A new regional air quality network bringing 21st Century science to some of Dallas’ most polluted neighborhoods had it’s official coming out party on December 5th in the former Freedman’s community of Joppa.

A community meeting at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church sponsored by Downwinders at Risk in association with Paul Quinn College and Habitat for Humanity drew a standing room only crowd.

Food from Jason’s, door prizes, and the opportunity for a Parkland Hospital health screening made the meeting into a real community event.

Residents got to see a monitor up close and hear a presentation by the University of Texas at Dallas graduate students building them for distribution over the next year. 11 of the monitors are due to be installed in Joppa, with another 11 installed in near-by Southern Dallas neighborhoods by Paul Quinn College. In total, over 100 are scheduled to be distributed from Plano to Fort Worth to Midlothian in the largest non-government network of its kind in Texas.

Joppa is surrounded by multiple sources of Particulate Matter air pollution, including a concrete batch plant, an asphalt batch plant, a Union Pacific railroad switch yard, Loop 12 and the Tamko asphalt shingle factory. Because of its compact size an relatively small population, it has the highest per capita air pollution burden in Dallas.

That’s why Downwinders chose to begin building its part of the network in Joppa. Thursday’s roll out was the first attempt to find hosts for the monitors among the neighborhood’s residents.

There were lots of questions and lots of enthusiasm. At least two Joppa residents didn’t need any more convincing and wanted to know how fast they could get a monitor at their house.

The answer is….soon. District 7 Council Member Adam Bazaldua is assisting the network in coordinating the electrical and internet connections we need for the “mothership” that carries the load for 10 smaller solar-powered and wireless sensors. A utility pole Downwinders bought from Oncor for that very purpose is only about 30 feet down the street road the New Zion Church where the meeting was taking place. All we need now are the connections.

Downwinders will be following up this meeting with door-to-door canvassing in Joppa and updates to everyone who signed-in. Meanwhile, we should be scheduling similar meetings in West Dallas and Midlothian after the first of the year.

After years of planning and preparation, we’re finally beginning to see the payoff of our vision. Thanks to all of our supporters for helping us achieve this first, but important milestone

After some technical and bureaucratic hitches, momentum is starting to build toward the 2020 operation of a true 21st Century DFW regional air quality monitoring network.

A small army of University of Texas at Dallas graduate students are assembling over 100 solar-powered wireless air monitoring units to be dispersed throughout the metro area. A third of those have been purchased by Downwinders for placement in Joppa, West Dallas, and Midlothian. 40 or more or going to Plano. Three Dallas County Community College campuses are receiving one, along with the Fort Worth and Richardson school districts.

And now news has come that Paul Quinn College has received an EPA grant to purchase 11 of these monitors for placement around its Southern Dallas campus. Downwinders is working to coordinate the location of its Joppa area monitors with Paul Quinn to provide Southern Dallas with its own mini-network of monitors.

Meanwhile another group of UTD students are working on the mapping software and app residents will be able to use to access the data in real time. They’re being led in this effort by Robert “The Map” Mundinger, who Downwinders hired for the job. All in all, Downwinders has now invested almost $50,000 in this network, which we hope will become a model for the rest of Texas and the nation.

Last Monday, the Dallas Observer featured a piece summarizing the Network, with quotes from UTD’s Dr. David Lary, the City of Plano, Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel and Downwinders’ own Jim Schermbeck. You can read it here.

Downwinders at Risk is excited to announce that we won a $20,000 Ben & Jerry’s Foundation grant to help add high-tech, low-cost air quality sensors to our growing community air network powered by the expertise and hardware of the University of Texas at Dallas.

While we applied in the past for these prestigious national grants, this is the first time we’ve received one. It’s kind of a big deal for us.

Our winning grant proposed combined old-fashioned community organizing with the installation and maintenance of new solar-powered, wifi-connected Particulate Matter monitors. Real time information from those monitors will be accessible through a free app you can download on your phone. This information can be used to propel a variety of public health and public policy initiatives.

Depending on how much of a bulk discount we can get, the grant should be able to buy at least 20-30 additional more monitors to add to the 11 we’ve already ordered. Our plan is have all of these up and operating by this time next year.

Dallas’ Joppa neighborhood will get the first wave of these. We’re already finding locations for them in the community. We’re beginning discussion with West Dallas community leaders to bring at least as many or more monitors to that abused part of town as well.

Residential communities adjacent to or directly downwind of major PM pollution sources are the first priority, but we hope to keep expanding to make the network as comprehensive as possible. There are plans to begin assembling a community air network board or committee of some type to oversee the Network. Stay tuned.

After being rebuffed by its own city council on the idea, Dallas Staff Goes to NCTCOG to promote autocratic regional air monitoring network

You may remember that way back last September members of the Dallas City Council Quality of Life Committee approved a independent regional air network as laid out in a 20 minute presentation by the University of Texas at Dallas’s Dr. David Lary and Downwinders’s Director Jim Schermbeck. They approved it 7-0 with even Rickey Callahan voting for it.

Usually when things get voted that favorably out of a Committee, they head straight to the full Council and get approved. But moments after the Committee vote City Staff demanded it not be sent to the full Council until December.

Everyone who knew the backstory of how much the Dallas Office of Environmental Quality and (Rockefeller) Sustainability hated the idea of such a network knew what was really going on. And sure enough, here it is April and there’s still no movement on the one regional network idea officially endorsed by a City Council Committee.

But guess what? Staff isn’t just standing still. No, they’re on the move. They’re not only going out of their way to shoot down the air monitoring network approved by members of their own the city council; they’re going out of their way to ignore the Dallas City Council all together and take their case for a more autocratic, less public network to the North Central Texas Council of Governments, or “COG.”

Not satisfied with allowing the worst environmental justice crisis  since West Dallas to explode into Shingle Mountain during his watch,  OEQ&(R)S’s James McQuire is now out to make sure Dallas residents never get a chance to make decisions about monitoring air quality in their own backyard.

Why? Because as one Dallas staffer put it, “too much participation by the public can be a bad thing.” McQuire and Company want a monitoring network staff can control without citizen participation or accountability, in other words the Status Quo. But of course the status quo has failed spectacularly to address both the region’s old, and new air pollution problems. UTD and Downwinders are proposing a model with heavy doses of public participation and representation.

