Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awards grant to Texas A&M and Downwinders at Risk for Joppa Environmental Health Project

Monies will fund unprecedented study of link between health and air pollution in Dallas Freedman’s Town;        first effort of its kind in Texas

What’s believed to be the single largest environmental health research investment in a Texas neighborhood was awarded today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to examine the links between human health and air pollution in the Joppa community of Dallas.

Texas A&M and Downwinders at Risk’s Joppa Environmental Health Project was selected as one of only 16 national proposals funded by the Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders grant. Between now and 2022, over $350,000 will be spent by Texas A&M scientists trying to understand the correlation between Particulate Matter air pollution and the health of the Freedman’s Town’s residents.

“Many members of the community have repeatedly advocated for scientific answers to the troubling questions they have about the connection between their health and the air they breathe. Our intent is to finally provide them,” said Misti O’Quinn, Downwinders’ Community Liaison for the Project.

Cecilia Wagonner, a member of the Joppa church that hosted a community meeting on air pollution monitoring last December, was enthusiastic about the news. “I want to know the truth and nothing but the truth about air quality in our historic neighborhood. This is definitely good news. Let environmental justice be served.”

Per capita, Joppa is the most polluted neighborhood in Dallas. On one side is the Trinity River. On the other three sides are an asphalt batch plant, Railroad switch yard, large asphalt shingle factory, a concrete batch plant, and Interstate highway. It’s directly downwind from the largest methane air polluter in Dallas – the City’s McCommas Landfill methane energy recovery unit.

Since PM air pollution monitoring began there on August 31st as part of the new SharedAirDFW air monitoring network, Joppa’s PM levels have averaged significantly higher than other sites.

Two Texas A&M scientists based in College Station will lead the new Project. Dr. Natalie Johnson, is an A&M toxicologist specializing in the health effects of Particulate Matter air pollution, and Dr. Ping Ma, is an A&M behavioral and social science researcher who previously worked at Dallas Children’s Hospital specializing in health disparities and social determiners of health. Downwinders will assist with community canvassing and outreach efforts as well as provide technical support through its 11-Joppa based SharedAirDFW network monitors.
They’re now all charged with collecting evidence to discover whether Joppa has higher rates of PM air pollution and health problems than other communities, and understand how differences in daily levels of PM affect residents’ health.

“PM represents a significant ‘unseen’ health risk related to cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, including lung cancer and asthma, as well as effects on infant development and brain health,” said Johnson. “SharedAirDFW’s real-time pollution monitors will help make this threat ‘seen.”

Ping pointed out the study will be the first academic-community collaboration of its type in Texas. “Our findings will facilitate understanding of the air pollution risks Joppa residents face as well as generate community-based solutions to help create a new culture of environmental health in Joppa.”

Participants chosen for the IRL process also become students who receive training in the latest research methods and constant feedback from panels of experienced scientists and experts.

Grant monies will pay for staff time, graduate assistants, technology, travel, and community outreach over a three-year period.

Some invitations have already been sent to Joppa residents and representatives of community institutions such as churches and civic groups to form a Community Oversight Committee for the Project. Others will be sent in the coming months. This Oversight group will, in turn, be aided by a DFW-based pool of experts and advisors also being assembled, including those already working in Joppa like the UTA School of Architecture, Paul Quinn College, and Habitat for Humanity.

The IRL grant is the first research project attracted by the SharedAirDFW regional air monitoring network that debuted in September, but Jim Schermbeck, Director of Downwinders, predicted it wouldn’t be the last. This network makes all kinds of new comparisons and studies possible. In this case, residents and researchers are using it to document Joppa’s air pollution burdens and assist residents in relieving those burdens. That’s  a first for Dallas, and Texas.”

From now until the end of the year the Project partners will be assembling their local contacts, refining their timeline and methodology, and getting ready to begin research in early 2021.

Help us Move Shingle Mountain


Choate Street families in Southern Dallas, including this child, and Ms. Marsha Jackson (pictured above) are still living under 100,000 plus tons of hazardous waste that was illegally dumped without their knowledge or consent.

It’s been almost three years since dumping began and two since the residents forced the dumping to stop, but the Mountain still remains, causing respiratory and neurological health problems for everyone on the street.

Shingle Mountain remains despite the City of Dallas having the legal authority and money to remove it. The City has had both for the entire three-year existence of the dump but has chosen to delay a clean-up in order to try to get the original operators to pay for it. That’s hasn’t happened.

On August 5th an alliance of over 30 groups, including Downwinders, sent a letter to the Dallas City Council and City Manager stating that if the City did not begin removing Shingle Mountain by October 1st, they would begin to do it themselves.

