Think again. DFW is full of dioxin sources. Cement plants are a huge source. Most of North Texas' six million residents live downwind form three of them in Midlothian. Lead smelters are also a large source. We've got one of those in Frisco. Wastewater treatment facilities – every city has one. Moreover, dioxins are very mobile and travel very long distances where they bio-accumulate in living things, like people and the things people eat, like cows, and the things that cows make, like cheese and milk. As a result, nearly every American has some dioxin in them already. In 1985, an EPA report concluded that Dioxin caused cancer at low levels of exposure. In fact, the agency’s estimate of the cancer risk to humans from dioxin exposure was by far the highest defined for any chemical by any government agency anywhere in the world at the time. An official reassessment was supposed to codify Dioxin's dangers and pave the way for increased regulations that would limit exposure. But believe it or not, that official reassessment, begun in 1994, still hasn't seen the light of day because of industry pressure. Now the folks at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice have begun a petition campaign aimed at EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that they hope will finally get things moving. They're looking for signatures from everybody, not just groups or their leaders, so swing by and sign-on. And if you want more information on what dioxin is, why it's so harmful and what industries produce it, check out the CHEJ's dioxin resource page.   

Old Frisco Gives Way to New in Lead Smelter Votes

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When the break finally came, there was an SRO crowd at Frisco City Hall to see it. Exide had cajoled, told, pleaded with its employees to show up and bring their families and so they did, filling-up the small auditorium before many on the other side of the issue had even arrived. They were Exide's blue-collar line men and women, who worked on the floor in the company's smelter, but don't get paid enough by the company to live in the same city where the smelter is located. They were there, many of them for the first time, hoping that their numbers alone could inspire a last-minute reprieve by the City Council. Filling out the auditorium were half-again as many of the hardy band of Frisco Unleaded leaders and their supporters who had forced the split-up and now came to witness the severing. Old Frisco, or rather the Frisco of Good Ol' Boys, was being left behind. A declaration of independence for a irretrievably modern Frisco was being declared. That's really what this was all about. Although probably close to 100 showed up, only 12 employees spoke. The rest applauded vociferously – but only after the anti-smelter side had taught them the appropriate protocol for doing so. The employees were all wistful for a time when Frisco accepted lead smelting in its midst and welcomed the plant's charity. They felt betrayed by the city's spurning of Exide; it's rejection of the unfulfilled and nebulous "April Agreement" surrounding a piece of legislation that was spoken of as if they were wedding vows that had been broken. The Old Frisco didn't want to break-up, protesting that "We're Married."  But it didn't have a choice anymore. New Frisco had outgrown it. The contrast was too stark now. It just doesn't fit in. And so there had to be a divorce. And that's what the Frisco Unleaded contingent urged – a final break that would end in Exide's relocation. Otherwise, the city would continue to wrestle with the paradox of trying to sell itself as one thing while being quite another at its very heart. After seven months of trying to avoid thinking about this, the Council finally agreed. Unanimously, it voted first to reject Exide's petition of "vested rights" that would have exempted the company from having to apply for a Special Use Permit. All the confidence pumped into the room by the excitations of the novice Exide crowd got sucked out faster than any negatively-pressure enclosure. Then the Council voted unanimously to ask the City's own Board of Adjustment to research and establish the date at which the Exide smelter became a "non-compliant" use of the land.  That date is the first requirement that's necessary to begin amortization proceedings against Exide's smelter, leading to a forced recouping of costs for the company and a scheduled closure. In one fell swoop, the city council had just broken the most toxic ties binding it to the Old Frisco, and opened the way for the single biggest improvement in public health in Frisco history. Six months ago such a step was not even within the realm of possibility. It was made possible by citizens like you. People who used to be Exide's "passive receptors" who are now fighting back in efficient and constructive ways. Downwinders is proud as punch to sponsor Frisco Unleaded, whose members have shown it is still possible to do the impossible. This week at least, we don't think there's any better advertisement for DIY democracy than this group of very committed people. There's a long road yet to go down before we get to a lead-free Frisco, but thanks to them, the city no longer has to carry the lead weight of Old Frisco to get there.   

CDC: Not Enough Info to Know if Fracking is Threat to Public Health

Friday, January 06, 2012

What is the appropriate reaction by policymakers when the nation's official public health agency says that the health effects of fracking natural gas and oil are unknown and should be studied, say for the next five years? Is it to help facilitate more drilling in the meantime, or to freeze activity until we're sure it isn't causing more problems than it purports to solve? That's the question now that the Centers for Disease Control Director of Environmental Health concluded that “We do not have enough information to say with certainty whether shale gas drilling poses a threat to public health.” Certainly, Dr. Christopher Portier doesn't see it as his place to tell policymakers the answer, insisting that “Our role is to determine what the risks are, and it is up to the public to decide if they are OK with that risk.” Given this declaration by the CDC, the choice cities like Dallas, now rewriting its gas drilling ordinance have is very clear. Continue to go down the path of allowing the permitting of new gas wells without any assurance from the nation's public health experts that what you're doing is not harmful, or decide not to open the floodgates in the first place. Fracking causes the kind of damage that cannot be undone. Better to be safe than tragically sorry later. Sharon has the citizen WTF reaction.   

