The Long March To Environmental Justice Begins with First “Let Joppa Breathe Alliance” Meeting

Council Member Kevin Felder welcomes participants to the Let Joppa Breathe meeting at GoodWork last Monday night.

Approximately 20 representatives from advocacy groups, non-profits, and neighborhoods gathered last Monday evening at GoodWork for the very first meeting of the “Let Joppa Breathe Alliance.” It was the first step in organizing a city wide effort to reverse over a century of racist zoning and land use planning in Dallas’ oldest Freedman’s community.

Besides Downwinders, there were members of Joppa Freeman’s Township Assocition, the South Central Civic League, the Inclusive Communities Project, Paul Quinn College, the NAACP, North West Texas Legal Aid, and Mia Carmen Theater company. As impressive as the breadth of support was, it was also the first time in memory that whites constituted a tiny fraction of attendance at a citywide Dallas environmental strategy meeting.

Rage Almighty, the spoken word artist who MC’d the May 22nd Joppa benefit was back to facilitate. District 7 Council Member Kevin Felder was also back to welcome participants and encourage the building of the broadest possible coalition to win victories.

On the agenda were updates from the community, including photographic evidence presented by JFTA’s Temeckia Derrough of continued dust and diesel pollution problems from the existing Martin Marietta batch plant operation. There are continuing rumors about the company coming back to request a second chance at permitting the two proposed batch plants that were denied by the city council in March.

There was also discussion about how the group can estimate the emissions from all the short-haul diesel locomotives going  back and forth in the Union Pacific switch yard that runs the length of the entire community.  Usually the engines that end up in a switch yard are already old and in need of maintenance – yard duty is seen a step away from retiring the locomotive. Their exhaust contains a very toxic form of PM called Carbon Black that’s more carcinogenic than your average PM pollution. Electrification of these locomotives would eliminate a significant source of PM pollution in Joppa.

Misti O’Quinn with Downwinders reported that the group and UTD were very close to reaching a deal to place the first air monitor in Joppa, with a location to be announced soon. Another ten have been ordered and will probably be ready to be installed by November.  The search is on for locations, with emphasis on getting front line readings close to batch plant, switch yard and the TAMKO shingles plant.

Plans are in the works to have a neighborhood enforcement workshop that includes the staff from City of Dallas Office of Environmental Quality, North West Texas Legal Aid attorneys and others advising residents how to be more effective in making complaints that can stick and lead to changes. Tentative scheduling has it penciled in for a date in later October or early November.

Participants scheduled the next Let Joppa Breathe Alliance meeting for 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, October 23rd at GoodWork Co-Working space, 1808 S. Good Latimer. All groups are invited to send a representative. This isn’t just an environmental issue. It’s a civil rights issue. The more groups we represent, the faster we can get needed change.

How Do You Make Progress in the Trump Era? Two Words: Particulate Matter

Public Health
Economic Development
Childhood Development and Education
Environmental Justice


In the same way lead exposure was linked to lower IQ in children and anti-social behavior like crime, PM Pollution is now being linked to learning disabilities and juvenile delinquency.

And in the same way public health mandated the removal of lead from gasoline and paint, many public policy measures are needed to help eliminate PM pollution exposure.

Many if not most of these are local in nature. They don’t need EPA or TCEQ approval.

In California, buffer zones between new homes and freeways are under consideration because so many studies have shown children living next to freeways suffer significantly higher rates of Autism and learning disabilities.

Some local governments, school districts, and public transit agencies, including DART are beginning to electrify their bus fleets to reduce exposure to PM pollution and save money. “No idling zones” around schools and are being enlarged.

In DFW, Downwinders is sponsoring a broad public health initiative aimed at identifying and reducing PM Pollution from all sources, called “No Safe Level.”

Just as PM pollution poses all kinds of adverse health effects it also provides lots of opportunities at the local level to make things better for your neighbors:

Safer homes and schools.
More sustainable public transit.
More equitable zoning.
Pollution controls.
Public Health protections in the neighborhoods that need them most.

We can make progress. But we need your help.

