Breaking: Human Body More Nuanced than Science Thought

How many times have you heard a local neighbor of a downwinder say something like, "I've lived here all my life and never once got sick from that stuff," even while the block they live on might be a cancer hotspot?

There are lots of reasons for pollution not affecting everyne equally. One is the new science of "Epigenetics," which has discovered that an ancestor's exposure to environmental toxins that never affected them could skip a generation or two and result in disease or illness many decades past the original transgression.

Via the New York Times this week comes another explanation that concludes there are a lot more ways environmental toxins can affect DNA behavior other than corrupting the DNA itself. What scientists believed were mostly unused parts of the human genome turn out to be huge, complex switchboards for the controlling of all kinds of things related to DNA growth, maintenance, and damage. 

"Now scientists have discovered a vital clue to unraveling these riddles. The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as “junk” but that turn out to play critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave. The discovery, considered a major medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for human health because many complex diseases appear to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches.

The findings, which are the fruit of an immense federal project involving 440 scientists from 32 laboratories around the world, will have immediate applications for understanding how alterations in the non-gene parts of DNA contribute to human diseases, which may in turn lead to new drugs. They can also help explain how the environment can affect disease risk. In the case of identical twins, small changes in environmental exposure can slightly alter gene switches, with the result that one twin gets a disease and the other does not."

The article makes the connection between past research that found a likelihood to get certain diseases among those with corrupted DNA patterns, but until now, no one knew that those patterns were from the operation of on/off switches for genes in the DNA. This research, by building a "Google Map" of these switches, fills in the blanks and provides lots of new evidence of how subtle changes that fall short of breaking or damaging DNA can still result in harmful health effects, perhaps including many that are initiated by environmental toxins.


“How your great grandmother’s chemical exposures may affect you”

In a study published this week, "rats exposed in the womb to five common environmental pollutants passed on DNA-changing attributes that persisted in causing ovarian cancer three generation removed from the original exposure."

It's another example of "epigenetics" – when harmful environmental exposures to one generation can skip a generation or two and show up as health effects decades later.

According to the new study, the five pollutants reprogram how DNA is expressed in the developing fetus' eggs, setting the stage for ovarian disease later in their life.

If you're a Vet, the news is worse. The U.S. Department of Defense helped select the pollutants based on potential exposures in military personnel. They included vinclozolin, a fungicide that's used in the wine industry; a pesticide mixture including permethrin and DEET; a plastic mixture including bisphenol A (BPA) and two widely used phthalates (DEHP and DBP); the industrial byproduct dioxin; and a hydrocarbon mixture called "jet fuel," which is used to control dust on road surfaces.

Researchers at Washington State University exposed pregnant rats to one of five different chemicals alone or in mixtures during a critical time of pregnancy when their daughter pups' eggs were developing. The pups were then mated with males from the same treatment group, and the resulting pups were bred yet again. Only the original generation of pregnant rats had been exposed to the chemicals. The adult daughters and great granddaughters of the dosed animals (called the F1 and F3 generations) were examined for ovarian disease.

In all exposure groups, both the daughter (F1) and great-granddaughter (F3) mice had fewer egg follicles in their ovaries compared to controls, indicating a reduced pool of available eggs. Both generations – but particularly the F3 animals – also had an increased number of ovarian cysts compared to controls.These findings are characteristic of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI), which are believed to affect 18% of all women.

Other diseases, including allergies and asthma; liver, gastric, prostate and colorectal cancer; and psychiatric disorders are thought to have an epigenetic component. This is the first time that epigenetic changes have been shown in association with ovarian disease. This proof-of-concept study used higher doses of chemicals than what people would typically encounter. Future work is needed to investigate whether lower, more environmentally relevant chemical levels also affect ovarian disease across generations of the rodents.

Locally, we're surrounded by sources of one or more of these pollutants, especially phthalates, BPA, dioxin, and hydrocarbons. BPA is the subject of a lot of media attention and just yesterday, the FDA banned its use in sippy cups for infants.  Frisco's Exide lead smelter has been a top ten dioxin polluter in Texas over the last decade. The cement plants in Midlothian are also large industrial sources of dioxin, and new permits to burn more "non-hazardous" wastes that turn into hazardous emissions only ensure that will remain the case. On the ground, internal combustion engines from cars and the natural gas industry facilities in the Barnett Shale soak us in hydrocarbons.

Despite the documentation of the epigenetic effect of certain pollutants in recent years, this impact has not yet been incorporated into any risk assessment of a polluting facility by any environmental or public health agency in the U.S. We may be planting the seeds for epidemics of all kinds in the next 20-50 or more years, and it's all perfectly legal now. Once again, the science is way out in front of the regulations. That's why citizens must arm themselves with the latest research. You won't be getting updates on this stuff from EPA or TCEQ. That's also why it's ridiculous for anyone to speak about the "over-regulation" of polluters in this country. We're nowhere close to understanding what the long term consequences are of our actions in allowing so many chemicals into the environment to mix and match with our own biology. In this larger public health sense, pollution is still very much under-regulated in the United States.