So last month, McQuire submitted a request to COG to ignore what his own Dallas city council committee had endorsed, and instead start from scratch to build a less-democratic, more staff-driven network that would be run by the same agency that for years denied the Midlothian cement plants had any impact on DFW air quality.  He did this OVER THE OBJECTIONS of Quality of Life Chair Sandy Greyson, who has a healthy skepticism of CO’s abilities to look out for Dallas’ interests.

Like members of the Dallas Citizens Council who to make an end run around the City Council to get their own pet projects funded – see the VisitDallas headquarters slated for the new extension of Kyle Warren Park that is now being pimped by COG’s Director Michael Morris – McQuire is now circumventing his own Council and seeking relief from a “regional” agency that has historically only looked at air quality as an obstacle to highway funding.

So let that soak in – Dallas city staff is intentionally ignoring its elected city council and the only air monitoring approach that council is on record as supporting, and instead now backing its own more autocratic version which has never been voted on by council and in fact was rejected out of hand by council members when asked.

It would take a novel’s worth of history to make the full case of why the COG is a poor choice for any new serious clean air effort in DFW but let’s start with just fundamentals.

COG has never cared about air quality from a public health perspective. Ever. Any work it’s done or is doing now – including promotion of electric vehicles and other anti-smog measures – are aimed at keeping DFW out of “non-attainment status” with the Clean Air Act in order to keep getting precious federal highway money. As long as the dollars keep flowing, COG isn’t interested in taking on other kinds of air pollution besides smog, or doing research into how even routine levels of combustion pollution are harmful, or until this moment, shown any interest in doing the air monitoring other metro areas are now routinely engaged in.

This skewed perspective is reflected in the language of McQuire’s proposal to COG. It’s all about how this air monitoring network could be a boon to transportation planning and oh by the way, maybe be of some public health interest too.

Because it lacks a public health perspective and is run by a cabal of local governments and staff by way of committees    within committees, COG has been every bit as pro-active about bad air as the Dallas OEQ(R)S under McQuire, which is to say not a bit.

Downwinders spent years trying to convince COG leadership that three giant cement plants located in close proximity to each other in Midlothian, upwind of Dallas, and in eyesight of I-20 did in fact contribute to DFW smog. Despite spewing the equivalent of half a million cars worth of air pollution every year and being sited just across the Dallas and Tarrant county lines, the COG folks just didn’t get it – until Downwinders had to petition the EPA to bring those cement plants into DFW’s official smog plan itself. Those cement plants now have to be included in regional anti-smog plants but COG didn’t do that, citizens did.

When COG was writing its anti-smog plans, there were only two sides represented in it regional Clean Air Steering Committee: city staff and business. It took Downwinders to organize a collective boycott of this process until environmental groups were given seats at the table. COG didn’t do that, citizens did.

When fracking came to DFW, COG was as reluctant to point the finger at this huge source of new air pollution as it had been with the Midlothian cement plants. Why? Because local governments were benefactors of the Barnett Shale “boom” in tax revenues and drilling leases. COG steered clear from even acknowledging gas drilling as a significant air pollution problem and aligned with industry to dismiss concerns. It was up to local residents living next to drilling pads and compressor stations to write new rules for everything the drilling boom brought with it. Dallas residents wrote the most protective gas drilling rules in the state. COG didn’t do that, citizens did.

And if it had really been interested in air quality and air quality monitoring, the COG has had years to develop the idea and pursue it. It did not. Instead it was left up to non-profits like Downwinders and UTD to design and build a new approach to air monitoring. For over three years now this effort as been in the works and in fact James McQuire and his staff sat in on the meetings where the UTD model that was endorsed by his own council was drafted. He raised no objections at the time. Instead he waited until after the effort was finished and begin to sabotage it immediately from behind closed doors. Despite his best efforts at scuttling the proposal, the UTD model made it to Greyson’s committee and won a 7-0 vote. COG and Dallas OEQ(R)S didn’t do that. Citizens did.

And so now two of the region’s two most citizen-hostile entities are trying to team up and let COG do for Dallas air quality monitoring what it’s done to Dallas transportation policy – make it top heavy, unresponsive, undemocratic and staff controlled. 

Like Greyson, Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel is four-square against the COG idea and in favor of more public participation. Representing the largest local government entity involved, her opposition may keep McQuire’s effort from taking off despite his best bureaucratic efforts. And there’s also the May elections in Dallas to consider. A new council could have a lot more confidence in overriding staff proposals than the current one. And maybe that accounts for McQuire’s proposal arriving at COG now as well.

What really frustrating is that if McQuire and staff hadn’t begun his campaign to undermine the one approach that was favored by most of the entities involved, the Dallas city council would have already approved the UTD plan and we’d be on our way to building a truly independent monitoring network. Until Dallas staff objected last fall, there was a consensus about how to proceed. He’s single-handedly gutted that consensus, stifled all progress, and kept DFW way behind the air monitoring curve.

We’ll keep you up to date on how far this COG proposal gets, but Downwinders in Denton, Plano and Fort Worth should be on alert that McQuire is trying to get those cities on board with the COG approach as well.  Please contact your most citizen-friendly council members and ask them not to support, what is in essence a staff coup in Dallas.

In the meantime, here’s one more question you can pose to Dallas council candidates this election season:  “Do you support staff’s attempt to override the will of the council and impose a less public -friendly COG-run air monitoring network on Dallas, or the homegrown version proposed by UTD that’s already received a 7-0 vote?”

If this is going to get done right, citizens will have to do it.

Rebuking its own staff’s misinformation campaign, the Dallas City Council’s seven-member Quality of Life Committee voted unanimously at its Monday morning meeting to recommend joining the North Texas Clean Air Network.

But in an unusual move, staff requested and received an almost three-month delay in scheduling a full city council vote on endorsing the new local air monitoring system. It won’t be until December 5th when the entire council gets briefed on the Network, and December 12th when they actually vote on whether to join. That’s a very long gestation period for a measure that just passed in Committee 7-0.

Staff claimed they wanted the long pause because of what they said were questions about how the city would participate in the Network and what provisions were necessary to get access to monitor locations like….utility poles. Citizens might be forgiven for suspecting the real reason for the three-month delay is to give staff time to find some new “fatal flaw” in the network and scuttle the whole thing before it ever comes up for a vote. If one listened hard enough, you could hear the startled disbelief in staff’s comments when the yes vote came down, despite every outward sign pointing to that outcome.