   Particulate Matter   


     SATURDAY, JANUARY 27th     
2 – 4 PM
Hill Country Room
Meadows Conference Center
2900 Live Oak in Old East Dallas

Get the Basics on PM
Help Pick Campaign Targets and Create Strategies for Change

Your Hosts, Our No Safe Level Committee members:
Cresanda Allen
Shannon Gribble
Amanda Poland
Evelyn Mayo
Misti O’Quinn




FOLLOW-UP: West Dallas residents won their fight to close the RamCrete batch plant at the January 10th Dallas City Council meeting. The vote was 14-1 with Council Member Rickey Callahan the lone outlier.  However, The City’s Office of Environmental Quality didn’t distinguish itself when a spokesperson reassured Callahan that any facility meeting TCEQ standard exemption permit levels of pollution “could not be causing a problem.”

Meet Our New Campaign Targeting Toxic Particulate Matter: “NO SAFE LEVEL”

Toxic Particulate Matter – “PM” – is the New Lead

PM is the scientific name for industrial soot. It comes from burning things. Wood. Gasoline. Diesel. Coal. Waste. Everything that depends on on burning something, produces Particulate Matter: cars, trucks, buses, locomotives, boilers, furnaces, kilns, etc.

PM pollution is tiny. It’s much smaller than nature’s dust particles that our nose hairs, throat and lungs have evolved to handle most of the time. Because its so small PM pollution can actually pass through your lungs’ lining and goes directly into your bloodstream. From there it goes to any organ it’s carried to – the liver, the reproductive system, the brain.

Numerous studies have shown the terrible impact of PM pollution on human lungs and hearts.It causes heart attacks, strokes, asthma and COPD.  More recent studies have shown a whole new threat. Exposure to PM is now linked to AHAD and Austim in children, and Dementia and Parkinson’s disease in adults.  Immune system and reproductive organ damage have also been ties to PM exposure. Like lead in paint and gasoline, this pollution can do damage to a person’s social and intellectual capacities, not just physical ones



The Dangers of PM Pollution and What We Can Do About It in DFW

Saturday, December 9th

2 – 4 pm

2900 Live Oak in East Dallas




This year the most comprehensive study on PM pollution health effects ever produced was published by Harvard’s School of Public Health. It covered 60 million people over 12 years.

It found significant health damage occurring at levels well below the current EPA standard and concluded there is no “safe” level of exposure to PM pollution. That is, there is no exposure that is not capable of doing some harm to you, no matter how small.

That same study found African-American seniors were three times more likely to die from PM exposure than any other group, with Latinos and Asians also suffering disproportionately. “Point Sources” (smokestacks) of PM are more likely to be in located in low-income communities of color. People of color are more likely to ride diesel-powered buses used for public transit or live along PM-spewing freeways. There’s no other type of pollution that’s linked so closely to how “undesirable” industries and people were forced to live next to one another over the decades.

Here in DFW we’ve flirted with high regional levels of PM pollution but we really don’t know the extent of it since the EPA and State only have four PM monitors for the entire DFW area of seven million people.

That’s why our first job is to help map PM pollution hot spots in DFW. Downwinders is building a “Citizen’s Guide to PM Pollution” that identifies all the largest sources of PM pollution – factories, railways, freeways, transit and school bus routes.

We’re purchasing portable PM pollution monitors citizens can use to police their own neighborhoods and helping to build a new monitoring network that cities can use to track events like the one on Oct 19th – that still remains a mystery.

What can be done in DFW to reduce our exposure to PM pollution? New controls on industry of course, including the cement kilns and coal plants. But also electrification of bus fleets, buffer zones beside freeways, and a detangling of pollution and people in places like West and South Dallas and the Northside of Fort Worth that require pushing the reset button on local planning.

Just turning bus route shelters 180° around so they don’t openly face street traffic has been found to reduce exposure to PM pollution by 30-50% for transit riders – one of the populations at highest risk for PM exposure.

PM pollution is everywhere. It’s so ubiquitous we take it for granted. Much like people took cigarette smoking for granted 40 years ago. And that’s where we’re at with this campaign, at the very beginning of a massive public health education and advocacy effort, a no-smoking campaign for machines that also has the potential to reshape planning, politics, and culture. We have a huge task ahead of us. And we need your help.

Come join us on December 9th to learn more about this insidious from of air pollution and help us come-up with the best approaches for where to start reducing it in DFW.

Saturday, Dec. 9th    2-4 PM    Meadows Conference Center    2900 Live Oak

New Harvard Study: There is No “Safe Level” of Exposure to Smog or Particulate Matter

Air pollution kills thousands of Americans every year, even at levels far below the current legal limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That’s the conclusion of the largest study of its kind ever done, performed by the Harvard School of Public Health and published last Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. It comes only a month after the Trump Administration signaled a willingness to roll back those current limits.

Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population,” has six authors headed up by well-known Epidemiologist Joel Schwartz, of the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers could find no sign of a “safe level” of exposure to either Ozone, aka Smog, or Particulate Matter 2.5, aka Soot at a microscopic level.

For every 1 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m³) reduction in Particulate Matter pollution, 12,000 lives were saved annually. For every 1 ppb of ozone reduction, 1,900 deaths were prevented.

Previous studies have concluded the same thing, but this new one stands out for a variety of reasons:

Size: The study followed over 61 million American seniors in the lower 48 contiguous states, representing 97% of all Americans 65 or older, for 13 consecutive years, 2000 to 2012, totaling 420 million “person-years” of follow-up and analysis.

Accuracy: Researchers developed an entirely new computer model to do the study, combining on-the ground air-monitoring data and satellite-based measurements to estimate pollution levels across the continental U.S at a resolution of 1-square-kilometer. Most current air computer models, including the ones used to predict DFW smog levels, run at a level of 5 to 10 kilometers square.

Telescoping in at the local level gave the authors the ability to estimate the levels of smog and ozone level exposures to seniors by Zip Code.

Scope: Unlike previous studies, this one’s ability to get down to the community level meant it could look at rural areas never included before. It’s size also “allowed for unprecedented accuracy in the estimation of risks among racial minorities and disadvantaged sub-groups.”

Men, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and lower-income seniors all faced increased risk of death from exposure to Particulate Matter. Black seniors were three times more likely to die from PM exposure as the senior population as a whole.

Since the Clean Air Act (still) requires the EPA to set air quality standards that “protect sensitive populations,” a number of Environmental Justice issues, and lawsuits, might arise from the study’s findings.

Extremely Low Levels of Pollution: With Particulate Matter, the study saw a significant increase in the risk of death rise when seniors were exposed to as little as 5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³), the lowest level measured. The current EPA standard for PM exposure is 12 µg/m³. Ozone levels as low as 30 parts per billion, also the lowest measured, increased the risk of death as well. The current standard is 75 ppb, with a planned phase-in to a 70 ppb level approved by the Obama Administration in 2015 now seriously in doubt.

Seniors’ chances of dying decreased every time PM levels were decreased. However, in a strange indicator of just how harmful lower levels of pollution are, their chances of dying decreased more when those PM levels decreased BELOW the current standard of 12 µg/m³. That is, more lives were saved by cutting PM levels back from 12 to 5 µg/m³ than from say, 17 to 12 µg/m³.

PM and ozone both are primarily caused by combustion – whether it’s from engines in cars and trucks, furnaces in power plants and cement kilns, or diesels running gas and oil pipeline compressors or locomotives.

DFW’s current annual average for ozone is 80 ppb with a new 2017 average due after ozone season is completed in October. Our annual

DFW annual PM levels have averaged anywhere from 8 to almost 12 but we’ve gone over the 12 µg/m³ annual standard a number of days every year. In this 2013 study both Fort Worth and Dallas had almost 80 days above the national annual standard.

Despite its impressive size and scope, the study gives only a partial view of the public heath damage done by air pollution.

 It only looks at the impacts on those 65 and older. Left out of its analysis are children, whose lungs are more sensitive because they’re not fully developed, and everyone under 65 with COPD, asthma, or other existing respiratory/cardiovascular conditions that would be exacerbated by bad air.

It also leaves out any impact short of death. This is especially important when it comes to PM pollution, which has now been linked to a number of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Dementia, and Autism, as well as to infertility and immune system damage. Ozone exposure can cause strokes, non-fatal heart attacks, and asthma emergencies. None of these potentially disabling results that fall short of dying are included in the damage assessment of this new study.

At a time when the current EPA is seeking every opportunity to roll back, cut back and turn back, this study is a large, unprecedented reminder that the current standards themselves are not protecting public health. Not even close.

Citizens must begin to fight for their lungs by reducing the exposure levels across the board, no matter the regulatory status of the pollutant, or compliance of the source. There is no safe level of industrial crap to breathe.

That means more than anti-idling zones at schools.

California has a recommended buffer zone of 500 to 1000 feet from major freeway corridors for new schools. Dallas -Forth Worth municipalities should expand this idea to daycare centers, parks and senior centers, and solidify it into policy instead of just recommendation.