Another Reason Why 1000 Feet Isn't Far Enough

Thursday, April 26, 2012

We've heard that the gas industry lobbyists hanging out at Dallas City Hall are seriously advocating reducing the mandatory distance between gas drilling wells and neighborhoods, from the recommended 500-1000 feet down to only 300 feet – the length of a football field. Citizens have noted all kinds of reasons why that's way too close, and even why 1000 feet is still not far enough to prevent significant public health risk from drilling's hazards. The Army Corps of Engineers  says fracking shouldn't be taking place within 3000 feet of dams because of the potential harm to structural integrity. Why would freeway support columns or home foundations be more immune to this threat? The Colorado School of Public Health concludes that those living within a half mile of a gas well – over 2000 feet – have a 66% increased chance of getting cancer. Why not incorporate this research into new Dallas buffer zone decisions? And from a reader comes this story of a Chesapeake gas well blowout in Wyoming that's forced the evacuation of people living as far away as 2.5 MILES.  Although Chesapeake would not disclose the amount of pollution the leaking caused, it assured everyone that air quality measurements were "normal."  Residents up to 6 miles away reportedly could heat the noise of the gas as the leak burst open. 300 feet? 3000 feet may mot be enough.  

Frisco Unleaded Responds to City's Response to Group's Flier on Exide Lead Smelter

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Let's see, last time we checked in at Frisco City Hall, the city was finally scheduling a June 18th amortization hearing in response to an historic map of Exide lead smelter contaminationshowing up in the mailboxes of over 30,000 registered voters' mailboxes and reporters calling for a response about what the city would do next after not doing anything publicly since January. This is a good thing, right? Citizens won, right? We wish we could shout a definitive "yes," but the answer is instead a definite maybe. The city has been half-hearted in embracing the amortization option, with the city attorney's office misleading the public and Council members over the history of its use in Dallas, and making it out to be more difficult to use than other municipal attorneys consider it to be. Now, maybe this is to cover-up for the lack of any real documentation the city has to prove Exide was a "non-conforming use in decades past," like a valid Certificate of Occupancy, we don't know. Whatever the reason, there is the public face at City Hall, pointing out that the Council has done all the mechanical things to set amortization in motion, and a private face at City Hall that takes every opportunity to dismiss the strategy. Based on recent events, the two faces have not yet reconciled into a unified cogent position by the city on amortization, and residents are still skeptical. When the City released its statement last week that contained the long-delayed hearing date, it also went out of its way to take shots at the position the residents group Frisco Unleaded, and Downwinders has taken on amortization. It didn't just tell reporters that a hearing date for amortization had been scheduled. It posted a specific response to Frisco Unleaded's flier. After a couple of days of digesting this, the leadership at Frisco Unleaded released its reply to the City's posting. Here the whole thing, and here's a sample that shows why residents still don't trust the city to do this the right way:  CITY:  Some maintain amortization is a simple process. It is not. There are many safeguards in place to assure an existing business is treated in a lawful and fair manner.  Failure to follow the law and treat the existing business fairly could subject the City of Frisco to other liability that could cost taxpayers if a judgment is awarded by a court against the City.  As such, it should not be assumed that all one has to do to close a business is set an amortization hearing and the case is closed or that speeding through the process is an advantage to the citizens of Frisco. FRISCO UNLEADED RESPONSE: Amortization has been made out to be more difficult than it is by a Frisco city attorney’s office that is biased against this legal strategy. What is our proof? Exhibit A: “The Postell Report.”After our initial criticism that the City of Frisco wasn’t taking this option seriously, Frisco city attorneys went to interview the attorney who pursued amortization of Dallas’ lead smelters in the 1980’s – Don Postell. Dallas had three lead smelters at the time. One closed before the city could take action. The second closed before its amortization was settled in court. The third smelter, owned by Exide, closed in 1990 as a result of being amortized, and its amortization was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court. Guess which example the Frisco report left out of its report on Dallas amortization? Yep, the smelter that was owned by Exide, amortized successfully, and had its amortization upheld by the Texas Supreme CourtSo when the City of Frisco city attorney’s office wrote a report that described its meeting with the Dallas attorney who participated in the amortization of that city’s smelters, it didn’t contain one word about the Exide smelter that was successfully amortized. Does that sound like an objective fact-finding report on Dallas amortization to you? Moreover, the city attorney’s office has made several references in public to new legislation from the Texas legislature that supposedly makes it harder to amortize a business. No other lawyer familiar with this legislation that we’ve spoken to outside of the city attorney’s office shares this interpretation of the law, suggesting to us this is yet another smokescreen. We remain skeptical that the Frisco city attorney’s office is sincere about its commitment to amortization or has the legal expertise to pursue it successfully against Exide, but we look forward to being proven wrong.  

"Not Just Steam," Fracking Edition

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

About four or so years ago, Downwinders put out a nice little report that summarized decades worth of air pollution coming from all three Midlothian cement plants. For years, residents were told that the plumes they saw coming from the smokestacks of the kilns were " just steam." The point of the report was to prove that of course this wasn't true. You don't just emit steam and then report thousands of tons of air pollution to the EPA. So our report was titled "Not Just Steam" and you can download it from our "Cementpedia" page (look under "E" for "emission inventory"). Today some Colleyville and Southlake citizens, along with Oil and Gas Accountability Project organizer Sharon Wilson, released results from air testing they contracted a Richardson company to perform downwind while Titan Operations was fracking a natural gas well. Specifically, it was a time when the well operators were recovering the "flowback" from the well. Contrary to the recent claim from Chesapeake spokespeople that such gas well emissions are "just steam," this stuff was chock full of 26 chemicals, including Carbon Disulfide, a neurotoxin detected at twice the state level for short-term exposure, Benzene, a known carcinogen detected at 9 times above the state's short-term exposure limits, and Naphthalene, a suspected carcinogen detected more than 7 times above the state short term limit.  Carbonyl Sulfide, Dimethyl Disulfide and Pyridine were all also detected above safe limits for long-term exposure. In other words: No Just Steam. Here's the press release, at the bottom of which is all the technical information about the testing. Even though Colleyville prohibits "gases to be vented into the atmosphere or to be burned by open flame" this well is going great guns. It's also true that it's these very kind of drilling emissions that would have been stopped from new wells within the next 60-90 days under new federal rules as they were originally proposed. But they got changed by industry, so now they don't take effect until 2015. Old wells? Forgetaboutit. Why do we keep telling citizens that their environmental health is a do-it-yourself project? Because of situations like this where no government agency is keeping up with industrial abuses. There are an estimated 20,000 gas wells in the Barnett Shale.  