When one considers there was a Dallas city staffer at just about every meeting that led up to the creation of the Network, that these meetings began over a year ago, and that this specific presentation and vote has been scheduled for the Council’s review since August, it’s really quite incredible that staff admits they’ve spent no time thinking about how to implement this proposed policy within the city limits. Maybe because they’ve spent so much time trying to shoot it down.

As late as the Friday before Monday’s vote staff was still at it, sending out a memo to Committee members downplaying the need for any regional network, conveying regulatory-correct but scientifically-misleading language about local Particulate Matter pollution levels, and writing one of the oddest sentences we’ve ever seen associated with air quality monitoring. In dismissing the formidable capabilities of the kind of low-cost high tech sensors the Clean Air Network will be using, Dallas Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata concluded, “These low-cost air sensors present new opportunities for uses beyond regulatory monitoring but are not yet able to provide direct measurements of real-time health impacts.

That’s because that’s not what air pollution sensors or monitors do. None of them. Nada. Zero. Not even the really big and expensive ones the City currently operates for the State and EPA. They can only measure what levels of PM pollution are in the air you’re breathing, not what cancers, birth defects, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes problems, IQ loss, dementia or other illnesses that PM Pollution are causing “in real time” in your body as you breathe it in. No such Star-Trek-like technology exists.

In the real world researchers take the PM measurements recorded by sensors and correlate them to rates of illness. It’s a branch of science called epidemiology. The staff memo manages to completely confuse two wildly different scientific methods in a stunning, head-shaking way. It’d be flat-earth funny if it wasn’t, you know, the official position of Dallas City staff on the subject. Then it just becomes embarrassing.

But whatever doubts about the Network staff tried to infect the council members with, they seemed to vanish once UTD Physics Professor Dr. David Lary and Downwinders’ Jim Schermbeck, representing the DFW Air Research Consortium, gave their 35-minute presentation on the Network.

A roomful of “Clean Air Now” button-wearing supporters also helped the cause considerably. Thanks to everyone who came on an early Monday morning to make sure the Committee did the right thing. Thanks also to everyone who sent in emails to the Committee via our prepared Citizen Action website feature.

That combination of grassroots support plus technical expertise is one of the things that’s so impressive about this bottom-up approach, and it paid off again in the Committee meeting. Schermbeck made the case for change, Lary gave the details of how to build that change, monitor by monitor.

D Magazine published an online piece Monday morning that provides a point-by-point rationale for why this Network is A Big Idea Whose Time Has Come. Basically Big, Expensive and Slow has been replaced with Small, Cheap and Fast and it’s democratizing air quality information. All of that was included in the Committee presentation, plus examples of how it could have made a difference in the real world during a past crisis like the Sunshine Recycling Fire of December last year in West Dallas.

Both Plano and Dallas County officials have already said they’re onboard with the Network and may act to ratify the founding documents in their jurisdiction before the scheduled December Dallas vote. By the end of the year a new 21st Century regional air monitoring system, driven by local expertise, controlled by local governments, and designed to promote public health could become a reality.

But citizens may still have to fight to see it happen. In an ironic twist, the same staff that has been opposing the idea of Dallas joining the Network is now in charge of writing the briefing paper for the Council to explain why it’s a good idea. Bets are already being taken on how well they succeed.

ARC’s Network presentation was only half of an interesting compare and contrast exercise looking at two local projects using air sensors in two very different ways that Chair Sandy Greyson had arranged for the Committee.

The other half was a presentation by the Texas Nature Conservancy outlining their city staff-supported “resiliency” (i.e. Rockefeller) project, the “Breathe Easy” study proposing to place a PM and ozone monitor for two years at nine DISD schools that already see high student asthma and absenteeism rates, all below Interstate 30. Breathe Easy has already started spending money and needed no vote…although it was the first time any Council Committee had been briefed on it.

The study was supposed to get started back in August with the beginning of the school year but the nine schools haven’t been announced yet and so no monitors have been installed. Since the 2018-19 academic year is designed to provide a “baseline” of student asthma health, the study has already missed its chance of getting any data during the worst summer for ozone pollution in five years. It could take another month or longer to name the schools and wire-up the monitors.  It’s uncertain how much this gap of missing information diminishes the value or definition of a baseline to which three specific intervention efforts are to be measured against beginning in the 2019-20 academic year.

Those intervention efforts include vehicle idling policies at or near schools, screens of vegetation between the street and school, and in-school asthma therapies.  The question being posed by the study is whether these intervention efforts have any impact on school-site pollution levels and therefore student asthma or absenteeism rates that can be measured.

There’s certainly no harm in doing this study, but… its about ten years behind the times and spends a lot of money to tell us what we already know.

For example, we know DFW children’s asthma levels are higher than the national average. In their presentation, the TNC uses the 2009 Cook’s Children’s Hospital study made infamous by Downwinders almost a decade ago.  That study contains the map showing a huge diagonal swath of childhood asthma running the length of Tarrant County that almost exactly syncs-up with the prevailing pollution plumes from the three Midlothian cement plants. Downwinders used that map time and again to prove the impact of the cement plants on downwind health during our Green Cement Campaign.

We know asthma is worse in minority communities. Many green groups were speaking out about this fact during the first wave of Environmental Justice activism during the 1990’s and have never stopped. What’s interesting is that TNC and the staff never ever talk about WHY this is a fact. It’s like they consider it an inherent genetic defect.

One reason might be that the Dallas City Hall staff now feigning concern for sick black kids is the same crew responsible for actively pressing racist zoning and land use planning in black and brown neighborhoods, like their predecessors before them.

It was only last March when they were recommending approval for those two new batch plants in Joppa. Only last February when they recommended the Ash Grove Cement Silo in West Dallas. Before that they approved the move of the Argos batch plant from trendy Trinity Groves to a location next to a school in West Dallas.

Why do black kids have higher asthma rates in Dallas? Perhaps because the City of Dallas has designed it that way for over a century.

There is not a single note of contrition about this contradiction in the TNC or staff’s presentation on its Breathe Easy project. No “we’re sorry for putting people and polluters way too close in minority neighborhoods.” No “we’re going to do better from here on out – not just with these studies, but with actual policy.” No change in behavior, or even why there might need to be one, is ever discussed.

