When Janie Cisneros and her Singleton United contingent met with EPA Region Six Director Dr. Earthea Nance and her staff on June 1st, one of the residents’ goals was to convince EPA to send West Dallas asphalt shingle maker GAF’s Title V operating permit back to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a rewrite.
In a stunning rebuke that often echoed the sentiments and language used by West Dallas residents campaigning for GAF’s closure, EPA sent notice to the company, state, and residents on late Friday afternoon that not only was the permit deficient, so was the state process that approved it.
EPA often gives authority to state agencies to tentatively approve or deny all renewing federal permits in their jurisdiction but retains the right to send the permit back to the agency for reconsideration if it finds the finished product isn’t fulfilling federal regulatory requirements. Even though TCEQ had approved the GAF permit in Austin, it still needed EPA’s approval in Dallas. It didn’t get it.
And the permit didn’t just get sent back. It got sent back with a big ol’ boot print on it. In both tone and scope, EPA’s response is unprecedented.
In its letter EPA identified five major objections, all of them coming down to a different version of the same demand: “TCEQ must ensure that the Title V permit includes monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting sufficient to assure compliance with the hourly and annual emission limits” GAF has listed in its permit.
EPA staffers expose the disconnect between GAF’s estimated permitted emissions and the non-existent, obsolete, or ineffective ways those emissions are accounted for in the permit. This includes the lack of any stack testing on major pollution control equipment in over 14 years at the GAF factory – a major point of contention with residents at their June 1st meeting with EPA.
“It is unclear and the record does not justify how a stack test last conducted 14 years ago during GAF’s normal operations is still representative of current operations….” concludes EPA, and then adds,
“It is unclear to EPA why GAF is not required to conduct periodic stack testing of its thermal oxidizer at a minimum frequency of at least once per permit term (ex. every five years) for VOC, SO2, CO, NOx, PM10, PM2.5 (filterable and condensable), and any relevant Hazardous Air Pollutants. TCEQ must explain how it has determined that the emission characteristics of the Thermal Oxidizer/Waste Heat Boiler have not changed since the latest stack test and are not expected to change over the term of the Proposed Permit. Conversely, if TCEQ believes that the emissions characteristics are reasonably likely to change over time, TCEQ must amend the permit to require periodic stack testing with a specified frequency. Further, TCEQ must amend the Proposed Permit to require the use of the emission factors from the most recent stack test and ensure the calculations used to determine compliance are made part of the permit. “
Because the Proposed Permit does not identify with enough specificity a particular monitoring or recordkeeping requirement associated with the related units, neither the public nor the EPA can ascertain from the permit what monitoring or recordkeeping methodology the source has elected to use, or whether this methodology is sufficient to assure compliance with all applicable requirements. This effectively prevents both the public and the EPA from determining if the chosen monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting satisfies Clean Air Act requirements.”
Considering how far off the mark the company has historically been in estimating its own pollution to both TCEQ and EPA, this is not an unreasonable requirement. It’s the taking to task of TCEQ’s lack of rigor that’s eye-opening and new.
The majority of EPA’s letter is spent on this kind of combination of surgical/technical explanation of why a permit provision is inadequate, and their slacked-jaw astonishment that TCEQ could approve such a thing.
But wait, there’s more.
There’s a seven-and-a-half page supplement to the specific Title V comments entitled “Additional Comments Outside of EPA’s Objections.”
As part of this section, EPA does a deep dive into the history of GAF’s nuisance complaints submitted by residents over the last 20 years and concludes “…based on the consistent frequency and nature of odor complaints, nuisance events still appear to be adversely and disparately impacting West Dallas residents’ quality of life and interfering with the normal use and enjoyment of property.” In writing the sentence this way EPA is quoting from the TCEQ’s own definitions of “air pollution” and “nuisance.” With it, EPA has given the City of Dallas just about all the evidence it needs to proceed with amortization.
Clearly exasperated, EPA asks, “Can TCEQ explain what measures, including any associated monitoring, that GAF has implemented that ensures ongoing compliance with the nuisance provisions outlined in 30 TAC § 101.4 or any other information that may provide the EPA and the public certainty that odors leaving the plant are not in violation of nuisance provisions? Has TCEQ been on-site during the heating and unloading of railcars while the “top hatch on the railcar is cracked open” and confirmed whether such unloading operations are a source of emissions/odors at the site? Lastly, complainants and investigators have identified both odors and “smoke” at the site. Has GAF and/or TCEQ considered voluntarily adding new pollution controls and work practice standards to reduce off-site odors as well as SO2 and PM2.5 emissions to minimize potential impacts on the community?”
EPA concludes its letter with advice to TCEQ on how the agency should align its permitting process with modern Environmental Justice metrics and principles. It even gives the state two recommendations: “1) TCEQ should engage early in the permitting process with communities and applicants to address environmental justice, and 2) TCEQ should avail itself of EPA’s most recent EJ resources and tools, such as use of the most up-to-date EJScreen tool and EJ related trainings available.”