Community Meetings On Dallas Drilling Multiply

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Dallas Residents at Risk Alliance, of which Downwinders is a member, is taking its successful March 27 community meeting format on the road again over the next couple of weeks. If you want to know what all the fuss was about, or need a refresher, you'll have three chances: Thursday April 26th, 6:30 to 8 pm, El Centro Community College/West Campus, 3300 North Hampton Road;  Thursday May 3rd, 7 pm to 8:30pm North Hills Prep School, 606 E Royal (near L.B. Huoston),  Tuesday, May 8th, 7 to 8:30 pm Harmony School, 8120 West Camp Wisdom Road. All three will feature members of the Alliance going through the Fracking 101 slide show and fundamental concerns, special guest speakers from the Dallas gas drilling task force and other experts, and a list of things that residents can do to make sure this epic saga has a happy ending when a vote comes up at the City Council within the next 30-60 days. Momentum is growing toward a saner solution. Come be a part of the most important environmental issue in Dallas since the lead smelter fights of the 1980's. And if you really want to plug into how to stop fracking from riding roughshod over Dallas, don't forget about the weekly Tuesday 6 pm evening Residents at Risk Alliance organizing meetings at 3303 Lee Parkway Suite 402, the offices of Alliance member Texas Campaign for the Environment. Everyone is invited. All you need is your interest in preventing a disaster before it starts.  

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.

Something's Missing in Today's DMN Story on North Lake, But We Can't Quite Put Our Fingers On It

Friday, April 13, 2012

For the second time in a row, the "Real Estate Writer" for the Dallas Morning News has written a feature article about a nice, new expensive development where there are gas leases and permits already being requested, and yet failed to mention anything about those pesky gas wells. From what we can tell, the Real Estate Writer seems to be a DMN position paid for by Real Estate developers. Last month it was the West Dallas area surrounding the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, where the city has leased its own land out for multiple gas leases. Today it's the "Cypress Waters" planned community being built by Lucy (Crow) Billingsley around North Lake, where there's already a gas pad permit in the pipeline, so to speak. But you'd never know it from reading the article. “We have 82 acres on LBJ Freeway that we have saved at the project’s primary entry point so that we can have retail to service the development,” Billingsley said. “We will also have restaurants on the lake.”  And if the wells get permitted, those diners will be getting lots of items off the official menu. We know she's a Crow. We know its a big development. But really? To be this much of a shill is embarrassing. UPDATE 11:30 AM: Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling's Raymond Crawford e-mailed the DMN writer, Steve Brown and asked him if he knew about the wells slated for this development. Brown's reply was as enlightening as it was brief: "Yes, they've set aside six drill sites on the master plan for the project...I'm thinking that they consider this not a problem for rental housing but of course it would be a factor for people buying homes." Yes, of course, because homeowners have lungs, whereas we're not even sure if renters are a higher life form at all. Amazing isn't it?  

As Big Gas Battles EPA over New Air Rules, Local Control Looks Better and Better

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The new oil and gas air toxics rules that over a hundred people came out to support this last summer at an EPA hearing in Arlington are under heavy fire as they're getting closer to getting implemented. These are rules, that for the first time would clamp down on the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) released by gas drilling that cause smog, toxic air pollution and make global warming worse. EPA recently announced a two-week delay in their being brought on line and there's a campaign by industry to gut the rules entirely by limiting their scope in a ridiculous way. Sharon has all the details in how you can urge the EPA to get a backbone and go through with their modest reforms, and The Hill has a good article explaining the effort to roll back the rules. Whether these rules are implemented in their original form or not, the struggle over their creation and scope argues for why more local governments should be looking at regulating these emissions through the lens of Greenhouse Gas pollution (GHG), as Downwinders and others are suggesting Dallas do in its new gas drilling ordinance.Lack of federal and state action on GHG pollution allows local governments to fill in the gap and level the playing field to reduce air pollution that would otherwise fall through the cracks and loopholes of current law. Even if the new EPA rules were to come on stream in their original form, they still wouldn't cover 70-75% of the VOC emissions causing so many problems. This is why local governments must act out of self-defense. In this case, no other level of government is making sure that new gas pollution doesn't contribute to already bad regional ozone problems, doesn't blow open a city's commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, as Dallas has pledged to do under the 2005 Mayor's Climate Change Agreement, and doesn't poison a city's neighborhoods. If the as industry was treated like other industrial polluters, it would have to mitigate or "off-set" these air pollution increase with air pollution decreases elsewhere in the same area. Gas operators do not have to do this. Local regulation could make them. It could force gas operators to decrease air pollution as much as they increase it in Dallas by paying for projects that reduce the same kind of GHG pollution as they emit. It would also act as a automatic incentive for the gas operators not to release as much air pollution to begin with – stopping it before it starts. EPA is not going to save the residents of the Shale from the gas industry. They'e got to do that themselves. Here's a way that could help.  