Those supporting the Breathe Easy study – or any other collaboration with the the Office of Environmental Quality and Rockefeller Sustainability –  should understand they’re aligning themselves with a bureaucracy that’s been at the forefront of making the pollution problems in Joppa and West Dallas worse.  And now the same bureaucracy wants to “study” the problem they helped make by testing out three piecemeal approaches to reducing exposure, rather than looking at how institutional changes could bring more fundamental and lasting solutions.

In the end, a year of intervention strategies at your school does little lasting good if you walk home through a polluted neighborhood whose industries have been given a blank check by city staff.

We know reducing exposure to PM pollution improves your health. Lots and lots of studies show that.

We know which specific strategies work to reduce PM pollution. Buffer zones, vegetation screens, inside air filters, pollution controls, electrification of vehicles – all of these have been examined by researchers and found to reduce PM pollution levels. Even the Nature Conservancy cites the empirical success of tree planting in reducing pollution based on a past study.  We don’t need a new study to tell us these strategies are effective. We need more money to implement them.

What the Breath Easy study seems to want to acquire is a new number – A, B and C intervention strategies reduce student asthma attacks/absenteeism by X, Y and Z amounts.

But can that be a meaningful, scientifically-robust number now that you only have an abbreviated baseline that excludes summer? Can it be meaningful if you only spend a year testing intervention strategies, including growing vegetation screens? Even applying copious amounts of Miracle Gro, your trees are not going to get that tall in 12 months.

Using all of TNC’s own data, a convincing case can be made that the $300,000 + being spent on this study could have been better spent on buying trees for those nine schools and installing them as PM screens. But that would have just reduced PM pollution. It wouldn’t have produced a study for the Rockefeller Foundation.

A dense regional Network of air monitors will begin to expose the deep disparities in pollution burdens in Dallas and elsewhere. It’ll provide a map to black and brown neighborhoods they don’t have now, providing further evidence that what you breathe in Dallas depends on where you live in Dallas. There’s plenty of indications this is the real disparity that Dallas City Hall staff are concerned with – even more than higher rates of black childhood asthma. 

The curtains are about to part and provide a much clearer picture of how Dallas’ institutional racism has poisoned its own residents. It behooves everyone who calls themselves an environmentalist in Dallas in 2018 to commit to changing that picture, not just studying it.

This coming Monday’s Dallas City Council Quality of Life Committee Meeting Concerning a New Air Monitoring Network is
POSTPONED UNTIL SEPTEMBER 24th.

Word came late Monday (yesterday the 20th) that City Budget resolutions tied to deadlines for budget submissions forced air monitoring off the agenda for the Committee’s August 27th meeting.

We’ve been assured that we’re DEFINITELY on the agenda for the Committee meeting scheduled for Monday, September 24th at 9am in Rm 6ES.

Although it’s a delay, it allows us more time to educate the council about the benefits of a public air monitoring network.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Stay Tuned.

Last month we requested the City of Dallas’ Office of Environmental Quality files concerning air quality monitoring going back a few years. We wanted to know more about how City staff chose the Texas Nature Conservancy’s “Breathe Easy” study as its first air monitoring project through a process of…well, there wasn’t exactly a process was there?

Here’s some highlights from the materials we reviewed so far:

Despite criticism, OEQ Staff is recommending using the same air monitors for its own study that Downwinders used in Joppa.

OEQ staffers have criticized Downwinders’ portable monitoring in Joppa…despite the lack of any city monitoring up to that point in the neighborhood. Something about the lack of reliable data. But lo and behold, OEQ staffers seems to have recommended not only the same company (New Zealand-based Aeroqual) to the Nature Conservancy for its stationary monitors, but also exactly the same portable air monitors. We told you they were good.

Any local university scientist who’s worked with Downwinders is blackballed.

Dr. Kuruvilla John, Professor and Chair Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering at the University of North Texas was “…biased because funded by Downwinders” according to one meeting summary and blackballed by OEQ staff as a City technical advisor for the Breathe Easy project. Dr. John’s sole sin was to get paid as a contractor in 2015 by Downwinders to perform a single study using the state’s own computer model for DFW smog. Before ruling him out, no one on OEQ staff mentioned that Dr. John’s modeling and study was endorsed by a unanimous Dallas city council vote recommending the EPA take more proactive measures to reduce smog pollution.

One wonders if his collaboration with Downwinders and other citizens groups in the DFW Air Research Consortium have made UTD’s Dr. David Lary similarly verboten to OEQ staff.

Dallas City staff in-kind contributions to the Texas Nature Conservancy “Breath Easy” project are very, very large.

To date, the partnership between the City and the Texas Nature Conservancy has raised almost $300,000 in grant money for a study involving nine schools. But that total pales in comparison to the in-kind contributions the city is making to the effort over both its developmental period and it two-year run. For example…

The Study Concept Originated with Staff: As it is, it’s my concept and now I have to hand it off to other people to implement and manage,” complains one longtime staffer.
Technical Assistance: City staff is responsible for most of the technical assistance the TNC’s “Breath Easy” study has received up to his point. As a TNC staff person said, “This research (on monitors) was compiled by…the Dallas OEQ.”
Data Services: Data Services is estimated in one memo to cost $1million over a two-year period.
Continuing Project Support: There’s “consulting with staff regularly” on research goals and design throughout the project.

Combine all the staff time over 3-4 years with data services costs and you could well have a multi-million dollar donation from the City of Dallas to the Texas Nature Conservancy, courtesy of your tax dollars.

OEQ staff likes the idea of a new air monitoring network…in other cities.

As one OEQ staffer put it: “We’re looking at air monitoring programs in states and cities. In Minneapolis/St. Paul the state agency is installing low cost (and low resolution) monitors in every zip code. In L.A. they are installing 100 monitors citywide. Baltimore, Chicago and Lafayette all have enhanced monitoring programs. Here the TCEQ has zero interest in any of these projects. The EPA staff are very interested, but cannot offer any financial support.”

A OEQ staffer sought a job with the Conservancy even as the Breathe Easy project was taking shape.

“We are teaming up with the Nature Conservancy and their new Urban Conservation Director ( a position I interviewed for in early 2017….)”