It’s clear from the examples and even direct quotes used in the letter that someone at EPA has actually reviewed the blow-by-blow summary of GAF’s 45-year regulatory track record on the Singleton United website as well as its “Case for City Amortization of GAF” – and finds them compelling.
That’s got to be concerning to GAF management as they continue to try and negotiate their way out of a forced exit by the City. Because as surely as EPA was lecturing the State of Texas in its letter, it was also sending a message to GAF HQ in New Jersey. The message is something like….
“It’s mid-2022 and your Title V permit isn’t even close to being finalized. We’ve challenged TCEQ to make you prove so many things you haven’t wanted to prove in so long that it might take years to work out the kinks – that is, if you really want to. We’re sure we don’t have to remind you that your big, fat, overarching “New Source Review” permit that covers literally everything you’re doing in West Dallas is coming up for renewal in November 2024. That will make this look like a Methodist picnic. Do yourself a favor: work a deal and leave now, while you’re still in control of your own clean-up at a 76-year old factory site.”
We’re paraphrasing of course.
But Texans have never seen an EPA talk to polluters or their facilitators at TCEQ they way it does in this GAF Title V letter. It’s a big and welcomed change. And it was initiated by that group of determined Singleton United/Unidos residents back on June 1st. Congratulations.
Over the last couple of weeks, the staff responsible for the Air Quality Department at Dallas City Hall’s Office of Environmental Quality have been making the rounds giving presentations about their official air quality monitoring efforts. You can find their complete PowerPoints here as PDFs on the agenda: https://cityofdallas.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=903849&GUID=B69AEEB6-D5DA-4AE2-B8A4-5BB13C3FD4BE&Options=info|&Search=
The presentations are divided into two parts. The first deals with the monitors placed in Dallas as part of the State and federal enforcement to monitor DFW’s status as a “non-attainment area” for ozone, or smog. The second is about the “non-regulatory” (i.e not EPA-certified) air monitoring staff has been doing that has up to now has been going on under the “Breathe Easy” banner with a fleet of 12 monitors due to expire this year.
New federal grants have made it possible for the City to buy 35 new “non-regulatory” air monitors of various sizes and capabilities that are aimed at “community monitoring.” By the terms of the grants, five of these have to be placed in two West Dallas zip codes. The other 30 include six larger, more sophisticated air monitors that also come with their own metrological towers and will be placed at the City’s discretion.
This is quite an upgrade for a Department that only a short time ago was dismissing the idea of community monitoring and is in their fourth year of rejecting Joppa residents’ pleas for an air monitor in their neighborhood. That’s the good news.
What’s unclear is how all this new monitoring capability will be used to move the needle of air pollution exposure in Dallas.
Is the City collecting air quality data so residents can brace themselves on “bad air days”, or are they collecting it to shape City Hall policy that could reduce air pollution and its impacts?
When the goals of all this City air monitoring come up in the new presentations, there’s no mention mention of impacting Dallas City Hall policy. Instead, there are boasts about gathering ““high quality data,” “contributing to local and regional databases,” and “better understanding the performance of low cost sensors” for “public health measures” and “understanding the role air pollution may play in pediatric asthma” (Really? there’s lots of studies already proving this link)
No suggestion for any pro-active City policy to reduce air pollution. No talking point about using the data to address environmental racism or increase City Hall’s much-valued “Equity” in air quality. There’s a lot of emphasis on collecting data but not much attention paid at all to what will be done with that data.
During the Question and Answer session that followed the presentations in front of the Dallas City Council’s Environmental Committee, staff suggested the results of the monitoring could be used to further the City’s air quality goals like…..staying indoors when pollution is bad, and planting trees to mitigate it. Honest.
Dallas City Council Member Jaynie Schultz:
“What are we going to do to reduce air pollution as a result of this data, this incredible trove of information we’re gathering? ….Will you be proposing to Council different things we can do to reduce that asthma so we can actually affect those numbers?
Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability Assistant Director Susan Alvarez:
“We are currently working with our Office of Data Analytics to get that data added to the big data website so it will be publicly available. This is one piece of our grant for the West Dallas project; is to also develop appropriate messaging and to work with a non-profit on that to get that message into some of those schools where we have higher than average pediatric asthma rates….
CM Schutlz: But what’s the message? I’m sorry to interrupt.
Alvarez: The message is related to how to, um, best avoid, um, outside, outdoor activities. The other thing that we’re doing is working with the Texas Trees Foundation on, ah, piloting some interventions using nature based solutions, AKA, trees, and they’re working on that right now. They’re already working on planting vegetative screens”
It’s these kind of circa-1990’s answers that reveal why modern public health expertise is so needed at OEQS and City Hall. And not just included in the mix, buy actually driving City Hall environmental thinking. Data collection without application to policy is the Status Quo.