On August 29th, many of those same groups participated in the Shingle Mountain Accountability Convoy, a mobile four hour protest that saw the conviction of five elected officials for “reckless disregard for human life”  in mock trials with the Shingle Mountain float as a centerpiece.

10 days later the City put out a bid request for the job of removing the waste from Shingle Mountain. That process is over on October 5th. Despite this positive development the Dallas City Manager stated THIS WEEK that it would still be 2-3 months before an actual clean-up began.

THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE.

Downwinders and other groups are asking you to help respond to this continued delay in TWO ways:

1) CLICK HERE to send an email message to the Dallas City Council that says “Move the Mountain Now!”

It’s already written and addressed at our website’s “Featured Citizen Action”  – all you have to do is fill in your contact information and click and away it goes. You can add your own message if you like as well.You may not be able to do much else right now, but you can send an email on behalf of these families.

2) Attend the Shingle Mountain Non-Violent Civil Disobedience training session This SUNDAY 2-5 pm

For the first time in our 26-year history we’re endorsing civil disobedience and training people who want to put themselves at risk of arrest on behalf of the Shingle Mountain families and those that want to support them when they do.

Last Sunday was our first training session. It attracted 20 people. We’re hosting another training session THIS SUNDAY 2-5 pm in Dallas at the GoodWorks
Co-Working space where Downwinders is headquartered.
Masks are required and social distancing will be enforced. Training will occur outside.

In 2019, the threat of civil disobedience by Choate Street residents and their supporters was the only thing that got the City of Dallas to change its mind and close down active operations at Shingle Mountain. After another year of trying to
clean-up this on-going disaster with meetings, we’re tired of the City’s willful neglect and cruel delay that’s harming human health. We need to again show we’re willing to go to the mat for this outrage.

You don’t have to be sure you want to risk arrest. You just have to want to help. Support roles for those getting arrested are critical. Whether you want to risk arrest or provide support you must have this training.

Just having more names on this list will send the City an important message. Please consider showing up and adding yours. Thanks.

THANK YOU!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THANK YOU!

70 Downwinders contributed over $8500 in 2020’s second Giving Day and we’re very appreciative. The funds raised during Giving Day are dear to us because they come with no strings attached. We can use your support to fill in gaps, supplement existing campaigns (hello Shingle Mountain float), and take chances to further help those that need it most. A very sincere thanks to our supporters who continue to come through for us despite 2020’s adversities. We promise to squeeze as much Change as we can from every dollar.

A Citizen’s Guide to a Citizen’s Air Monitoring Network

When you click on the new SharedAirDFW.com site, the default setting shows you the location of the SharedAirDFW monitors and the real time wind direction and speed.

 


 

The Menu gives you a choice of three different PM monitor networks to look at: SharedAirDFW, the EPA, and Purple Air. You can look at them one at a time or all at once.

 


 

The menu also allows you to see where all the major air pollution permits are located in the City of Dallas. Click on the black dot and it reveals the name of the air pollution permit holder as well as the volume of pollution in tons per year reported in 2018 (the last fully reported year). We only have this mapped inventory of air polluters because of the Paul Quinn College report “Poisoned by Zip Code.” The City of Dallas has no such inventory or map.

 

 


When you click on a SharedAirDFW monitor site, you’re able not only to see the current PM levels, but the last 24 hours of data as well. Click “more data” at the bottom and you can look at what levels were recorded during any period of time the monitor was operating by adjusting the start and stop times on the pop-up calendars.

Joppa Air Monitor Already Providing Evidence of Why It’s Needed

Since it began collecting data on the afternoon of August 31st, the Joppa Zion Mothership monitor has consistently recorded the highest average levels of PM among all the deployed SharedAirDFW monitors, as well as all EPA and Purple Air monitors in DFW. These bar charts show the level of PM recorded from most of the current SharedAirDFW network monitors from 8/31/20 to 9/14/20. They’re all accessible to the public through the site.

A New Era for DFW Air Quality and Downwinders at Risk

The SharedAirDFW network map displaying monitors from all three monitor networks and major Dallas air polluters identified.

The debut of the SharedAirDFW Network means
21st Century air monitoring finally arrives in North Texas

After three years, and many thousands of hours and dollars, citizens have their own

regional air quality monitoring system.

It’s easy to use, operates in real time, and its monitors are being put where the pollution burdens are greatest.

 

The Joppa Zion Mothership Monitor: on the Network’s digital map and on its pole after deployment. 
Since operation began 8/31, it’s consistently shown higher levels of PM air pollution than other monitors in Dallas.   
By January they’ll be 11 more monitors joining it in the Freedman-founded community.