As you piece together the email chains and date memos, it’s clear that if it weren’t for the considerable support from the City of Dallas, the Nature Conservancy’s Breathe Easy air monitoring project would…need a lot more grant money.

Why has OEQ staff committed so much time and money to a two-year study of nine schools while dismissing the lesser expense and effort of joining a regional network of air monitors many times that size?  A real time air quality network modeled on the very kind OEQ staff seem to admire from afar in other cities? That’s an answer that we haven’t found in the files yet.

But it’s something to keep in mind for the re-scheduled September 24th Quality of Life Committee meeting where presentations about both the TNC/City’s private study and the DFW Air Research Consortium public network will be featured.

MONDAY, AUGUST 27th

9 AM

ROOM 6ES

DALLAS CITY HALL

CITY COUNCIL QUALITY OF LIFE COMMITTEE HEARING ON DALLAS JOINING A NEW REGIONAL AIR NETWORK

______________________________________________

Over the last two years, as members of the DFW Air Research Consortium have promoted the idea of a dense grid of low-cost, high-tech air sensors spread across North Texas, their audiences have usually had one universal response: “This is great. It’s a no-brainer. When can we start? “

The single exception to this excitement is the City of Dallas Office of Environmental Quality.

Strange isn’t it? That hotbed of radical environmentalism known as Plano is embracing the idea of network air monitoring with both arms. Richardson and Fort Worth are interested as well.

But within Dallas City Hall there’s not only skepticism, but out right hostility to the the “smart city” idea of providing real time air quality information to citizens from hundreds of monitors.

Why?

On more than one occasion OEQ staff has said that they don’t want to have to take calls from Dallas residents who notice high air pollution levels in their neighborhoods and…expressed the opinion that “certain groups won’t responsibly use the information produced…like in Joppa.”

In other words, the public can’t handle the truth. 

(Remind us again what happened in Joppa? 

Oh yeah, Dallas OEQ staff was in favor of putting two additional dusty dirty batch plants in the small Freedman’s community that already has a large and polluting roofing shingles plant, a batch plant, and a huge rail switch yard surrounding it. 

They made their recommendation for two more batch plants without doing any kind of air monitoring at all in Joppa, despite months of residents testifying at various hearings and meetings about the pollution problem and despite OEQ having the equipment to do it. 

Staff made their recommendation without comparing the pollution in Joppa to other Dallas neighborhoods, or without examining any kinds of equity issues at all. Is Joppa the victim of Environmental Racism or not? The OEQ was silent. 

Staff based their support solely on the lack of complaints – a record rendered invalid by plenty of Joppa community meetings where air pollution was complained about –  and the moderate levels of pollution recorded by the single EPA-TCEQ PM monitor in all of Dallas County, located some nine miles away from Joppa near Mockingbird.

When Downwinders showed up a week before the Council vote and actually took air samples in Joppa for the first time, they showed levels of Particulate Matter that were much higher than that EPA monitor, demonstrating how ridiculous it was for OEQ to base its assurance to Joppa residents on it. It made them look like they hadn’t been doing their job. And they hadn’t. And they hadn’t done it in West Dallas with the concrete storage silo and batch plant fights there. Lately, OEQ hasn’t met a polluter it didn’t like.)

So instead of endorsing the idea that the public has as much of a Right-to-Know what’s in their air as in their food, OEQ would just rather you just not know. Ignorance is bliss.

OEQ staffers also have said they object to a network of new air monitors because EPA doesn’t yet recognize their data as “official” and so it can’t be used for enforcement…yet. But do these air monitors have to have that official recognition to begin doing lots of good things for public health?

Joppa residents didn’t need EPA certification to compare the levels Downwinders recorded with the “official monitor” and know something was wrong. Doctors say they don’t need it to begin looking at correlations between area pollution levels and heart attacks, strokes ER visits, and school absenteeism. Cyclists and runners say they don’t need EPA certification to plot the least-polluted routes for exercising according to the grid. Cities like Plano says it doesn’t need it to better time traffic lights and reduce pollution that way.

It’s quite possible just knowing there are new monitors out there relaying real time information will now make a plant manager think twice about doing something questionable on a weekend or holiday.  That’s enforcement – without EPA certification.

Given that Dallas currently doesn’t quantify or measure Environmental Justice issues in the city limits, a monitor network could provide planners and City Council members with a tool to do just that. It could graphically demonstrate how some Dallas neighborhoods are burdened with a lot more air polluters than others, and draw a map of those inequities to prevent them being made worse….to prevent mistakes like the OEQ staff was making in Joppa. You don’t need EPA certification for that impact either.

The hollowness of these staff arguments is proven by OEQ’s own actions. Even while it dismisses the unruly democracy of a real time broad-based PUBLIC monitor network, it’s committing over a million dollars of in-kind staff time and City resources to assisting a PRIVATE air monitoring study that is supposed to show how health can be improved….without EPA certification of the monitors being used.

So the same argument that city staff is using to dismiss the public network is the same one it’s using to support the private study.

You might recognize this M.O. at City Hall:

Staff decides it absolutely must do something about something. It decides how to accomplish that something after an exhaustive and rigorous search of talent and resources within a 100 foot radius of the office where that something is decided. An all out effort is then made to bias, slant, tilt, and otherwise favor the approach staff has decided must be taken against all other alternative approaches that might make sense outside of the 100-foot office radius. Nothing but the original staff approach is worthy of consideration, all others being the work of Satan or Dirty Hippies.

And the City Council? The Deciders for the public-at-large? They have an option to get involved at the very end of this sausage-making. Staff’s view seems to be that bliss is ignorance here too.

This happened with the Trinity River. Now it’s happening with air quality.

In 2014 Dallas got some Rockefeller Foundation money for Resilience preparation. For those without a program, resilience is the fancy Rockefeller Foundation word for Climate Change, or rather the symptoms of climate change. Elected officials and bureaucrats are supposed to feel safer about using it.

Dallas got so much money that the City created an Office of Resiliency. And that office sponsored invitation-only forums on how Dallas could be more resilient. Not open forums mind you. Not public hearings. They wanted the folks they’d located through that rigorous and exhaustive vetting process. None of the Satanists or Dirty Hippies got notice.

One of the right kind of groups that did get invited to those forums was the Texas Nature Conservancy, a mostly wealthy and white group of landowners dedicated to the noble idea of putting aside large tracts of undeveloped land for permanent preservation. It’s a group well-known for its dedication to open spaces – but not for any research it’s ever done on air quality.