Mitigation measures along those corridor using recycled water walls to “rain” down the particulate matter from traffic, or retrofitting sophisticated new air filters in homes and apartments for citizens are also needed to help those who cannot simply move away from the problem yet.

Portable monitors should be bought and distributed to help identify local PM hotspots and catch bad actors or work to lower levels of pollution. The DFW Air Research Consortium’s regional grid of sensors could be used to track PM plumes in real time.

It’s clear we’ll get no help from Austin or Washington with these efforts. Indeed, progress will be made despite them. If we have a TCEQ and  EPA only interested in pollution promotion, we must fight for more pollution protection ourselves in the places where we live. 

Between Now and Friday: Tell Them What They Can Do With Their Smog

Dallas smog aerialFrustrated that Rick Perry's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality isn't doing enough to end DFW's chronic smog problem, the local "Council Of Governments" has issued a "Request for Information" asking for the public's help in suggesting ways to reduce ozone pollution in North Texas.

Please use our Click N' Send E-mail form to make sure they get the message that the public wants:

1) State-of-the-Art pollution controls on huge "point  sources" of pollution like the Midlothian cement kilns and East Texas power plants.

2) New pollution control equipment and strategies to reduce the air pollution from the thousands of natural gas facilities mining the Barnett Shale.

3) Inclusion of all trucks and off-road vehicles in the state's vehicle maintenance and inspection program.

You can also add strategies or ideas of your own as well. Just click here, fill out the e-mail and send it in to be counted.

It takes as little as 30 seconds.    



Austin Doesn't Care About DFW Smog –
That's Why We Have To

Rick Perry's TCEQ is so discredited on the matter of DFW smog, local officials usually working in concert with the state agency are now looking elsewhere for help.

Ever since DFW was required to write and submit new clean air plans, The North Central Texas Council of Governments has been the local vehicle used by the state to funnel information, concern, and ideas back and forth.

It was never easy to get Austin's attention or convince the Powers That Be of the need to take bigger clean air measures. It took a decade for Downwinders to get the State to admit that the Midlothian cement plants had a huge impact on local air quality before they were the targets of new controls.

But ever since Rick Perry began running for President in 2010, it's been impossible for Austin toget serious about any DFW clean air plan. For the past four years, TCEQ has claimed that it can reduce air pollution enough by doing nothing.

That strategy has been a dismal failure. New car buying in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the 1930's was the TCEQ clean air plan in 2011. Austin promised that if we just sat back, we'd have the lowest smog levels ever recorded. Instead we had worse air pollution levels than we did five years ago.

This time round, TCEQ is saying a new EPA-mandated low-sulfur gasoline mix in 2017 will be the region's savior for the new clean air plan that's supposed to be successful in reaching the new federal ozone standard of 75 parts per billion in 2018. We're at 87 ppm now – still in violation of the old 1997 standard.

Just watch this new fuel being added to cars and see the ozone numbers drop, TCEQ is saying. No need to put controls on gas facilities, or cement kilns, or power plants. Nothing that would give Rick Perry's opponents on the Right any opportunity to claim he was "anti-bidness."

Even the Council of Governments isn't buying it.

That's why, in their own bureaucratic fashion, this Request for Information that the COG has issued is it's own middle-of-the-road middle finger to TCEQ.

Usually, it would be the state facilitating a discussion of new air pollution control strategies, but since it's obviously not interested, the COG has decided to go its own way. That's how bad things have gotten in Austin – even their most reliable allies in DFW can no longer take them seriously.

It's not clear what will happen to the list of control measures that the Council of Governments is assembling. Some might receive some more official attention, but locals have no authority to write or override Austin's decisions. TCEQ is the only entity that's authorized to submit a new clean air plan to EPA by the June 2015 deadline.

But there are ways to use the useless clean air plans that Austin is submitting. Downwinders' own green cement campaign is a great example.

In 2007, we successfully inserted a voluntary air pollution control strategy into the TCEQ plan revolving around the purchasing of cement from newer cleaner "dry" kilns by local North Texas governments. We then took that "green cement" procurement option and went to Dallas to pass the nation's first green cement ordinance. Then Fort Worth passed it. Then Plano. Then Arlington. Then Denton. Then Dallas County. Then Tarrant County.

Within two years, we had established a de facto moratorium on dirtier "wet kiln" cement within at least a dozen municipal and counties. Combined with federal rule changes, we were able to get all Midlothian wet kilns closed. The last one is being  be converted to a dry kiln this year. All while Rick Perry was governor. 