No OEQS staff holds a public health degree, has done research on the public health effects of air pollution, or is charged with evaluating air pollution levels from a public health perspective. When very high levels of air pollution are picked up by any of these new monitors, OEQS won’t have anyone on staff who’ll have the expertise to tell residents what that means.
Instead, the City will still be making residents do all the heavy lifting of solving problems the City helped create. You’re not only assigning them the task of linking pollution levels to impacts but also making it their responsibility to come up with the answer to cutting that linkage. This is what happened at Shingle Mountain. This is what’s happening in Joppa. This is what’s happening in West Dallas. Despite a fleet of new monitors, the City’s stance seems to be that we’re just collecting the numbers. What people do with them isn’t up to us.
Imagine that being the City’s response to finding levels of toxins in tap water faucets in Dallas neighborhoods. City Hall wouldn’t just publish the information in hopes of residents avoiding drinking the water. City Hall would take action to provide fresh water and eliminate the harm. But for some reason the City feels under no obligation to address toxic air quality in homes the same way.
There are a total of 20 slides in the two presentations. Here’s a brief annotated guide to the four slides that provide the crux of the City’s information:
The City of Dallas’ approach to air pollution in its city limits is reminiscent of the old Community Organizing story about the village that finds abandoned babies floating downstream along its river banks and decides to organize to do something about it. At first there’s only a few, but after a couple of weeks there’s hundreds. Adoption bureaucracies are established. Seal Teams of Baby rescuers are on call 24/7. Special baby dams are built.
Until one day some smartass villager asks: “Why don’t we go upstream to see why the babies are ending up in the river?”
Dallas is always responding after the fact to air pollution problems in a downstream way when residents want them to go upstream and solve the real problems. Problems its often responsible for creating in the first place.
Instrumentation without context and action is pointless. “Neighborhood monitoring” without neighborhood oversight is worthless.
If the City of Dallas wants to maximize the potential of so many new air monitors, it needs real public health expertise to tell residents not just to avoid the danger, but how the danger can be eliminated. And neighborhoods must be driving its monitoring deployment process, not just informed after the fact or consulted on a token basis.
But right now there’s absolutely no process in place at Dallas City Hall to ensure either.
D Magazine selected “78 Women Who Make Dallas Great” to profile in its September issue. Proud to say 26-year old Downwinders at Risk Chair Evelyn Mayo is one of them.
Dallas Morning News Consumer Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber found himself listening in on the annual “State of the Air” presentation we’re always invited to give at the Arlington Conservation Council. Lots of information about smog and PM pollution but what really got his attention was the description in the Q&A about the wholesale transformation of Downwinders’ mission and board since 2017. He was so impressed he decided to write about it for his next column. Here’s the flattering result with some great pics our Chair Evelyn Mayo, our founder Sue Pope and (almost) our complete board as of August 2021. Thanks to Dave for the coverage and to all of you for supporting us through this transition.
For those without a DMN subscription we’re reprinting the entire article below:
Top anti-pollution group gets a makeover to an all-women board with young adults and people of color
Most nonprofit boards can only dream of bringing in younger members and people of color to reflect their communities. This one did it.
The phrase “trophy wall” caught my attention.
Jim Schermbeck, the wise old battler against Dallas-Fort Worth air pollution for the last quarter century, was bragging about his group’s new generation of leadership and its new focus on protecting neighborhoods.
I was in a webinar listening to Schermbeck, program director for pollution fighter Downwinders at Risk, as he gave an overview of our air quality (it’s bad!) when the trophy wall thing perked me up. It had something to do with Dallas City Hall officials leaving their jobs. Forgive the gruesome image, but the symbolism was that their heads were hung up on a wall.
I turned up the volume on my computer so I could hear.
He told a story about how the city of Dallas in recent years had allowed two northern Dallas neighborhoods to create their own land use plans. But when two southern Dallas neighborhoods tried to do the same, they were told by the city that neighborhood-based land use plans created by community members were no longer acceptable.
Putting it bluntly, white neighborhoods were allowed to create bottom-up plans that were presented to and accepted by city officials. But these neighborhoods where people of color live were forced to accept top-down plans imposed upon them by City Hall.
Schermbeck mentioned the group’s chair, Evelyn Mayo, a 26-year-old firebrand, and said, “This made her mad.”
Mayo helped organize several groups into the Coalition for Neighborhood Self-Determination, which agitated for fairness in community-created land use plans. Letters were sent to Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, the City Council and City Manager T.C. Broadnax.
The power play appears to have worked. Three zoning officials decided to retire from the city. They are: Peer Chacko, the city’s director of planning and urban design; David Cossum, development services administrator; and assistant zoning director Neva Dean.
Kris Sweckard, the director of sustainable development and construction, was reassigned to the city’s aviation department on an interim basis.