Dallas Drilling Meeting Tonight

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


There are rumors that a gas ordinance vote in Dallas could happen as soon as the middle of May, only a week or so after the City Council gets a briefing on the issue from staff. And speaking of city staff, City Manager Mary Suhm reportedly thinks any Dallas citizen who believes 500 feet is to close to live next to a gas well must be crazy. Fortunately, she doesn't vote on the matter. Tonight, like every Tuesday night,there's a planning meeting for citizens who want a stronger ordinance. The Dallas Residents at Risk alliance is meeting at the Texas Campaign for the Environment office at 3308 Lee Parkway, Suite 401 (right across from Lee Park) beginning at 7pm. If you haven't contacted your Dallas city council member, you need to do that pronto, and even better arrange a meeting to meet them in person and tell them why you want a better, more protective gas drilling ordinance. 


So Sue Us: "Pollution From the Titan Cement Plant will Kill and Injure People"

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Titan Cement is trying to build a huge new cement plant near Cape Fear in North Carolina. People who live there areputting up quit a fight to prevent them from doing that. In order to get these people to settle down, Titan sued a couple of local residents, Kayne Darrell and pediatrician David Hill, who made comments at a County Commissioners' meeting that went like this: "…we know from numerous studies that if we build this thing, more children will get sick, a handful of them will die. We also know from the adult studies that more adults will get sick and quite a few more of them are going to die as well Which ones? Can't tell you. That makes it difficult, but there will be some."Quite right. We know all these things because numerous scientific studies show a very straight-forward relationship between the kinds of crud put out by cement plants and rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, etc. There is nothing the least slanderous or libelous about saying so. And yet Titan sued in hopes of intimidating not only the two citizens it sued, but everyone else who wanted to speak up but now would be afraid of getting sued. That's how SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Agains Public Participation) suits work. No one ever expects to win a case. If you're a company, you win just by filing because it shuts people up, or a least that's the intent. Well, today comes word that Titan and the citizens have "settled" the case and Titan now "recognizes that reasonable minds have the right to disagree, and respect both Dr. Hill and Ms. Darrell's right to do so." Isn't that precious? The Greek Multinational Cement Giant agrees that the quaint American First Amendment is still the law of the land here. In organizing, we often say it's all about relationships and the Titan press release onthe matter seems to bear this out. "Prior to today's mediation, we had not personally met and spoken with Dr. Hill and Ms. Darrell," Titan said in a statement. "Having done so, we do not believe that either Dr. Hill or Ms. Darrell intentionally made any false statements about Titan or our plant in New Hanover County." So you know, all it took was seeing that in fact these citizens were not horned devils for the company to change its mind. For his part, Dr. Hill would not comment on the resolution Wednesday except to say, "I look very much forward to being able to focus all my energy on my efforts to improve the health of children in this region." Both defendants will release a statement in the next 24 hours according to their attorney. Meanwhile, Titan won its state air permit, but its's still not a free and clear path to construction. 

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.  

Another Environmental Cause of Breast Cancer: Cadmium in Your Diet

Friday, March 23, 2012

A new report by the American Association for Cancer Research finds that women whose diets contain higher levels of cadmium are at greater risk of developing breast cancer than those that ingest less of the toxic heavy metal. Already a well-known carcinogen, cadmium is now also known as an "endocrine disrupter"  for its ability to mimic or alter hormonal responses in the body – in this case fooling the body into thinking cadmium was estrogen. The latest research follows two other studies, published in 2006 and 2010, that first singled out cadmium as a factor in breast cancer. Those studies measured cadmium in the urine of smaller groups of pre- and post-menopausal women, and found that those who had high cadmium exposures were more than twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those with the smallest exposures. Locally, the Bell Helicopter plant in Grand Prairie, Sabre in Alvarado, and the Ameristeel Steel Mill in Midlothian were the largest point sources of cadmium in North Texas in 2010. 

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.  

"There are no safe doses for endocrine disruptors"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

That's the conclusion of a new report that was three years in the making. Dr. Laura Vandenburg of Tufts University led 12 other scientists in an effort that examined hundreds of recent studies on the effects to people and animals of hormone-changing chemicals that are widely used in industry, including cosmetics, pesticides and plastics. They found that even tiny doses of these chemicals, called "endocrine disruptors," can cause harmful health effects such as infertility, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. Writing in a separate editorial about the report, Vandenburg stated that "After reviewing hundreds of studies, my colleagues and I have concluded that there truly are no safe doses for these hormone-altering chemicals. We found overwhelming evidence that these hormone-altering chemicals have effects at low levels, and that these effects are often completely different than effects at high levels. For example, a large amount of dioxin would kill you, but a very small dose, similar to what people are exposed to from eating contaminated foods, increases women’s risk of reproductive abnormalities." In North Texas, we're not only surrounded by endocrine disruptors in products we buy, but also in the air we breath. Lead from Exide's Frisco smelter is an endocrine disruptor. Many of the pollutants released by the Midlothian cement plants – TXI, Holcim and Ash Grove – are endocrine disruptors, as are a good percentage of the chemicals emitted by the gas industry when its fracking a well. Like so many other kinds of human-made pollutants, endocrine disrupters were allowed in commerce without full understanding of their possible public health effects. That's why the report also recommends that the way the government tests for a chemical's toxicity be modernized. Currently, there's no evaluation of health effects from endocrine disruptors at the low level of exposure encountered by most people. These chemicals actually can harm you more in smaller doses over a long period of time than really high short term exposures. It's called a "non-linear" response because it doesn't follow the old "the dose is the poison" rule that makes the amount of poison the driver of any possible toxic effects. “Current testing paradigms are missing important, sensitive endpoints” for human health, Vandenburg and Co. said.“The effects of low doses cannot be predicted by the effects observed at high doses. Thus, fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.” In other words, we need a system that catches these chemicals before they're widely marketed in consumer products, or released as pollution into the environment; before we become unwitting lab rats. 