Toxic Pollution Climbed Almost 20 Percent in 2010

Friday, January 06, 2012

EPA has released the 2010Toxic Release Inventory(TRI) numbers and the news isn't good.What are called "toxic releases" to the air land and water increased by 16% over 2009 levels. Particularly disturbing is a 10% rise in dioxin pollution. Dioxin is the powerful chemical behind Agent Orange woes. It's a human carcinogen and potent Endrocrine disruptor. It's so toxic that it's not measured in pounds or ounces, but in grams. It's undergoing a long overdue complete health effects review inside EPA right now that the chemical industry is desperate to delay or kill. Maybe you think this isn't your problem. Think again. Cement kilns are large emitters of dioxin and chances are you're downwind of six of those. Smelters turn out to be a large source as well, but you sure don't hear about that in connection with the Exide lead smelter in Frisco do you? Even though it churns out dioxin in cement plant-like amounts. According to the EPA, 2010's increase in Dioxin is attributed to mining industries – like smelters – and incinerators and cement plants burning hazardous waste.   

Frisco Just Says No to Exide

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

For the first time in almost 50 years, Exide didn't get what it was asking for from the City of Frisco last night. By a 5-0 vote, the city's Planning and Zoning Commission voted to reject Exide's demand that it's elderly lead smelter be regulated only under the zoning regulations of 1964 Frisco, instead of being held accountable to current standards.Although it might not seem like much of a stretch, the vote has a cascade of ramifications, none of them good for Exide. It means that the City is telling Exide that it must get a Special Use Permit to continue operating the smelter. It's also more or less telling Exide there's not a snowball's chance in Hell of the city ever granting such a permit, and that means Exide can't make the modifications it needs to meet a tougher new EPA lead air standard. With any luck, it's also the first step toward amortization and the permanent closure of the facility, although the A-word was not uttered by any city official last night. DMN story here, Channel 11 coverage here, Channel 8 coverage here.You could tell Exide thought it was in trouble because for the first time in the two-year fight, it brought its employees down to Frisco City Hall to fill the chambers and plead its case. Since it's just after Xmas, citizens opposing the smelter's continued operation did not rally their troops in a repeat of their own December 6th show of force, but still managed to have a respectable showing. In fact, when the dust settled, each side had 12 speakers. The important differnce was that 10 of Exide's speakers didn't live in Frisco, and only one wasn't an employee, whereas 9 out of 12 opponents speaking could actually vote in town and their side wasn't getting a check to be there. What happens next? Exide could appeal to the entire City Council at its January 10th meeting, where they know the results will be the same, and then sue the City, or it could go straight to court this week. Meanwhile, Frisco is preparing to remove any doubt about the smelter requiring a Special Use Permit by making sure lead smelters are specifically referenced in the zoning ordinance definition of "hazardous use." That revising of the code is still under way, but could surface at the next P&Z meeting on January 17th. One could complain that City Hall should have done this two years ago when the smelter announced a major expansion, or that Frisco waited only until it was backed into a corner by the company's actions, or that it's been way too coy and secretive with citizens in trying to keep Exide guessing, but we're not going to nag today. Today is about celebrating what very possibly might be the beginning of the end for the last of the bad old lead smelters in North Texas.Downwinders at Risk congratulates the leadership and supporters of Frisco Unleaded on their amazing five-month run of community organizing which galvanized opposition in town as never before and pressed the city to take aggressive action. Might we also give the tiniest self-satisfying pat on our own backs for whatever help Downwinders gave in assisting the effort? Sure. It feels good to win. But we'll let our hair down and party only when the last lead particle leaves the Exide smokestack. Stay tuned.   

Why "Risk Assessments" are not Science

Monday, December 05, 2011

In 1997, Sandra Steingraber wrote Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, a seminal work from the front lines of the anti-toxics fight. Now she's a scholar-in-residence at Ithica College and still writing about how far behind the regulations that govern chemical exposure are to the science being discovered. This gap is most apparent and most harmful when facility "risk assessments" are performed by EPA or the state. Here's an article from the Pittsburgh alt weekly about why that process is so hopelessly out of date and the growing movement to limit our collective exposures from all sources of chemical contamination.  