“So at age 26, this woman has a department head on her trophy wall for a good cause,” Schermbeck was saying. “It’s just amazing to watch. If you ever think young people are not with it, and you want to build your confidence back up about people, please come to a board meeting or hang out with Evelyn and her friends for a while. They will restore your confidence about where we’re headed. She’s an amazing person, and our board is really great.”
Shine a spotlight
I asked Mayo how she felt about the trophy wall analogy. “I don’t think it’s something you should aspire to,” she said. “We were simply reacting to circumstances presented before us.”
Later, she toughened it up a bit, saying: “Whether it’s a trophy wall or not, what’s happening at City Hall is a product of their own incompetence.”
Downwinders board member Misti O’Quinn told me that the coalition shined a spotlight on one portion of neighborhood zoning, and when you shine a spotlight you can expose. What does that mean for city officials? “You take away their sense of security,” she said.
I attempted to reach the four City Hall officials but was unsuccessful. When I ran this scenario up the flagpole to Broadnax, he provided a written statement to The Watchdog explaining that when several staffers announced their intention to retire this year, it presented an opportunity to realign their departments.
“Over the next several months,” he said, “we intend to simultaneously restructure permitting and planning and realign the departments and leadership that oversee them. Reorganizing these departments will maximize effectiveness and productivity.”
He made no mention of the coalition or its agitation.
Change with the times
This story runs far deeper than citizen agitation. Downwinders represents a model for how environmental and other nonprofits can alter their profile, their mission and their leadership.
As I looked at the group’s history, I saw how Downwinders has changed in recent years.
Formed in 1994 by Midlothian rancher Sue Pope and other rural residents and suburbanites, Downwinders’ mission for the longest time was fighting pollution caused by cement plants.
But by 2017, the year Mayo joined the board, it was becoming clear — thanks in part to the hideous Shingle Mountain dump site in southeast Oak Cliff — that Dallas needed a spotlight to focus on what activists and academics call historically racist zoning. That’s what allows dirty industries into poorer residential neighborhoods where people of color live. Correcting those inequities is called environmental justice.
In the next two years, the old guard board members, many of whom had served since the group’s creation, all dropped off. The board and its mission changed from rural/suburban to urban.
“It was very traumatic,” Schermbeck recalls. “But I’m so glad we did it because we’re more plugged in than ever before.”
Mayo says the worst moment came in 2019 when she was elected to the unpaid job of chair in what she calls “a somewhat contentious vote.”
The board is now all women; two are Asian-American, five are Black, two are Latina and three are white. Three members are in their 20s, and six are in their 30s. One member is 17 years old.
Most community nonprofits, especially in the traditional environmental arena, can only dream of putting together a board with that diversity.
Mayo, who teaches at Paul Quinn College, has a perfect resume for her leadership role. She majored in environmental science in college with a focus on race and ethnicity.
Working as a paralegal at Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, she co-authored a study called “In Plain Sight,” which examined the governmental failures that allowed a disaster like Shingle Mountain to spiral out of control.
Then while teaching undergraduates at Paul Quinn, she and her students in 2020 completed a study – “Poisoned by Zip Code: An Assessment of Dallas’ Air Pollution Burden by Neighborhood.” You can guess the results of that survey.
The Downwinders’ main goal, in addition to continuing its legacy battle against dirty air, is to bring power and expertise to the city’s poorer neighborhoods that have had no say in dirty industries moving in.
“The legacy of racist zoning perpetuates unless you fundamentally redraw the map through these land use plans,” she says. “People who are affected must be involved in the decision-making process about what their neighborhood will look like. This will probably have better outcomes for their health and wellness.”
Yet, she adds, “People who live there and bear the brunt of the pollution are still not at the decision-making table.”
Mayo says her group needs all the help it can get.
“No matter who you are, we can put you to work if you’re interested and willing,” she says.
Note: A tip of The Watchdog’s hat to Downwinders’ board members: Cressanda Allen; Satavia Hopkins; Misti O’Quinn; Essence Tetteh; Marsha Jackson; Cindy Hua; Amber Wang; Idania Carranza; Soraya Coli; Amanda Poland; Michelle McAdam; and Shannon Vorpahl.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : 8 am Wednesday July 21
Contact: Raul Reyes Jr.: President, West Dallas 1 – 469-880-3811
Evelyn Mayo, Neighborhood Self-Defense Project – 774-810-0849
“GAF is the new RSR.”
Alliance Says West Dallas Polluter is Operating Illegally and Poisoning Residents…Just Like Infamous Lead Smelter. And They Want it Gone.
Giant shingle factory doesn’t have needed permits from City; Monitors show its likely violating federal air pollution standards too
(Dallas)– In a stunning replay of West Dallas environmental justice history, a new alliance of
groups says the largest polluter in West Dallas lacks required City of Dallas documents to operate, and could be in potential violation of federal air pollution standards. It’s the same circumstances that forced the former RSR lead smelter, once also located on Singleton Boulevard, to close in the 1980’s.