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. 

Frisco Unleaded Demands EPA Reconsider New Lead Standard: No "Ample Margin of Safety"

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Frisco Unleaded, the local citizens group sponsored by Downwinders, along with four other national and state environmental groups, have petitioned the EPA to reconsider the new National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for lead that's driving the nation's lead smelters to enclose their facilities and lower their emissions by this coming fall. And they're using our old friends at EarthJustice for their lawyers. In their petition filed today, the groups, including the national Sierra Club, California Communities Against Toxics, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and the national Resource Defense Council, told EPA that it erred in relying on a standard that aims only for an "adequate margin," when the official regulatory goal is supposed to be an "ample margin of safety" to protect public health from lead. Now maybe that sounds like so much bureaucratic nit-picking to you at first, but what it turns out to mean is that the EPA didn't consider the health effects of breathing lead on those people already living around lead smelters that emit lots of lead into the air. Hard to believe, and as it turns out, the EPA usually does assess harms from all kinds of exposure pathways. It just didn't do it for lead. It settled for a number that seems very strict – ten times lower than the old standard, when in fact, there waslots of evidence that the number should have been much lower, and that the technology to achieve it was already in use. According to the petition, "EPA reduced emissions no more than needed to assure that a source in the Secondary Lead Smelting source category would not alone emit to the extent that the ambient air concentration of lead would exceed 0.15 μg/m3. EPA did not assess each type of risk caused by lead emissions – including chronic inhalation and multipathway risk and other potential risks – independently from its assessment on the NAAQS, and it thus has failed to show how it considered the full impact of secondary lead smelters’ emissions on public health." One of the most important points made on behalf of Frisco residents was that the new standard wasn't written to be protective of people who've lived where there's been decades of lead smelter fallout. "EPA’s reliance on the NAAQS has failed to appropriately take into account the ongoing impact of historic air emissions on the most-exposed people near secondary lead smelters, and has not assessed or explained how the NAAQS could provide ‚acceptable‛ protection in view of this history. The affected communities near sources in this source category have experienced persistent, bioaccumulative toxic air emissions for years, in the form of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and other hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)." Specifically, the petition cites Frisco has an exceptional community, "For affected communities like Frisco, TX that have experienced years of past exposure, which in turn have increased current health risk, smaller amounts of additional emissions are even more likely to cause greater harm.  If you look at the other groups that filed today's petition, they're all well-established. Frisco Unleaded isn't even a year old yet, and it's already taking on the EPA. As organizational parents, we couldn't be more proud.  

MARCH 27th: City-Wide Organizing Meeting on Gas Drilling in Dallas

Friday, March 02, 2012

In preparation for what could be a vote on a new ordinance as soon as April, The Dallas Residents at Risk Alliance, which includes Downwinders, is hosting a 4-Alarm, All Points Bulletin, city-wide organizing meeting on Gas Drilling in Dallas, 7 to 8:30 pm Tuesday, March 27th at the Center for Community Cooperation, 2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas. We'll go through a brief overview of why fracking in densely urban areas is an especially bad idea, look at what the current situation is with gas well sites already in the pipeline, as well as what we know about the location of current gas leases. We'll have members of the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force who were our reliable allies in the process. We'll look ahead at the work we have to do to get the industry-fueled last-minute rollback of protections set-aside by the Council in favor of more adequate safeguards. It doesn't matter what part of Dallas you live in – you'll be affected by gas drilling and your council member will be voting on a new ordinance governing how it should be done. Think climate change is an important issue? You can't make a better investment of your time on the issue than seeing that Dallas requires mitigation of gas industry Greenhouse Gas pollution. Want to protect water supplies? Preventing a water-intensive industry from robbing Dallas blind of its own water and then causing spills and leaks that will contaminate surface sources of water is worth your effort for the next two months. Want to see less smog?According to the state of Texas, local gas industry sources now emit more smog-forming Volatile Organic Compounds than all the cars and trucks n DFW. Just about any global or national environmental problem you can think of has a connection, or is made worse, by fracking in Dallas. We need your help now. This is not a drill. Mark it on your calendar and be one of the active citizens that keeps this intrusion from becoming a takeover.  

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.  

Slow March Toward Amoritzation Continues in Frisco This Week

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pursuant with its historicJanuary 17th vote to reject the Exide lead smelter's "vested rights" petition and require the facility to get a Special Use Permit, the machinery at Frisco City Hall continues to grind out a path toward eventual amortization, or forced self-buy-out, of the smelter, located in the center of town. On Tuesday evening at 6:30, the Frisco Planning and Zoning board convenes to decide if the smelter's submitted site plans for the "improvements" it's touting meet city specs, including the required Special Use Permit. Of course, Exide has refused to apply for an SUP, arguing that it doesn't need one, and of course city staff is recommending rejection of the Exide proposal based on that refusal, along with specific deficiencies in the plans themselves. The P&Z is expected to concur with staff. Eventually this will come before an obscure local administrative body called the "Board of Adjustment" for an official hearing on amortization proceedings, but the city seems to be getting every possible duck in a row before taking it there. Stay tuned, and let's give another big round of applause to those Frisco Unleaded members who successfully changed the city 's mind about this strategy over the last seven months or so. Well done.  