Better late than never: Texas Monthly does the Perry vs EPA story

Friday, November 18, 2011

TM's Nate Blakeslee gets the assignment to track down how Rick Perry runs against those crazy environmentalists and EPA the way George Wallace ran against those crazy civil rights marchers and the Justice Department. He can't quite bring himself to mention Downwinders' name when establishing Region 6 EPA Administrator Al Armendariz' credentials but we're represented nonetheless as, "a citizens’ group that won a judgment against one of the many cement manufacturing companies south of Dallas, which have long contributed to the Metroplex’s intractable air pollution problems." Nothing much new here, especially for those of us living this story, but it's good to see Perry's disastrous run for the Presidency have some decent side-effects like coverage of his anti-environmental stances. 

Panel Recommends Lowering CDC "Blood Lead Level of Concern" by 50 Percent

Friday, November 18, 2011

On Wednesday, something called the "The Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, " which is charged with making recommendations to the National Centers for Disease Control and the Secretary of Health, voted unanimously to reduce the current warning level of lead exposure in children from 10 micrograms per liter of blood to 5, cutting what's often erroneously been cited as the federal level of lead that's considered "acceptable" in kids. In fact, there is no "safe level" of exposure to lead for anyone. Any amount of lead poisoning is capable of doing some harm – physical obvious harm , or insidious harms to intelligence or behavior. That's why the panel also voted to get rid of the CDC's term "level of concern" all together in favor of applying a statistical bar in its stead. According to the panel's press release, "Based on its conclusions that blood lead levels < 10 μg/dL harm children, the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention (ACCLPP) recommends elimination of the use of the term 'blood lead level of concern.' It recommends the use of a reference value based on the 97.5th percentile of the NHANES-generated blood lead distribution in children age 1-5 years (currently 5 μg/dL) to identify children with elevated blood lead levels. These lower levels currently impact approximately 450,000 U.S. children. This decision ought to bolster Frisco residents' arguments that the middle of town, with at least three schools close-by and the city's Child Development Center just a stone's throw away, in not the best place for an aging lead smelter with a really bad compliance record. One of their frustrations has been the uninformed offhand dismissal of lead's danger to children by the Mayor, some city council members, and staff, who often seem to reflect a knowledge level about the poison that's 15-20 years out-of-date. Not to mention that the city wants to build a huge new park next to the Exide smelter, dredging up contaminated soils and routing Stewart Creek, the contaminated stream that runs right up against one side of the smelter's walls, into the chain of lakes the city wants to be the centerpiece of this new park. The longer the smelter remains open in Frisco, the more of an industrial and economic albatross it becomes. The only question is how long it will take Frisco City Hall to realize that, and then do something about it.  

This Just In: The Current System Isn't Working

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Twenty-two years ago, Congress deemed 200 kinds of chemical air pollution so toxic as to require strict enforcement and regulation of their release on a strict schedule in a speedy way. That hasn't happened. It hasn't happened in a spectacular, why-don't-we-all-have-jet-packs-yet kind of way. The Center for Public Integrity follows up last week's "Poisoned Places" collaboration with NPR with a great dissectionof why the current system of regulating toxic threat is outdated and overwhelmed. It's the best argument for why new chemicals should be required to prove their benign effects up front – BEFORE they get released into the marketplace and we all become lab rats in someone else's experiment.   

Traffic Jams Your Lungs and Brain

Friday, November 11, 2011


Here'a a good summary piece in the Wall Street Journal (sub required, but this link seems to get you past that) about the large number of studies going on attempting to understand how traffic jam pollution affects human health. So far, researchers have shown connections to not only the obvious respiratory illnesses cause by breathing in bad stuff, but also to behavioral development, IQ, autism, and depression. "The evidence is growing that air pollution can affect the brain," says medical epidemiologist Heather Volk at USC's Keck School of Medicine.  'We may be starting to realize the effects are broader than we realized." So true for a countless number of pollutants these days. Which is why it's always better to prevent their creation and release in the first place. 