 

A three-year high-tech collaboration between the University of Texas at Dallas, Downwinders at Risk, the City of Plano, Dallas County, Dallas College, and Paul Quinn College came to fruition today with the official debut of the the SharedAirDFW Network –  online, and with an outpost in one of the most polluted neighborhoods in North Texas.

It becomes the first and only regional “hyper-local” air monitoring network in Texas and one of the only ones being built by any US city.

“This network is the purest, most dramatic expression of our 26-year old goal to provide citizens with the tools government won’t,” said Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck, who’s helped shepherd the Network since it was a National Science Foundation grant runner-up in 2017. “We see SharedAirDFW’s debut as the public health equivalent of turning on electric streetlights for the first time at the turn of the 20th Century. We’re building a utility  – the full impact of which won’t be realized for years.”

Dave Dabadeen, Kevin Owen, and  Jay Smith – our monitor installation team, deploying one of 11 solar powered satellite monitors in Joppa.

Debuting with eight Particulate Matter (PM) air pollution monitors located from Richardson to Southern Dallas and Mesquite to Fort Worth, the network is scheduled to install over 100 more in the next 12-24 months, including blanketing Dallas neighborhoods whose residents say they’re already breathing bad air but have no way to prove it.

In the last decade published research on the human health effects of exposure to Particulate Matter air pollution has linked it to a variety of illnesses and diseases, including developmental impacts such as Autism, Parkinson’s, Dementia, and IQ loss. These effects have been documented at exposure levels well below U.S. EPA regulatory limits.

All the monitors in the network were built at the Physics Laboratory at the University of Texas at Dallas campus in Richardson. They’re being distributed to members either in clusters of 11, with one larger hard-wired “Mothership” accompanying ten smaller solar-powered ones or the Mothership as its own stand alone unit.

ALL DFW PM MONITORS DISPLAYED ON A SINGLE MAP
PM Air pollution data collected from those monitors, along with information from EPA and DFW Purple Air monitors, are displayed in real time on a digital map accessible to anyone online at www.sharedairdfw.com. For the first time, a single website displays all the online monitors networks collecting PM air pollution data in North Texas on the same map.  Besides UTD, Downwinders at Risk, Dallas College, and Dallas County will be displaying the SharedairDFW map on their own websites.

Only Particulate Matter air pollution levels are shown by the SharedAirDFW       map now but larger monitors will also be capturing Ozone, or Smog levels. At some point in the near future, that data will also begin to be            displayed on the Network map.

MAPPING OF MAJOR POLLUTERS
Also on display are the locations of the major air polluters in the City of Dallas, along with their self-reported pollution volumes – a first-ever inventory of Big D’s air polluters that no level of government currently provides.

MANY MORE MONITORS IN MANY MORE PLACES
Currently there are only six EPA monitors for Particulate Matter Air pollution in all of North Texas, and only 12 Purple Air monitors online. With the ability to saturate neighborhoods with almost a dozen monitors apiece, SharedAirDFW allows residents, researchers, and policymakers to better pinpoint pollution plumes and health risks.

REAL TIME DATA
For the first time there’s a way for DFW residents get air quality information in real time instead of waiting for up to two or three hours at government monitor sites. The SharedAirDFW monitors display their readings every 30 seconds, 24 hours a day.

AN EMPHASIS ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
For the first time there’s year-round, calibrated air quality data being collected in Dallas’ most polluted neighborhood – the Joppa community in Southern Dallas along the Trinity River.
The “Joppa Zion Mothership” – named for the adjacent Church – began transmitting on Monday August 31st. It’s linked to two additional “satellite” monitors that began transmitting this last weekend. By January they’ll be 11 monitors in Joppa, making it the most densely monitored neighborhood not just in Dallas, but all of Texas.

Joppa’s monitors are the first of 33 air monitors Downwinders at Rik is deploying in so-called “fence line” locations. After installation in Joppa is completed, another 11 will be installed in West Dallas, and then in and around Midlothian as well.

In the two weeks since the first Joppa monitor was installed, it’s consistently recorded higher levels of PM pollution than other monitors in the SharedAirDFW network as well as local EPA and Purple Air monitors. Schermbeck said those results vindicate the decision to locate monitors in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods disproportionately burdened by their proximity to industrial polluters. “Our monitors are going where people are most harmed by air pollution, but least able to do something about it.”