Komen and Industry Unite to Deny Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Before the latest controversy over their Planned Parenthood PR disaster, the Susan G. Komen Foundation was already mired in a long-standing battle over their continuing denial of the link between chemical exposure and breast cancer. In 2005, the foundationspent millions gutting the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, a bill that would have awarded grant money through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences explore the connections between environmental factors and breast cancer. Komen has also been active in denying any link between the common chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and breast cancer, maybe because so many of its corporate sponsors use the stuff, including Coke and General Mills. It's one thing to be non-committal. It's another to join the chemical industry in actively shutting down research. 

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.  

Inventorying the "most ambitious clean air rules in decades"

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reuters has the run down on the plethora of new EPA clean air rules coming down in the next year or so, including resolution of the cross-state regs, vehicle efficiency, fracking emissions, Greenhouse Gases, and Coal Ash rules. We know there's been a lot of justifiable disappointment with this Administration, but please look at this agenda and try to imagine that any part of it would be coming from an EPA run by any of the current GOP presidential candidates. It's pretty much impossible.  

What a Concept: Preventing Cancer by Decreasing Exposure to Carcinogens

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Those Canadians are so practical. Here's an articleabout a group of women in Ontario who want their city administration's to take their own anti-cancer rhetoric seriously by identifying and decreasing the releases of carcinogens into the environment. Like passing anti-idling laws to cut down on PM pollution, or having local industries publicize the chemicals they use on-site, or making sure drinking water is safe. Really radical stuff. We're looking forward to when the pink ribbons wrap TXI's smokestacks.  


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.  

New TXI Waste-Burning Permit Awarded With No Public Comment

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

(Dallas)—- Only three years after it finally stopped the controversial practice of burning hazardous waste at its Midlothian cement plant, TXI was awarded a permit in June by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality allowing the company to burn at least 12 new kinds of industrial wastes in its kiln without any public notice, comment, or hearing, and based only on other cement plants' data. 

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.  

"Frisco Cans Exide!" October 24-27th

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frisco Unleaded, the new citizens groups Downwinders is assisting to take on the relocation of the Exide lead battery smelter out of Central Frisco, is launching its first big action since it was founded in August. In honor of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, October 24th through 27th, supporters will be stationed directly curbside outside Frisco City Hall Monday through Thursday collecting 2000 canned goods from residents to build a miniature Exide out of, which will then get hauled away on Thursday to the Frisco Family Services Center. Here's how the group's flyer explains it: 

Coming to A Kiln Near You: The Brave New World of "Alternative Fuels"

Monday, October 17, 2011

A profile of a Florida Cemex plant reveals the fluidity of current fuel mixes finding their way to your local neighborhood kiln. The entire industry is in flux as a result of new EPA emission rules, concern about greenhouse gases, and the costs of coal in a poor economy. That's opened up possibilities that just weren't there even five years ago. In this case, the good news is that agricultural waste such as peanut shells and wood chips are being taken seriously. The bad news is that the plant is still burning tires and tire "fluff" – the polyester part of what you roll on –  and trying to equate those hazardous "non-hazardous"  wastes with with the biofuels that could really improve air quality. We're seeing the same thing here in North Texas with TXI's new proposed "Landfill in the Sky" permit that could have the Midlothian plant burning everything from Switchgrass and Wheat Straw (Good) to plastic trash and car "fluff" – all the non-steel parts of a car ground up into piles that are thrown into the kiln (Bad). Because of the uncertainty surrounding where all this is going in light of new EPA definitions of "solid wastes" and "recycling," now is a good time for citizens to intervene in local permit fights and state and federal policy decisions in order to direct that chaos in a direction that benefits public health. In this case "crisis" really does translate into "danger" and "opportunity." 

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."  

Frisco Lead Non-Attainment Area Boundries Based on Junk Science, Must Be Redrawn

Friday, October 07, 2011

Never doubt the ability of a small group of committed citizens to uncover government agency mistakes. Yesterday, a handful of Frisco residents met with EPA Region 6 staff about their local Superfund Site-in-progress known as the Exide lead smelter. The list of subjects to discuss was long and varied. Lead-paved streets, lead-lined creeks, lead contaminated waste water treatment plants, illegal landfilling of hazardous waste, modern pollution controls and the boundaries of the current two square-mile non-attainment area for lead in the middle of downtown Frisco. It was a productive meeting, with some new information coming to light, including the fact that those boundaries lines are not based on good science and need to be redrawn.  

Pushing the Envelope: Dallas Residents Submit Their Own 21st Century Drilling Ordinance

Friday, October 07, 2011

Wednesday's Dallas City Council meeting saw the public debut of the recommendations from the alliance of residents and groups who launched the re-writing of the city's outdated gas drilling ordinance. It might be the most thorough and progressive collection of municipal protections ever assembled in the Barnett Shale. 