“GAF is the new RSR” said Raul Reyes, President of neighborhood group West Dallas 1, and spokesperson for the new coalition of allies, “This factory is operating illegally, lacks basic pollution controls, and is too dirty to be doing business in West Dallas neighborhoods. And just like RSR, it should be closed.”
GAF has operated its West Dallas asphalt shingle factory for so long a lot of its pollution is “grandfathered” – unfiltered by any modern controls like “scrubbers” despite that technology being capable of removing up to 99% of sulphur dioxide emissions. In the last EPA inventory available from 2019, it was listed as Dallas County’s third largest air polluter with over 260 tons being spewed from GAF into surrounding neighborhoods that year alone. That includes 125 tons of Sulfur Dioxide pollution – more than any other facility in Dallas.
For years, surrounding residents and workers have reported sulfur-like rotten egg odors in the Singleton corridor around GAF, leaving them with headaches and nausea. But it’s the tiny pieces of soot being emitted from the facility that could get the company in trouble with the EPA. Using off-the-shelf Purple Air monitors for Particulate Matter, West Dallas residents independently monitored PM pollution around the GAF plant over the past two years. Results show levels of air pollution that likely violate both the 24-hour and annual national standards for PM 2.5 microns or smaller. If official EPA monitoring confirms the violations, the part of West Dallas around GAF, which hosts many other industrial polluters that are likely contributing to this pollution, could be declared a “non-attainment area” for PM pollution. GAF and other West Dallas PM polluters would have to submit a plan to decrease their emissions and new industries would be subject to stricter limits. RSR was also violating air pollution standards when the City of Dallas began to seek its closure in the late 1970’s.
Just like lead scientists believe there’s no “safe level” of exposure to PM pollution. A violation of its national ambient air standard is a dangerous condition that can leave lasting health harm among the hundreds of residents who live next to GAF, especially children.
Reviewing the results from the GAF monitoring, Dr. Natalie Johnson, a faculty member of Texas A&M’s School of Public Health specializing in respiratory toxicology and environmental health warned, “If verified by EPA, these numbers are concerning. Exposure to levels over the EPA regulatory limits can lead to chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and premature death. The immune system, reproductive system, and developmental functions can also be harmed. The elderly, children, and infants are particularly vulnerable.”
Janie Cisneros, who lives with her family just feet from GAF’s fence line and hosted one of the monitors said “I grew up on Bedford Street and GAF was always a big presence. Now that I moved back to raise my own family, I see how disgusting and unhealthy the air is. It often keeps me from playing with my daughter outside.”
This is the first time in Texas that new low-cost hyperlocal air monitoring by residents has revealed potential violations of a national air pollution standard. Despite years of complaints, there are no City of Dallas, State, or EPA monitors near GAF.
At the same moment GAF is being accused of creating hazardous levels of air pollution, a research of City Hall documents by staffers for the Southern Dallas Neighborhood Self Defense Project revealed that GAF doesn’t have a current Certificate of Occupancy or the Special Use Permit (SUP) from the City of Dallas it needs to be operating at the site.
The RSR smelter also never operated with the SUP it was required to obtain. More recently, the six-story dumping ground for the asphalt shingles that GAF and others produce, that became Shingle Mountain in Southern Dallas, was illegal from the first day it operated because it also lacked a required SUP and Certificate of Occupancy.
Armed with this new information, West Dallas residents notified the City of Dallas about GAF’s illegal status. WD1 representatives have been told the research is correct and the City is now investigating. Without the Special Use Permit, GAF’s shingle-making is a “non-conforming” use and the City could initiate the same proceedings it used to eventually close RSR.
This dramatic news about GAF’s legal status and pollution levels comes precisely at the moment the company is applying for a renewal of its “Title V” operating permit from the State and EPA. Usually a mundane regulatory rubber-stamping, this process now has the potential to substantially add to the company’s headaches.
After months of requests by West Dallas 1 and elected officials, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will be holding a virtual public hearing on the permit on July 29th at 7 pm.
Residents and others who want to ask questions or provide comments during the hearing may access the webcast by following this link:
and entering 192-616-739 along with your email address or may call (512) 239-1201 at least one
day prior to the hearing for assistance in accessing the hearing and participating telephonically.
Members of the public who wish to only listen to the hearing may call, toll free, (415) 655-0060 and enter access code 569-744-316.TCEQ staff is recommending that you join and register at least 15 minutes before the hearing begins. A copy of the permit application can be viewed at the Dallas West Branch Library (2332 Singleton Boulevard). General complaints can be submitted in writing up to the hearing date to the TCEQ here:
https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assets/public/compliance/monops/complaints/complaints.html and objections to the permit renewal can be submitted here: http://www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/.