D Magazine on Marsha Jackson’s Lawsuit

D with the first story about Marsha Jackson’s lawsuit….”the suit blames the city for (Shingle Mountain’s) existence. It says existing deed restrictions should have blocked the city from issuing a certificate of occupancy, but the operators got one anyway. The city didn’t require the operator to get a special use permit or even have a site plan, it alleges. More broadly, it says the city’s zoning purposely steers similar sites to Black and Latino neighborhoods and, despite having removed other large polluters away from nearby developments like Trinity Groves, has refused to do the same for Shingle Mountain.”

https://frontburner.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2020/07/the-city-is-now-being-sued-to-remove-shingle-mountain/

 

Downwinders Invited to Help DISD Write New Environmental Policies

Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck is joining eight other area environmentalists in helping to produce an environmental and climate plan for the Dallas Independent School District.

Schermbeck was appointed by District 8 School Board Trustee Miguel Solis to the newly formed DISD Environmental and Sustainability Committee, which had its first (virtual) meeting two weeks ago. Molly Rooke from the Dallas Sierra Club, Mellan West from the North Texas Renewable Energy Group, former DISD teacher Bill Betzen, and Aaryaman Singhal from the local Dallas Sunrise Movement chapter are also members. Trustee Ben Mackey and DISD staff are leading the effort.

According to the resolution passed by the District back in February, the group is officially charged with the job of recommending “goals and progress measures, along with specific recommendations for acting on climate change that are within the purview of the District, such as: Curricular and Educational Opportunities; Facilities and Operational Priorities, including bond projects; Transportation and Food Services.”

Committee members will be meeting as a whole and in subcommittees from now until they make their final report by November 1st. Between now and then they’ll be community meetings to receive feedback in August and September.

Since 2018, Downwinders has been pushing for full electrification of all DFW bus fleets a a way to address both the climate crisis and reduce PM pollution. Diesel and natural-gas powered buses are a significant source of PM exposure – from their tailpipes on the outside to the PM that migrates to their interiors. DISD owns the largest fleet of school buses in North Texas. None are electric and the school board just voted to buy hundreds of new diesel buses last year. So Schermbeck and the other electrification advocates have their work cut out for them.

Schermbeck will advocate for that agenda as well as other issues like less plastics use and landscaping to mitigate air pollution. He’s also hopeful the group can address how to extend their recommendations out into the neighborhoods surrounding schools via a new proposal that’s part of larger school bond package up for approval by voters in November.

A brainchild of Solis, the effort ties a portion of facilities improvement monies to providing community needs at DISD school campuses in neighborhoods suffering the greatest lack of services and resources.

Solar panels on the Casey Middle School in Boulder, CO.

$40 to $50 million out of the bond’s whopping total of $2 billion is expected to be earmarked for this effort, distributed over just four school feeder routes at first: LG Pinkston High School in West Dallas; Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Oak Cliff; Lincoln High School in South Dallas; and H. Grady Spruce High School in Pleasant Grove.

The idea is for the school district to extend itself into the community sending its students to its schools, and in doing so help fulfill an identified community need. For example, a school in the middle of a food dessert could help build a grocery store on school property. A school in an area that suffers from a high rate of childhood asthma could build a new family health clinic. Solar or electric bus battery electric power generated at a school site could be sold to surrounding residents at a reduced rate.

As far as anyone can determine, Dallas is the first school district in the nation to try something like this. Its creation is far from certain – the bond package is already encountering opposition because of its size – but the District’s willingness to be creative is admirable.

Even if the new bond goes down to defeat they’ll be a list of new environmental policy recommendations left by the Committee to implement in current facilities and operations. With any luck those will also be pushing the envelope. Stay tuned.

Citing Overt Racism, Marsha Jackson Sues Dallas over Shingle Mountain

Marsha Jackson in front on one of the smaller piles
of ground-up shingles next door to her house assaulting her health.

Arguing that the City Of Dallas has always had the authority to clean-up the huge illegal Shingle Mountain dump in Southern Dallas, but chose not to because it’s in a predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood, lawyers for Marsha Jackson added City Hall as a defendant in their federal lawsuit.

Dallas joins the Rogue’s Gallery of grifters, including former operator/con man Chris Ganter and his accomplice landowner Cabe Chadick, being sued by Jackson’s lawyers, famed civil rights attorneys Mike Daniel and Laura Beshara.

At issue is the creation and continuing health threat caused by Dallas’ largest illegal dump – a 100-foot high, 100,000 ton pile of asphalt shingles that began surrounding Jackson’s house in Janury of 2018.

Speaking on behalf of Jackson’s in their amended complaint filed July 8th Daniel and Besharal state, “The City, along with the operator and owner, is responsible for the existence of Shingle Mountain.” The trail of official negligence they document backs that claim.