NPR Focuses on Haz-Waste Burning in Kilns, with an Assist from Downwinders

Friday, November 11, 2011


As part of its "Poisoned Places" series this week, NPR ran a story in association with Slate Magazine and the Center for Public Integrity on Thursday that focused on the cement industry's "permission to pollute" when it comes to burning hazardous waste in kilns that were never designed for that job. Focusing on the 100-year-old Ash Grove cement plant in Chanute, Kansas, the producers explain how "Unlike hazardous-waste incinerators, cement kilns built or rebuilt before 2005 can release 43 percent more lead and cadmium, as much as twice the hydrocarbons, close to four times the hydrogen chloride and chlorine gas, and twice the particulate matter, according to EPA standards. Altogether, 13 kilns in six states operate under those standards and can emit toxics at those levels."  One can imagine the trouble local concerned citizens, led by the Galemore Family, have in trying to take on not only the largest industry in town, but one that's been there for a century, where their opponents labeled them "the Chanute al-Qaida." It's a situation Downwinders knows well from working in the company town of Midlothian for so long. But at least we were in a major media market and a metropolitan area downwind of the plants. The folks in Chhnute are out in the middle of a media desert, with no local Sierra Clubs to help them, no downwind cities who get the air pollution but not the tax base. All alone. That's one reason why we sent reporter Sarah Harris to Chanute for this story over a year ago. We met Sarah, a Dallas native, when she was doing a student media project that focused on cement plant pollution in Midlothian. Seeking to follow that up with a piece she could get published in the national media, we told her about the folks we had just met in Chanute and their plight. We urged her to visit the town and find out what it was like. She did. And about the same time, producers for NPR were looking for stories that focused on unusual toxic problems in the US. And that's how the story of the haz-waste-burning cement plant in Kansas ended up on national radio and in a national magazine by way of Downwinders. We Kilnheads have to stick together. 


Correction: Explaining the Two "Watch Lists" Featured in NPR's "Poisoned Places"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

In trying to get the news out quickly about the four-part NPR/Center for Public Integrity series on toxic pollution in America titled "Poisoned Places," we didn't do a very good job of explaining the origin and purpose of the two different "watch lists" that the reporters discovered and publicized.  In fact, we're pretty sure we got it dead wrong. So here's a second try. There's a list that was begun by the Bush Administration in 2004 that included what the EPA considered "high priority violators" nationwide. As of September, this list was about 1600 names long. In North Texas, TXI, Holcim, Ash Grove, Exide, Magnablend, the GM plant, the Bell Helicopter plant, and over 100 other sites are included on this longer "high priority violator" list. There's a second, smaller "watch list" of 464 facility names of facilities nationwide with on-going violations, but which no administrative action has been taken to resolve. This is the list that only two North Texas sites are on – GE Engine in Ft. Worth and Ash Grove Cement in Midlothian.  National Map of the 1600 sites is here. State map of the Texas sites on the 1600 list is here.   

DFW full of "Poisoned Places"

Monday, November 07, 2011

Stung by criticism that it wasn't doing enough about cracking down on chronic polluters, and facing a tough re-election fight, the Bush Administration in 2004 established a secret "watch list" to help it identify the worst bad actors. If, after nine months of knowing about a critical environmental violation at a faclity, there still hadn't been any enforcement action, the facility took its place on the list. As of September of this year, that list had grown to 1,600 facilities. Thanks to NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, you can look at andinvestigate a map of the US identifying those 1600 plants, including over 100 in the DFW area when you use the Zoom tool the NPR website provides. Many names are familiar – TXI, Holcim, Ash Grove and the Ameristeel steel plant in Midltohian all make the list, as does the Exide lead smelter in Frisco, as doesMagnablend, the Waxahachie plant that just blew up, as does places you might suspect like the GM plant in Arlington or the Bell plant in Ft. Worth, However, there are lots and lots of places that maybe you haven't suspected, like the Americhem plant in Mansfield, or Valley Solvents and Chemicals in North Ft. Worth. The sites on the list are rated 1 to 5 on a EPA "Risk Factor Scale," with 5 being the maximum risk. All of those sites we just listed are all rated at Risk Factor 5 – that is the combination and/or volume of chemicals released make them among the most dangerous sites on that "watch list." But wait, there's more. Within this larger watch list, there's a second, more selective list of REALLY bad actors that numbers 464. Almost 10% of those sites are in Texas, but only two are in DFW: GE Engine Services on FAA Blvd. in Ft. Worth and our good friends at Ash Grove Cement. You remember Ash Grove – the owners of the last obsolete wet kilns in Texas that refuse to modernize their cement plant just south of DFW. As we remarked on Monday when DFW officially replaced Houston as the "Smog Capital of Texas," DFW hasn't historically been associated with dirty air and dirty industries the way the Gulf Coast has been. Unfortunately, that's changing.   

These POPs Also Last a Long Time and Can Cause a Lot of Damage

Thursday, October 13, 2011

POPs – "Persistent Organic Pollutants" are bad chemicals that can stick around in the environment or your body for a long time. They include things like PCBs, Dioxins, DDT, and other endocrine-disrupting substances that are emitted when fossil fuels, hazardous, and even "non-hazardous' wastes are burned, as well as being consumed through the food you eat, the kind of container you eat it from, or on, and the water you drink. Locally, the Midlothian cement plants, gas field mining and even the lead smelter in Frisco (which reports releasing more dioxins than some of the cement plants) are are large sources of these kinds of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. A new Chinese study links these POPs to neural tube (brain and spinal cord) defects in newborns, while others point to the contaminants as a reason for lower fertility rates among couples, with research suggesting that even the low levels of PCBs found in the general public were "adverse to early pregnancy outcomes."   

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