Besides WD1, the groups lining-up to oppose the federal permit renewal are a combination of Dallas environmentalists, neighborhood associations, and social justice organizations, including Dallas Sierra Club, Downwinders at Risk, Public Citizen, and Southern Sector Rising.
After a review by TCEQ GAF’s permit renewal then heads to the Biden Administration’s EPA, which has pledged to work with communities of Color to reverse the kind of environmental racism the groups claim GAF is guilty of practicing.
“No permits. The wrong zoning. Dangerous levels of air pollution. Right in the middle of Black and Brown neighborhoods. Tell me how this ISN’T a repeat of the environmental racism West Dallas has been fighting for decades,” said Reyes. “We expect the Biden Administration to make good on its promise to end this kind of unacceptable discrimination.”
It’s Earth Day 2021. Board members Cindy Hua and Evelyn Mayo built this great archival tool to explore the history of EJ frontline fights in Dallas County. Click the image to start looking around.
Expect updates that expand its reach in the coming months. To contribute to our Frontline Fund to support Community Organizing to fight current frontline fights, click here.
In the next seven days you can help us change the way Dallas City Hall looks at “environmental issues.”
One of the most important lessons of the Shingle Mountain crisis is the high price residents paid by having no environmental health expertise at Dallas City Hall.
This coming Friday, February 12th, the Interim Climate Committee Chaired by former City Council Representative Sandy Greyson is voting on how to organize a new approach to environmental issues in Dallas.
Southern Sector Rising and Downwinders at Risk are formally asking this interim committee to recommend a solution advocated for the last two years by Dallas Environmental Justice advocates: two separate committees. One to track the Dallas Climate Plan, and restoration of the Environmental Health Commission to tackle on-going environmental controversies and policies.
Making sure the numerous climate plan timelines and goals are met will be a full-time job.
EJ advocates say it would be unfair and unwise to also assign this committee the additional responsibility to hear, investigate, and offer policy recommendations on environmental health issues like Shingle Mountain, batch plant permitting, and COVID inequities. They’re urging Former Council Woman Greyson and the Interim Committee to adopt the two committee solution.
You can add your voice to this two committee option by clicking on this link and sending a “ClickNSend” email directly to Chairperson Greyson and Interim Committee members. We’ve got the template written and you can add your own message as well.
If you’re a Dallas resident, please help us bring a much needed focus on environmental health issues to City Hall. Thanks.
Despite the flurry of cynical and self-serving photo ops and press releases that Dallas City Hall churned out on Monday celebrating the beginning of a clean-up at Shingle Mountain, no waste was removed from the site yesterday. Nor will any be removed today.
But thanks to you, a clean up is coming. And also thanks to all you, that clean-up is suddenly more concerned with the health of Choate Street residents.
Last week, after a required 30-day public notice period, a state court approved a settlement between the illegal dump’s landowner, the State of Texas and the City of Dallas that sets the table for removal of all “above ground” material. On Monday, contractors for the city were installing air monitors around the dump to record the levels of dust created when bulldozers begin loading the estimated 100,000 tons of hazardous waste into waiting 18-wheelers for the half mile trip to the McCommas landfill.
According to a separate agreement between the City and the landowner, the City has until December 25th to “begin” the removal process, i.e. sending trucks to actually haul off waste.
This result was anything but a foregone conclusion when the “Move the Mountain” campaign began last August 5th with a new conference at City Hall demanding the illegal dump be gone by the end of the year.
Only 4 months ago City Hall hadn’t made any commitments to a clean-up and had no estimate for when one would take place. The City Council had just unanimously rejected pleas from Choate Street residents to re-establish the Environmental Health Commission as part of a new Climate Plan. We were at a low ebb in our campaign.
But a strategic and constant barrage of public protest and shaming – mock trials, leafleting the Mayor’s law firm, dumping waste at City Hall – along with the attendant embarrassing media coverage, made the City of Dallas actually commit itself to a clean-up it hadn’t planned on doing quite as fast, if at all.
Keeping constant pressure applied for four months was often exhausting, but momentum grew with each new demonstration. November 16th might have seen “peak” Shingle Mountain coverage with publication of a long and well-written expose in the Washington Post, a public demonstration at the dump’s gate counting down the days until a clean-up was supposed to begin and a crew from Solodad OBrien’s upcoming BET documentary in town to film it for a premiere in February.
Thanks to everyone who showed up to those demonstrations of support. Whether you attended one or all of them, your presence made a difference.
Those of you who sent in public comments this last month also had an impact. Initially, neither the State nor City expressed the least bit of concern about the health of Choate Street residents during the messy business of removing the waste. No specific provisions for controlling dust or monitoring air quality were included in the City agreement or State settlement.
But after over 50 letters and emails worth of comments were sent and included in the public record, the City suddenly got religion. It included dust control measures and air monitoring in its final description of the clean-up to the court. Lawyers for Marsha Jackson, Co-Chair of Southern Sector Rising, and a Downwinder board member cited your public comments as the reason the City included these new safeguards at the last minute. So congratulations a second time.