Nevertheless, out of these forums suddenly emerged a partnership between the City of Dallas and The Nature Conservancy to do some kind of new air quality monitoring. There was no competition of concepts and no decision by the City Council. Staff had decided, and that was that.

And so you get the “Breathe Easy” Study.

Nine (as yet unspecified) DISD schools in “South Dallas” will be wired with new air monitors recording Ozone and Particulate Matter pollution in real time over one or two years to study the impact of anti-pollution measures like stricter idling policies on school absenteeism rates.

But while the information will be gathered in real time from these nine schools, that information will not be shared with the public on the City of Dallas website until after (an as yet unspecified) time has passed. No annoying calls from pesky citizens (or parents) asking why their neighborhood’s air pollution levels are so high today.

Furthermore, after the study is completed it’s unclear what’s going to happen to the monitors in the nine schools.

In this case, the Conservancy and City seem to be tracking the “resiliency” of Dallas students in the face of chronic and acute air pollution problems, and then letting them know after the fact how resilient they were.

And is it irony, cynicism, or both when Dallas City Hall says this new study is needed because “Black kids in Dallas have an asthma rate eight times higher than Asian children and four times higher than whites.”

Maybe that’s because the Dallas OEQ keeps approving batch plants in their neighborhoods.

The same department which approved the relocation of the Argos batch plant from gentrified Trinity Groves to working class West Dallas, approved Buzzi’s 165-foot tall concrete silo next door, approved the RamCrete batch plant permit down the street, and whole-heartedly approved two new batch plant permits in Joppa IS NOW concerned about Environmental Justice issues! What amazing powers that Rockefeller money has.

So far, TNC reports they’ve received almost $280,000 in grant money for support of this study. Paperwork found as part of a Texas Open Records Act Request Downwinders submitted to City Hall suggest the City is donating a million dollars in data services capacity alone. That’s in addition to the considerable staff time also lent to the effort. In-kind donations from DISD have not been disclosed.

We know that reducing kids’ exposure to PM pollution will help their health and well-being. We know one way to do that is by turning off vehicle exhaust. It’s not clear what kind of return the TNC or City is getting for its considerable investment.

Meanwhile,  the idea of a new network of low-cost, high-tech monitors throughout North Texas giving the public real time information about the state of the air its breathing actually sounds like a great Rockefeller resiliency grant because it helps individuals and localities deal with the symptoms of climate change in their daily lives.

Moreover it’s an indigenous, grassroots effort.

Because the rigorous and exhaustive vetting at City Hall didn’t make it the long 17 miles up to UTD, staff had no idea that one of the nation’s premiere experts in air monitoring teaches there. Oxford-trained Dr. David Lary just got a huge contract from the U.S. armed forces to help them better equip our soldiers for fighting in hostile and toxic urban environments. A big selling point was all the different air toxins in DFW standing in for the real thing. Honest.

It was Dr. Lary’s 2016 National Science Foundation proposal for a pilot project that got the regional network ball rolling. Even though it didn’t get funded, it brought together local governments, scientists, and citizens groups who then forged their own regional slow-cook version. Representatives from UNT, UTA, TCU, and UNT’s Health Science Center participated. So did Plano, and Dallas County.

Dr. Lary has outlined a monitoring network that’s capable of correcting itself in real time using those EPA official monitors as a baseline. EPA has said they’re interested in using his approach. So has NASA. He’s the foremost authority on this topic within hundreds and hundreds of miles but somehow, but Dallas city staff never found him because he wasn’t on that exclusive invite list.

The TNC-Dallas Breathe Easy study is using the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for their air monitoring expertise. Much like the Nature Conservancy, this is a fine outfit, well-known for its work in transportation policy. It is not known for any air quality monitoring work and one can look in vain on its website for a mention of such. No one on their faculty even comes close to matching Dr. Lary’s credentials.

The kicker is that for the same $280,000 as Breathe Easy has raised, Dr. Lary has said he and his lab could build  200 + monitors for regional distribution. Data services will be donated by UTD. You get about 190 more monitors and real time public access for the same money.

So on the one hand you have an expensive study run by a private foundation for a short time using untested expertise, and on the other you have a cost-effective perpetual public network advised by one of the country’s leading authorities on air monitoring. You don’t have to have lived in Dallas very long to know which choice was the “no-brainer” for staff.

The Private Study and the Public Network don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but that’s the way City staff often portrays the choices to the Council – whose first exposure to any of this material will be at the scheduled August 27th Quality of Life Committee public hearing on joining the Regional Network, chaired by Council Member Sandy Greyson.

The Conservancy study could be done parallel to the establishment of the network and its school monitors folded into it at the end of the planned two-year shelf life. The city could help the Conservancy and be a part of the Network at the same time. But Staff seems to have made up their minds they can only support one air monitoring project, or rather, dug in their heels over the overly-democratic goals of this network project – it being supported by the Satanists and Dirty Hippies and all.

There’s no doubt that the same changes in technology which have disrupted other industries are disrupting environmental monitoring too. The ability to buy very reliable monitors for not much money is sending control away from top-down hierarchies to the bottom-up, crowd-sourcing rabble. A few expensive sites are being replaced by hundreds of inexpensive ones. Homeowners are already buying and installing their own consumer versions and linking to national and international networks. They’re making the status quo obsolete, one monitor at a time.

The regional network proposed by Dr. Lary and the DFW Air Research Consortium is designed to try to harness this disruption for public health’s sake.  It’s open source, accepting all comers that meet its technical guidelines for participation, utilizes machine learning, and dispenses monitors where the science and need lead, no matter how many. It’s the same thing being done in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, and Chattanooga. And even Plano, which has already ordered its first monitors from UTD.

Plano has decided it wants a seat at the table as the sensor networks of the future are built. It’s participating out of self-interest because it knows otherwise, the city might not have a say in how the technology is used there. It’s the polar opposite from the sentiments Dallas OEQ staffers have expressed.

On the 27th, Council Member Greyson will be using her Committee hearing to contrast and compare the two air monitoring projects.

City staff will do one presentation on the Breathe Easy study and UTD’s Dr. Lary and Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck will do another on the regional monitor network.