Midlothian is the Congressional Poster Child for Cement Rules Again

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Throughout most of the last 15 years, various Downwinders board members have traveled east to testify to Congress or the EPA about the public health harms of living adjacent to a cement plant. Many times it's been on behalf of the emission standards passed in 2008 that were the first national industry air pollution standards Our name and situation are well-known among congressional staffers of those members of Congress trafficking in environmental and public health issues, like the esteemed Henry Waxman (D-Ca) former Chair of the House Commerce and Energy Committee. So it wasn't a complete surprise when Waxman used a graphic illustration of what's at stake with the House Republican plan to roll back the 2008 cement plant emission rules by enlarging the picture of the Baxter Elementary School's proximity to Holcim's cement kilns in Midlothian and using it inWednesday's floor debate over the Cement Bill Regulatory Relief Act. Still, it's nice to know we're still he poster child for these rules. 

Frisco Mayor: Smelter Amoritzation "too complicated" for citizens

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Here's a story that ran last night on Channel 11 about the new effort in Frisco to relocate the Exide lead smelter that quotes Mayor Masso as telling residents basically not to worry their pretty little heads about the lead contamination in town; that City Hall has it all under control.  

Another Ellis County Fire Reminds Us We All Live Downwind

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

In 1995, a Midlothian tire disposal company that collected, stored and shipped used tires for the near-by cement plants to burn in their kilns caught fire itself and burned for almost a month. It was located right across the street from the TXI plant. Black, toxic smoke wafted between high rise office buildings in Downtown Dallas for days. At the time, the fire was particularly and painfully ironic for Downwinders at Risk supporters who had been trying to tell people why burning tires in cement plants is a bad idea, as well as how Dallas air      could be affected by pollution from the cement plants despite the state saying they were too far away. Now, here in plain sight from Reunion Tower, columns of carbon black smoke thousands of feet high originating less than 2000 feet from TXI gave lie to the official assurances that the cement plant was too distant to affect DFW air quality, or that miniatures versions of this fire was supposed to be effective "recycling" of tire wastes. Oh yeah, the name of the tire disposal company? "Safe Tire." 



Gas Industry Tea Party Puppets Provide Comic Relief at EPA Hearing

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Call us Old School, but we just don't get corporate-sponsored Populism. William Jennings Bryant. "Fighting Bob" La Folette. Fiorella Laguardia. Teddy Roosevelt. The Koch Brothers? And the pitfalls of such a strategy were never more fully displayed than when a handful of Tea Party members right out of a Daily Showskit decided they would crash last Thursday's national EPA hearing on gas pollution in Arlington. 

Nature's Way of Telling You: Parker County is 7th DFW Monitor to Violate 85ppb Ozone Standard

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yesterday was September 26th. Saturday will be October 1 and the "official" end of the DFW "ozone season." We're supposed to be winding down the orange alerts and high ozone levels of Smogust. But someone didn't tell September.  Besides creating some records highs early in the month, yesterday saw both the Parker County and Keller monitors with extremely high ozone levels – in the triple digits – set a new Parker County seasonal high of 96 ppb, and pushed the Parker monitor into being the 7th DFW monitor to violate the old 85 ppb standard.  

If you needed more reasons to come to the EPA Nat'l Hearing on Thursday….

Monday, September 26, 2011

As many of you know, this Thursday, September 29th, from 9 am to 9pm at Arlington City Hall, the EPA will be holding one of only three national public hearings on new emission rules governing the gas drilling industry. At last glance, there were still a lot of empty speaking slots available in the mid afternoon and in the evening.  The first 5 or 6 slots are already filled with industry representatives. Don't let the EPA get the impression North Texas doesn't care about these emission, or that the industry speaks for us. These rules have been developed in part because of all the testimonies from citizens in the Shale already about the harms of air pollution from rigs, compressors, pipelines, etc.  

Shanghai Shuts a Dangerous Lead Smelter Down, While Frisco Lets One Operate

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Shanghai, China, a US-owned lead smelter is accused of poisoning at least 30 children as a result of its operation and the local government there shut it down at least until the end of the year.  

"The most dangerous attacks on clean air since the Clean Air Act was signed"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the House Republican assault on the Clean Air Act, including gutting rules that would reduce smog, mercury poisoning, and toxic air pollution of all kinds. Every week from now until Thanksgiving, Republicans will be targeting a different EPA policy for destruction, including the 15-years-in-the-making emission rules for cement plants that Downwinders was instrumental in winning in 2008.  

Last Night's Channel 11 Coverage of Frisco Lead Smelter Fight

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Local Frisco activist Shiby Matthew is interviewedabout the city's response to the problems at the Exide smelter, a facility that is soley responsible for creating one of only 16 U.S. "non-attainment areas" for lead contamination in the air. Downwinders at Risk is working with local residents, including Shiby, to relocate the smelter out of downtown Frisco, now surrounded by 120,000 residents, a quarter of whom are school age.  

The Landmark Health Study on Fracking That Industry Killed

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thanks much to Raymond Crawford with Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling for forwarding this ProPublica story on the hard toxicological questions surrounding exposures from gas industry facilities, and specifically fracking. Of course, it's in the industry's interest to let them remain questions instead of getting uncomfortable answers. 

"The Most Anti-Environmental House in History"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thanks to the redoubtable Henry Waxman, Congressman from Wisconsin for assembling thiscomprehensive data base on the current Congress'  torrid, shameful orgy of industry-backed legislation

Are there 108 Champions of Clean Air in DFW?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Maybe the Best 80 Minutes on Fracking You'll Ever Hear

Thursday, September 01, 2011

We know we're late with this, but this last Tuesday's meeting of the Dallas Gas Drilling Task Force offered quite a show. It was the turn of the citizens coalition that's been driving the re-write of the Dallas drilling ordinance for a year now to put on their case. It was a doosey.  