The settlement and agreements signed by the State and City are vague about what happens after the land surface is cleared of waste. Will there be any monitoring wells drilled to see if contamination seeped into the groundwater? Will the clean-up extend below the ground as well as above if the soil is contaminated? If pollution is found in the soil or water, what level of contamination is “acceptable”, i.e. what are the clean-up levels then?
And what and who will be responsible for the health costs -financial and physiological – accumulated by Ms. Jackson and the other Choate Street families?
Residents have drafted their own neighborhood plan for redevelopment that drastically changes the zoning in their community. They’ve submitted it to City Hall. But the same City Council Member that was taking unearned credit for Shingle Mountain’s removal on Monday is fighting this neighborhood plan tooth and nail.
District 8 City Council Member Tennell Atkins is one of the biggest reasons Shingle Mountain exists at all, and why its removal has been so delayed. He’s been nothing but an obstacle to be overcome instead of an ally for his constituents. Adding insult to injury, he’s now standing in the way of Choate Street and Flora Farms residents being able to rebuild their community from the devastation he’s inflicted on them.
Atkins is up for re-election in May and it’s our hope that all of you who made this Shingle Mountain clean-up happen will stick around and finish the job by helping us remove this political tumor that threatens the future of Southern Dallas.
Sunday December 13th was the two-year anniversary of the very first Robert Wilonsky column about Shingle Mountain in the Dallas Morning News. Some of us believed that first column would expose the problem and move officials to act to resolve it. 13 Wilonsky Shingle Mountain columns later, we’re still waiting on the trucks that should have arrived in January 2019.
If they show up before Christmas Day , it will be one of the best, most satisfying moments of a terrible year. But it won’t be the end of the struggle over racist zoning that began on Choate Street. That struggle is just beginning.
Public Comments on the State’s Settlement with Shingle Mountain landowner
Now thru Sunday, Dec 6th
Use our ClickNSend email feature to send your comments to Texas Attorney General’s office in 90 seconds
To make sure residents’ health is protected during a Shingle Mountain clean-up
A four-month citizens’ campaign pressuring the City of Dallas to clean-up the Shingle Mountain illegal dump in Southern Dallas by the end of 2020 is on the verge of paying off.
Following a pattern that began in summer, on the very same October day groups planning civil disobedience at the dump site announced another action, the City signed an agreement with the Shingle Mountain landowner to take responsibility to “begin” a clean-up by Dec 25th. In return, the City received a check for $1 million from the landowner.
Meanwhile, the state has also reached an agreement with the landowner that clears the way for a clean-up. That agreement is now up for public comment until 12 Midnight Sunday, December 5th.
You can help us protect the health of the Choate Street families most affected by the clean-up by providing your public comments to this State agreement. Doing so sends a message to both Austin and Dallas City Hall that they’re being held accountable now that they’ve been put in charge of removing the 100,000 tons of illegal hazardous waste they helped create.
Public pressure is what’s brought us to this point. Public pressure must now make sure the clean-up itself won’t increase residents’ exposure to hazardous materials like Silica, Formaldehyde, Petroleum By-Products and exotic glues and adhesives used to make shingles that are now crumbling into tons of microscopic particles.
On Monday November 16th, members of Southern Sector Rising, Downwinders at Risk, Southern Dallas Shingle Movers and other protesters gathered at the dump’s front gate for an action that hoisted and hooked a huge Clean-Up Countdown Calendar onto the eight-foot-tall metal fence that divides the site from South Central Expressway.
Designed as a giant-size desk calendar, it marked the 30 days of public notice ending on Sunday the 6th. Rev. Frederick Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church, Rabbi Nancy Kasten, and the Rev. Amy Moore joined Marsha Jackson and her neighbors in speaking about the need to monitor the City and State during this critical phase.
On the same day, a lengthy expose on Shingle Mountain by Washington Post national climate and environmental reporter Darryl Fears instantly made the dump a national poster child for Environmental Racism.
Two days later, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson was asked about the Shingle Mountain clean-up by a Channel 8 reporter during his City Hall press conference on rising crime rates in Dallas. His revealing answer beginning with, “It’s really a legal problem,” confirmed the City always had the option of cleaning up the dump, but delayed doing so for over 18 months until it had received money from either the operators or landowners. Admitting that the City could have “solved” this problem early on, Johnson said the City choose not to because that would have made the City’s lawsuit against the landowners “moot.”
Moot is a lawyer’s term that’s defined as “of little or no practical value, meaning, or relevance; purely academic.” Instead of making their lawsuit moot by immediately cleaning up a site causing daily human health damage, Mayor Johnson and the City of Dallas rendered the health of Marsha Jackson and the Choate Street families moot. They made it of little or no practical value in the City’s approach. Of much greater value was the cash received by the landowners. The City sacrificed a street full of its own residents for a lousy $1 million.