Then it will up to the Committee to decide if Dallas can be as progressive on air quality as Plano.

We’re told there will be no public comment allowed. Still, we encourage you to come down to City Hall, put on a button, buy some popcorn, and root for Democracy. The Dirty Hippies are on a roll of late.

WE NEED YOU
TO SPEAK OUT….
FOR CLEAN AIR!….
FOR PUBLIC HEALTH!….
FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE!…..
FOR SCIENCE!

MONDAY, AUGUST 27th
9 AM
ROOM   6 ES
DALLAS CITY HALL
1500 MARILLA 

DALLAS CITY COUNCIL
QUALITY OF LIFE COMMITTEE
PUBLIC HEARING:

Should Dallas join Dallas County and Plano in establishing a new regional air quality monitoring network

 

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Dallas residents’ Right-to-Know what’s in the air they’re breathing could take a big step on Monday, August 27th.

That’s when the Dallas City Council’s Quality of Life Committee will hold a public hearing to decide if the City should join a new regional air quality monitoring network. It’s the most important decision concerning Dallas city-wide air quality in years. 

Why? Because information is power. 

Despite the fact you breath lots more air than you eat food or drink water, product labeling allows you to know more about what you’re putting in your stomach than what you’re putting in your lungs. A 21st-Century air monitoring network would begin to correct that imbalance.

Unlike the current handful of monitors operated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and EPA, this new local network would have hundreds of small high-tech, low-cost sensors and they’d be reporting their information in real time on a phone-accessible app. 

Despite being the home to 2.5 million people, and covering an area slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island, Dallas County has only a single official monitor for deadly Particulate Matter pollution you can access online. Unless you live within close proximity of that one monitor you don’t have much idea of what kind of crap you’re inhaling.

Being able to access real time air quality information no matter where you in DFW are has the potential to transform personal habits and public policy.

Residents with asthma or other breathing problems will have a much better picture of the air they’re actually being exposed to, down to the specific neighborhood or even street block. They can pro-actively plot a path to avoid polluted parts of town, or wait to take that walk or run.

Hotspots of pollution will be more readily identified by the people most affected by them. And, if we organize, that means they’ll get more notice from policymakers too.

Public health officials will be able to track school absentee rates with “bad air days.” City traffic engineers can time stoplights to reduce vehicle pollution. We’ll know which neighborhoods already experience a lot of air pollution and shouldn’t be candidates for siting new industrial facilities.

This is why the Dallas City Hall IT staff not only included high tech air quality monitoring in the category of “Public Health and Safety” but also “Equity and Empowerment.” This network and the information it provides can be a powerful tool for citizens.

There are many ramifications to having this information available – some obvious, some we can’t imagine yet. High-tech air quality monitoring is one of the most useful applications of emerging “smart cities” technology. 

Chicago is installing a grid of over 500 air quality sensors. Baltimore is doing the same. LA is committed to at least 100. Even Chattanooga, Tennessee has its own network. Now DFW, home to some of the worst air in the country for decades, has a chance to do the same. 

Dallas’ Quality of Life Committee is Chaired by three-term council veteran Sandy Greyson, and includes rumored Mayoral candidate Scott Griggs, Mark Clayton, Omar Narvaez, Jennifer Staubach-Gates, Adam McGough, and Ricky Callahan.

If the Committee votes to join the Network, it’s recommendations would then be forwarded to the the entire 15-member City Council for formal approval.

As proposed, The North Texas Clean Air Network would be administered by a board that includes public health experts from Parkland and the Dallas County Medical Society, officials from every city, county, hospital or school district that become members and public interest advocates. This board would decide where to put new monitors, insure their technical proficiency, and help educate the public about the network.

Officially, it’s chartered goals are to

1. Provide the best, most up-to-date factual information about local air quality by supervising the implementation and maintenance of a publicly accessible, secure, and scientifically credible regional air sensor network providing simultaneous real time air quality information from multiple locations within member or contracted jurisdictions via the World Wide Web.

2. Provide fact-based public education resources on local air quality.

3. Support scientific research on local air quality by local colleges, universities, hospitals and schools.

4. Work with regulatory agencies and entities to further local clean air goals.

The Network began as a National Science Foundation grant proposal led by Dr. David Lary of UTD. It requested funding for dense concentrations of monitors in Plano and Southeast Fort Worth. It got a rare call back by the NSF, but no money.

Still committed to the idea, the NSF grant partners then began building the same kind of monitor network across DFW using donations of resources and labor.

Over the past year, 30 Particulate Matter monitors have been bought or donated for this purpose. They’re being installed at community colleges, public schools, and one is being located in the Joppa neighborhood of Dallas.  Consortium members now want to turn these monitors over to the proposed Network board so the system can be operated in the public interest as a kind of public utility.  

There are no additional costs for the first wave of 30 monitors other than internet connectivity and minimal maintenance. More monitors can be added to the network by collecting fees for installation and using a portion for maintenance.

But as of last month, there’s an exciting new source of funding for the Network – an untapped regional clean air fund that over a dozen North Texas cities contributed to a decade ago and has sat unused ever since. Over $500,000 in local money has already been raised and budgeted to “protect Texas air.”

UTD’s Dr. Lary has proposed using slightly more than half of that collected money to build a sophisticated 200-sensor air quality network spanning across DFW measuring Particulate Matter pollution, temperature, pressure and humidity with an additional  20 primary monitors  measuring the Particulate Size Distributions and Criterion Pollutant Gases (including O3, NO, NO2, CO, SO2,H2S, VOC), Temperature, Pressure and Humidity. The smaller 200 monitors are all solar-powered and use wifi.

Dallas has a reputation for desperately wanting to be known as “world-class” and a recent Morning News article noted how Dallas had a “high-tech image problem” among innovators. A 200-monitor high-tech air quality network would instantly propel the city into the ranks of the “smartest” wired metro areas in the US, not to mention advance the cause of local public health. Dallas could be ahead of the curve instead of behind it.

2018 is the 27th straight year Dallas and all of DFW will be in violation of the Clean Air Act. The State of Texas and the EPA have shown themselves to be unwilling to take the problem of dirty air seriously. Now its local government’s turn. 

SHOW-UP ON MONDAY AUGUST 27th AT DALLAS CITY HALL AND SPEAK OUT FOR A PRO-ACTIVE RESPONSE TO DFW AIR POLLUTION PROBLEMS. 