This 100 foot, 100,000 tons Mountain of used asphalt shingles is STILL in Jackson’s backyard.

Shingle Mountain’s operators were in violation of numerous city regulations and laws the day it opened. They violated a specific deed restriction put in place to prevent the very dumping from which they profited. They didn’t have a required Special Use Permit. They didn’t have any solid waste or storm run-off permits. They had no pollution permits to spew asphalt dust into the air by the tons. And they had set up shop in a floodplain which made the entire business an illegal use. Incredibly, the City of Dallas issued the dump a Certificate of Occupancy anyway.

But the suit does more than document the specific abuses leading up to the creation of the Shingle Mountain crisis. It also cites a pattern of racist zoning the City knowingly put in place that practically rolled out the red carpet for the con men responsible for the dump.

The City Council deliberately changed the zoning on the Shingle Mountain dump site to the heaviest industrial zoning possible despite knowing that Ms. Jackson’s home and other homes were adjacent to the site. The City changed the zoning knowing that the heavy industrial zoning adjacent to the homes violated City zoning policies.

The distribution of industrial zoning in Dallas is based on the legacy of redlining Black and Brown neighborhoods that were pushed to the banks of the Trinity River.

Jackson’s suit points out there are no industrial dumps in predominantly White residential neighborhoods in Dallas. The City Council hasn’t approved or contributed to the presence of illegal dumps in predominantly White residential single-family neighborhoods. The City hasn’t issued permits in violation of deed restrictions and doesn’t impose heavy industrial zoning adjacent to single family homes in predominantly White residential neighborhoods. There are no Shingle Mountains or any illegal dumps in a predominantly White residential neighborhoods in Dallas. With only one limited exception there’s no industrial zoning adjacent to ANY predominantly White neighborhoods in Dallas.

It also cites several example of when the City moved quickly to pay for contaminated sites…when developers requested it. In 2010 the Dallas City Council expended over $1 million in City funds to provide for the removal of lead soil contamination for the construction of Belo Garden park downtown. In 2015, the Dallas City Council paid $2.5 million in City funds to relocate and remove the Argos batch plant out of the newly gentrified “Trinity Groves” district and relocate it deeper into West Dallas where it’s adjacent to Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

But in 2019, when Marsha Jackson requested funding for the clean-up of Shingle Mountain because of escalating health problems, the Dallas City Council refused.

Black asphalt dust covers the entire exposed top of the Downwinders’ portable monitor that recorded alarming levels of PM pollution. Despite pleas from residents, the City of Dallas has never monitored the air at the dump.

As a result , Jackson’s lawsuit against the City is for: 1) violation of the federal environmental laws by contributing to the creation of the illegal landfill and 2) for treating her differently on the basis of race by creating the industrial zoning that is harming her and by failing to remove the illegal landfill when the City acts to perform environmental remediation in white areas. Ms. Jackson’s suit against the City asks for the City to enter onto the Shingle Mountain property and remove the illegal landfill. She asks for the City to clean up the Shingle Mountain property to remove the environmental and health hazard and to re-zone the property to a compatible use for the homes that are next to the location.

Since the first day it opened for business without any warning, Ms. Jackson and her neighbors have complained about health problems, including respiratory and neurological problems. Specifically, they’ve cited poor air quality resulting from the black dust permeating the air they were breathing. Three years of decomposition is stripping carcinogens and toxins like Silica, Formaldehyde and fiberglass from their adhesive backings and putting them into the air as Particulate Matter pollution. In these summer months, standing downwind of the dump is like standing next to an asphalt batch plant or oil terminal, with fumes overwhelming even the most healthy.

Perhaps most infuriating of all is the argument by Jackson’s lawyers that the City has had the authority to act to remove the dump at any point over the last almost-three years:

“The City of Dallas has the legal power to require the removal of Shingle Mountain. It can summarily abate the use because it is located within the floodplain. The use is not one allowed by the City in a flood plain. Texas law gives the City of Dallas the power to abate the violation by causing the work necessary to do so after notice and an opportunity to comply to the owner. If the owner, as in this case fails to comply, the City, without legal action, may pay for and cause the work to be done and assess the costs to the owner. Until the costs are paid,interests at 10 percent per year and the City has a lien on the property for the costs incurred and the interest. (Tx. Local Gov’t Code. § 54.020.)”

After three years Dallas has seemingly run out of excuses for its discriminatory treatment of Marsha Jackson and her neighbors. A well-worn truism is that the only time the City responds to its residents is when a lawsuit is at stake. Now that the City has been named a “responsible party” to the crisis in a lawsuit, Jackson’s plight might actually be a priority at City Hall.