The same thing could happen with a good "off-sets" policy for gas facilities if a local city of county could pass a template ordinance showing the way. Currently, most of the gas industry is exempt from being required to "off-set" their air pollution in smoggy "non-attainment" areas like other large industries in DFW. Take away this exemption and you'll see a swift decrease in gas industry air pollution.

It's these kinds of strategies that don't depend on action from Austin that offer the greatest potential for progress this time around.

TCEQ has never written a successful clean air plan for North Texas, and it's not going to start now. But citizens themselves can take their lungs' fate into their own hands and begin to build a system of local measures that can make breathing easier.



Goal of the new plan:
Reach a 3-year rolling average of no more than 75 ppm of ozone at all 18 DFW area air monitors.
Due date for submission of new plan to EPA:
June 15th, 2015
Due date for attaining the 3- year rolling average of 75 ppm of ozone or below at all 18 DFW air monitors:
June 15th, 2018
Current DFW 3- year rolling ozone average:
87 ppm
DFW 3-year rolling ozone average in 2010:
86 ppm
Number of DFW air monitors in 2014 with a current 3-year rolling ozone average of 75 ppm or less:
2: Greenville and Kaufman
Next public meeting in North Texas to discuss the new DFW clean air plan:
10 AM
April 17, 2014,
Executive Board Room
NCTCOG Offices
616 Six Flags Drive
Arlington, 76011


New Studies Link Air Pollution to Cancer, Heart Failure and…Appendicitis?

ruptured appendixAccording to CBS News

"A new study published July 10 in The Lancet showed that even breathing low levels of air pollution for a prolonged period of time could raise risk for the often-deadly lung disease. Another study released on the same date showed that short-term exposure to most major air pollutants could increase the risks of hospitalization and death from heart failure."

Lung cancer risks went up 18% with each increase of 5 migrograms of PM 2.5. Researchers noted that they did not find a level of pollution for where there was no risk, and the results indicated "the more the worse, the less the better" when it came to pollution.

"At this stage, we might have to add air pollution, even at current concentrations, to the list of causes of lung cancer and recognize that air pollution has large effects on public health," Takashi Yorifuji from the Okayama University Graduate School of Environmental and Life Science and Saori Kashima from Hiroshima University in Japan…."

A second study shows the risk of dying or going to the hospital because of heart failure increased by 3.52 percent for every 1 part per million increase of carbon monoxide levels; 2.36 percent for every increase of 10 parts per billion of sulfur dioxide; 1.7 percent for ever 10 parts per billion increase in nitrogen dioxide; and about 2 percent for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter increase of particulate matter. Surprisingly, increases in ozone were not linked to heart failure. Unsurprisingly, you're breahting in all of these kinds of air pollution if you live in DFW.

All of that is kind of old news – put stuff in air, see stuff harm your lungs and heart. But here's a new "adverse health effect" being linked to air pollution – appendicitis. While not as lethal as lung cancers and heart attacks, anyone who's had their appendix rupture can tell you it's not a pleasant experience.

And while ozone may not have been linked to heart problems in that previous study, the New York Times reports a Canadian one links it to a slight increase in your chances of having appendicitis.

High ozone levels were associated with an increased number of hospitalizations for appendicitis and were even more strongly associated with cases of burst appendix. For each 16 parts per billion increase in ozone concentration the scientists found an 11 to 22 percent increase in ruptured appendix cases. The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The associations persisted after controlling for age, sex, season of the year and the presence of other air pollutants, like nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. The reason for the association is unclear, but studies in mice have shown that air pollution can alter the animals’ abdominal bacteria.

Who knew?

Yep, Diesel Exhaust is Really Bad For You

In maybe the least surprising air quality news this week, a long-term study involving thousands of participants concluded that exposure to diesel pollution increases your risk of lung cancer significantly. For those most heavily exposed, the risk was three to seven times higher.

Because the subjects were all miners who were working eight or more hour a day in underground chambers full of diesel engines, the results were predictable to anyone tracking the science in the 20 years since the study began. But it was the association of disease with diesel pollution at even “low levels” that will drive the debate over how and where highways are built or expanded. There’ve been a rash of studies coming out over the last year or so linking road traffic pollution to asthma, heart attacks, strokes and all the other ailments caused by bad air.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the study is that so much energy was expended by the diesel lobby to keep it from ever seeing the light of day. To the point of requiring the the Department of Health and Human Services to turn over documents and be held in contempt for not doing so.