First up was Kathy Martin, an Oil and Gas engineer from Oklahoma who gave a great lesson in local geology and what happens when you start poking lots of deep holes in the ground. Turns out gas drillers might not use as much cement in lining those holes as might be needed to stop what ever's going up and down in it from getting into the area around it. 

Then there was Dr. Melanie Sattler of UTA, an air polution control engineer who reviewed her work in the"Leaking Money" report she'd done for Downwinders in May chronicling how pollution controls on gas equipment can actually reduce emissions by 90% plus but also provide a source of new revenue for operators by collecting previously lost product. 

Next was Judith Jordan, a Colorado hydrologist who just happens to have conducted a study that contradicts the often repeated assertion that there's no documented water contamination from fracking. She gave three case studies in heavily-drilled Garfield County that disputed the industry's claims that water resources are not threatened by drilling.

Then there was Deborah Rogers, the Ft. Worth member of the local Federal Reserve Board who has been tracking the "ponzi scheme" economics of the gas industry with a remarkable presentation about the deflating production rates at wells after 2-5 years and the equally deflating valuations of shale-invested operators. 

The incomparable Sharon Wilson from the Texas Oil and Accountability Project recited the familiar litany of health effects associated with gas facilities of all kinds, and previewed the Denton Record Chronicle story on breast cancer increases in Shale counties that ran yesterday. Her conclusion was that until we know more about the long term impacts of drilling on public health, it should not take place in locations that are still unmarred, like Dallas. 

Finally, there was Gary Hogan, the Vice-President of the Ft. Worth based North Central Texas Communities Alliance who spoke eloquently about the failure of that city to write an effective ordinance the first two times so far. Task Force Chair Lois Finkelman seemed to be particularly impressed with the very specific loopholes and mistakes that Gary said Ft. Worth was still making.

This is one of those events where the sum was greater than its parts. There was an impressive cumulative impact at the end. It may have been the best single  80 minutes of fracking exposition we've ever seen. There's an audio recording of the meeting you can listen to at the city's task force web site.

It also didn't hurt to have direct comparisons be made to last week's parade of industry representatives –

Last week: All men. All public relations spokespeople. Evasiveness. This week: 3/4's women. Three practicing engineers. Plenty of substance. 

It wasn't the end of things, but it was a good day and it did set a very high bar.  

Breast Cancer Declines Nationally But Increases in Shale Counties

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Circumstantial evidence or just coincidence? That's the question after this very good story in the Denton Record Chronicle by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe that points out that while national rates of breast cancer are declining, they're climbing in the six North Texas counties that also happen to be host the most oil and gas production facilities related to Barnett Shale drilling. 

There's a lot going on here, including the fact that at least four of those counties are also directly downwind of the Midlothian cement plant plumes and DFW air pollution in general during most of the year – Tarrant, Wise, Parker and Johnson. There is a long list of "endocrine disruptors" and cancer causing chemicals emitted by both the gas industry and cement plants burning all kinds of solid wastes that could be contributing to these higher rates, as well as a host of other potential variables.  

Still, this is the kind of original shoe leather reporting that asks the questions that need to be asked  – in other words, the kind of old-fashioned reporting you just don't see in dailies anymore, so kudos to Ms. Heinkel-Wolfe and the Record Chronicle for pursuing it and publishing it.  It's already creating quite a bit of buzz in the online Shale communities. 

Breast Cancer Declines Nationally But Increases in Shale Counties

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Circumstantial evidence or just coincidence? That's the question after this very good story in the Denton Record Chronicle by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe that points out that while national rates of breast cancer are declining, they're climbing in the six North Texas counties that also happen to be host the most oil and gas production facilities related to Barnett Shale drilling. 

There's a lot going on here, including the fact that at least four of those counties are also directly downwind of the Midlothian cement plant plumes and DFW air pollution in general during most of the year – Tarrant, Wise, Parker and Johnson. There is a long list of "endocrine disruptors" and cancer causing chemicals emitted by both the gas industry and cement plants burning all kinds of solid wastes that could be contributing to these higher rates, as well as a host of other potential variables.  

Still, this is the kind of original shoe leather reporting that asks the questions that need to be asked  – in other words, the kind of old-fashioned reporting you just don't see in dailies anymore, so kudos to Ms. Heinkel-Wolfe and the Record Chronicle for pursuing it and publishing it.  It's already creating quite a bit of buzz in the online Shale communities. 

Breast Cancer Declines Nationally But Increases in Shale Counties

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Circumstantial evidence or just coincidence? That's the question after this very good story in the Denton Record Chronicle by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe that points out that while national rates of breast cancer are declining, they're climbing in the six North Texas counties that also happen to be host the most oil and gas production facilities related to Barnett Shale drilling. 

There's a lot going on here, including the fact that at least four of those counties are also directly downwind of the Midlothian cement plant plumes and DFW air pollution in general during most of the year – Tarrant, Wise, Parker and Johnson. There is a long list of "endocrine disruptors" and cancer causing chemicals emitted by both the gas industry and cement plants burning all kinds of solid wastes that could be contributing to these higher rates, as well as a host of other potential variables.  

Still, this is the kind of original shoe leather reporting that asks the questions that need to be asked  – in other words, the kind of old-fashioned reporting you just don't see in dailies anymore, so kudos to Ms. Heinkel-Wolfe and the Record Chronicle for pursuing it and publishing it.  It's already creating quite a bit of buzz in the online Shale communities.