 

HOW TO TURN THIS:

INTO THIS:

Dallas County finalizes documents for founding a regional air quality monitoring network among local governments – will your city, county, school or hospital district vote to join? 

 

In the same week that Downwinders at Risk and the Dallas Sierra Club raised enough money to buy a full-time stationary Particulate Matter monitor for the distressed Joppa community, Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel announced she was sending out documents vetted by the Dallas County District Attorney’s office for the founding of a region-wide air monitoring network to be administered by local governments.

 

With a working title of “The North Texas Clean Air Network,” the documents propose an Inter-Local Agreement between area municipalities, counties, school and hospital districts to oversee a system of inter-connected particulate matter monitors that insures  scientific credibility, uniformity, transparency, and accountability through administration of an appointed board of member representatives.

 

This kind of air monitoring network is vastly superior in terms of time and space to what exists now. Instead of only a few monitors for seven million DFW residents spread out over an area the size of a New England state, it would contain hundreds of locations – none further than a block or two away from where ever you are. And instead of waiting for a reading of what the air was like one or two hours previously, these networks can deliver the information in constantly updating five-second intervals, in real time.

 

The result is a bonanza of data for public health administrators, school officials and urban planners, as well as a new “smart” tool for residents to use in their everyday lives. Planning a run or a walk? Chart the least polluted path. Trying to minimize air pollution from congestion? Tweak the synchronization of your stoplights until you find the timing that produces the least emissions. Track classroom absentee rates to pollution levels and enforce schools’ no idling zones. High-tech low-cost air quality monitoring is one of the most useful applications of emerging smart cities technology.

 

Air quality monitoring’s potential is recognized in Dallas’ “smart cities”planning chart, placing it under both “Public Health and Safety” and “Equity and Empowerment.” The recent fight over new batch plants in the Joppa’s community and the part Downwinders’ portable monitors played in it shows air monitoring is a powerful new high tech tool for citizens.

Language in the County’s documents initially includes only Dallas County, City of Dallas and City of Plano since those were the three entities represented when informal discussions began last summer, BUT ALL DFW LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ARE INVITED TO JOIN.  Reportedly the documents have already been sent to both Dallas and Plano city halls for consideration and action. In Dallas, it’s expected longtime clean air advocate Council Member Sandy Greyson’s Quality of Life Committee will host a hearing on the proposal in the near future.

 

Given recent events in Joppa, Council Member Kevin Felder is also presumed to be a part of the effort to get Dallas’ to join.

 

Dense air monitoring networks are being rolled out in many other American and foreign metropolitan areas. Baltimore has proposed a 500-monitor network, Chicago at least as many. Chattanooga has its first ten being built and installed – by a laboratory at the University of Texas at Dallas.

 

Even though it’s had decades of air pollution problems, DFW has been slow to catch-up with this trend. The North Texas Clean Air Network would begin to address that lag with a first wave of 24 to 50 donated monitors…from that same UTD lab, where Dr. David Lary, one of the world’s leading authority on environmental sensor technologies, teaches physics.

 

Dr. Lary’s research was just advanced by a large Department of Defense grant to test small high-tech air monitors under a variety of environmental contaminants for possible deployment in the field. This grant and others is allowing UTD to turn its Physics Department into an air monitoring assembly line benefiting the entire region. That’s why the costs of buying and installing the first wave of DFW air monitors is so cheap.

 

It’s also a reason the public can trust he information they’re getting from the Network as well. Thanks to researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, we know DFW residents are more likely to believe independent third party data about air quality than information they get from government sources.

 

The documents created by Dallas County are only the first step. Like everything else concerning environmental protection, this monitoring network is a Do-It-Yourself campaign.

 

ALL THREE NORTH TEXAS CLEAN AIR NETWORK DOCUMENTS TO SHARE WITH YOUR LOCAL CITY COUNCIL, COUNTY COMMISSIONERS COURT, SCHOOL OR HOSPITAL BOARD: 

By-laws [pdf-embedder url=”https://www.downwindersatrisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/North-Texas-Clean-Air-Network-Bylaws-5-2.pdf” title=”North-Texas-Clean-Air-Network-Bylaws-5 2″]

Articles of Incorporation [pdf-embedder url=”https://www.downwindersatrisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Articles-of-Incorporation-for-North-Texas-Clean-Air-Network0D0A-5.pdf” title=”Articles of Incorporation for North Texas Clean Air Network 5″]

Interlocal Agreement [pdf-embedder url=”https://www.downwindersatrisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/North-Texas-Clean-Air-Interlocal-Agreement-5.pdf” title=”North Texas Clean Air Interlocal Agreement 5″]

 

 

AIR MONITORING Q&A

What is the Mission of The North Texas Clean Air Network? 

1. Provide the best, most up-to-date factual information about local air quality by supervising the implementation and maintenance of a publicly accessible, secure, and scientifically credible regional air sensor network providing simultaneous real time air quality information from multiple locations within member or contracted jurisdictions via the World Wide Web.

2. Provide fact-based public education resources on local air quality.

3. Support scientific research on local air quality by local colleges, universities, hospitals and schools.

4. Work with regulatory agencies and entities to further local clean air goals.

How much would it cost cities and counties to join the Sensor Network? 

Nothing. Joining is free, and even the first 25-50 monitors are being donated by UTD and other researchers. Only small electrical and internet connectivity costs for each monitorwill be incurred.
Who will be on the Network’s Board? 

1. Sitting Dallas City Council Member

2. Dallas Office of Environmental Quality representative

3. City of Dallas Public Advocate representative

4. Sitting Dallas Commissioners Court member

5. Parkland Health and Hospital representative

6. Dallas County Public Advocate representative

7. Dallas County Medical Society representative

8. Siting City of Plano Council Member

9. Plano Sustainability & Environmental Education Division representative

10. Plano Public Advocate representative

11. Dallas Independent School District representative

(Your Local Government Representative Here When They Join)
How will expansion and operating costs of the Network be paid for? 

For the first year, the initial wave of air monitors isb eing donated. Future monitors and maintenance will be paid for by adoption of Network installation and connection fees, grants donations., and directed funding from local governments.
Who will be the Network’s technical supervisor? 

Dr. David Lary, UTD Physics Department.