In his three-minute response, Johnson never uttered Marsha Jackson’s name, never addressed residents’ health issues, and never expressed regret, second thoughts, or apologies over the year and half the six-story waste pile harmed Choate Street residents. He never admitted the City’s multiple failures in code enforcement, zoning or environmental regulation that paved the way for Shingle Mountain’s creation. He complained how the City was put in a “tough position” – never considering how tough it might be for parents to watch helplessly as their child coughs-up pieces of ground-up shingles. Mayor’s Johnson’s answer was full of legal rationale but completely devoid of humanity or self-awareness. There were no people in it.
In short, it was an articulate if soulless synopsis of the City’s position regarding not only Shingle Mountain, but all environmental health problems in Dallas. Because at Dallas City Hall there is no such thing as human-centric environmental problems. What was the City’s first legal response to Shingle Mountain? It wasn’t to cite what an illegal awful abomination it was, but to take it to court over storm water violations. There were no people to worry about. Besides the inability of the City to protect its own residents from illegal hazards is the fact that it continues to treat Choate Street residents as spectators to their own disaster. Marsha Jackson is the Invisible Woman.
In May the Dallas City Council unanimously rejected the pleas of Ms. Jackson and Southern Sector Rising to re-establish the Dallas Environmental Health Commission to give an institutional voice to their concerns within City Hall; to put people back into the mix along with tree planting and water conservation. The Council turned its back on her – again.
That’s why your public comments about maintaining the safety of the pending clean-up are important.
Please show the City of Dallas that you care about Marsha Jackson and the families on Choate Street – even if it doesn’t. Thanks.
Monies will fund unprecedented study of link between health and air pollution in Dallas Freedman’s Town; first effort of its kind in Texas
What’s believed to be the single largest environmental health research investment in a Texas neighborhood was awarded today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to examine the links between human health and air pollution in the Joppa community of Dallas.
Texas A&M and Downwinders at Risk’s Joppa Environmental Health Project was selected as one of only 16 national proposals funded by the Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders grant. Between now and 2022, over $350,000 will be spent by Texas A&M scientists trying to understand the correlation between Particulate Matter air pollution and the health of the Freedman’s Town’s residents.
Cecilia Wagonner, a member of the Joppa church that hosted a community meeting on air pollution monitoring last December, was enthusiastic about the news. “I want to know the truth and nothing but the truth about air quality in our historic neighborhood. This is definitely good news. Let environmental justice be served.”
Per capita, Joppa is the most polluted neighborhood in Dallas. On one side is the Trinity River. On the other three sides are an asphalt batch plant, Railroad switch yard, large asphalt shingle factory, a concrete batch plant, and Interstate highway. It’s directly downwind from the largest methane air polluter in Dallas – the City’s McCommas Landfill methane energy recovery unit.
Since PM air pollution monitoring began there on August 31st as part of the new SharedAirDFW air monitoring network, Joppa’s PM levels have averaged significantly higher than other sites.
Two Texas A&M scientists based in College Station will lead the new Project. Dr. Natalie Johnson, is an A&M toxicologist specializing in the health effects of Particulate Matter air pollution, and Dr. Ping Ma, is an A&M behavioral and social science researcher who previously worked at Dallas Children’s Hospital specializing in health disparities and social determiners of health. Downwinders will assist with community canvassing and outreach efforts as well as provide technical support through its 11-Joppa based SharedAirDFW network monitors.
They’re now all charged with collecting evidence to discover whether Joppa has higher rates of PM air pollution and health problems than other communities, and understand how differences in daily levels of PM affect residents’ health.
“PM represents a significant ‘unseen’ health risk related to cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, including lung cancer and asthma, as well as effects on infant development and brain health,” said Johnson. “SharedAirDFW’s real-time pollution monitors will help make this threat ‘seen.”
Ping pointed out the study will be the first academic-community collaboration of its type in Texas. “Our findings will facilitate understanding of the air pollution risks Joppa residents face as well as generate community-based solutions to help create a new culture of environmental health in Joppa.”
Participants chosen for the IRL process also become students who receive training in the latest research methods and constant feedback from panels of experienced scientists and experts.
Grant monies will pay for staff time, graduate assistants, technology, travel, and community outreach over a three-year period.
The IRL grant is the first research project attracted by the SharedAirDFW regional air monitoring network that debuted in September, but Jim Schermbeck, Director of Downwinders, predicted it wouldn’t be the last. “This network makes all kinds of new comparisons and studies possible. In this case, residents and researchers are using it to document Joppa’s air pollution burdens and assist residents in relieving those burdens. That’s a first for Dallas, and Texas.”
From now until the end of the year the Project partners will be assembling their local contacts, refining their timeline and methodology, and getting ready to begin research in early 2021.