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.



By-laws North-Texas-Clean-Air-Network-Bylaws-5 2

Articles of Incorporation Articles of Incorporation for North Texas Clean Air Network 5

Interlocal Agreement North Texas Clean Air Interlocal Agreement 5




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.


Sue Pope just said no.

No to Holcim Cement Inc. No to the EPA. No to the State of Texas.

In 2000, despite intense pressure, the Midlothian rancher would not agree to allow the company’s local cement plant to double its capacity without a public hearing. When her objections were overruled and the plant became a huge source of illegal new pollution, her stubbornness was finally rewarded.

Not only did the company have to install new pollution controls; not only did it have to pay for a staff scientist for Pope and her group, Downwinders at Risk, to use for unscheduled plant inspections at Holcim. It also had to put aside $2.3 million dollars for new clean air projects in DFW.

 12 years and dozens of grants later, that $2.3 million has all been spent – on things like hybrid school buses and delivery trucks, solar panels in South Dallas, energy efficiency projects in Fort Worth, public transit in Arlington and electric lawnmower trade-ins.

The only thing left to do to close out the largest and most successful endowment of its type in the state history is disburse the interest accumulated over the life of the Sue Pope Pollution Reduction Fund. That will happen today when, according to the specific wishes of Pope herself, $75,000 will be donated to the Special Needs education program in the Midlothian public schools. It’s believed to be the largest single donation to the MISD from a local resident.

 “The reason I got involved in clean air issues was because of the children,” said Pope. “In the 1980’s, I began to hear of so many Midlothian area children with rare diseases and birth defects like Down Syndrome and Autism. When we started connecting these problems with local industry, I decided that something needed to be done about it.”

In a ceremony at the L. A. Mills Administration Building 100 Walter Stephenson Road scheduled for 4:45 Monday, Pope will present the check to the Midlothian School Board, some members of which were still in public school themselves when she began her crusade for clean air in the 1980’s.

Whether or not they acknowledge Pope’s original motivation, the Board is reportedly happy to accept the money that one woman’s stubbornness and – thoughtfulness – has brought them.


Donate Here.


Yesterday, the Dallas City Council voted 9 to 5 to deny approval of two new concrete batch plants in the Joppa neighborhood, a part of South Dallas already surrounded by heavy industry.

Among other things, the vote proved what a powerful new tool our new portable Particulate Matter monitors can be to citizens.

Up to now, the ability to know what’s in the air you’re breathing in real time has been rare and available only to government or industry.

Technology is making it more accessible.

Downwinders is making it more accessible.

And now you can make it more accessible for some of the people who need it most.

For the next seven days, any money donated to Downwinders at Risk through our online portal will go towards paying for a permanent stationary air monitor for the Joppa neighborhood. 

We need $1600.

The monitors we’re using now, as well as the one we want to buy for Joppa, come from a lab in New Zealand that was just picked by EPA as its partner in a nationwide low-cost/high-tech air monitoring effort. They’re very good. And that’s what makes them dangerous to polluters.  

Joppa residents did their part and fought a good fight.
But they still need help with reducing pollution from the huge rail yard, asphalt plant, and roofing materials plant that all sit right across the street. Documenting their exposure to Particulate Matter 24/7, year-round with a new air monitor would give them valuable information.

Citizens paying for that monitor sends a powerful signal to Dallas City Hall to step up to the plate and provide this kind of monitoring to all residents, beginning with those most under siege.

Whether its PM pollution or your contribution:
Small Stuff Adds Up. Every little bit helps.

Keep the pressure on. Help us bring 21st-Century air monitoring to Joppa.


Donate Here.


On Wednesday the Dallas City Council ill vote on whether to allow TWO new concrete bath plants in the tiny former freedman’s community of Joppa.

Already surrounded by heavy industry and a rail yard, these plants are opposed by the majority of Joppa residents, as well as their city council representative. Yet, it could be a close vote because of Business As Usual in South Dallas. i.e selling out the community’s health in return for “community development” money.

Don’t let it be a close vote. CLICK HERE to send an email message today telling Mayor Rawlings and the entire council you oppose these batch plants, the South Dallas Business As Usual approach, and the continuing legacy of environmental racism that still affects thousands of residents.

Tell the council to vote no. It takes only a few seconds but will mean a lot to the folks in Joppa. Thanks,


In Memory of Those That Showed-Up

by jim on March 25, 2018

Harriet Irby and Ann Trenton were not exactly local social activist celebrities, but they were well-known among the circle of more or less full-time environmental volunteers and organizers in Tarrant County and thereabouts.

Both Harriet and Ann were based out of Arlington, and were incredibly civic-minded, but that’s not what they had most in common, or what made them valuable to change-makers like Downwinders.

Ann Trenton

They both had a certain reputation: Harriet and Ann showed-up when you needed them to. Anywhere. Anytime. They were…reliable protesters.  Which makes their separate-but-collective losses in the last two weeks or so especially noticeable.

Need to fill a room for a state permit hearing? Need a letter sent to the city council? These women were on it. Every single time. Or so it seemed.

Your imagination may soar with clever protest plans or tsunami-like social media campaigns, but at the end of the day you always need people to show up to make it work, or those lofty plans crash with a thud. These women showed-up.

In our College of Constructive Hell-Raising, we teach persistence as an under-appreciated quality of Change. People just don’t understand how long the road can be to where they want to go. Harriet and Ann knew, and so they made Change their lifework. They weren’t just passing through. They were passing milestones in lives lived for Change.

It seems like both have been on our mailing list for most of our 24 years. We can’t remember end-of-the-year mailings where we didn’t peel off their address labels and stick them on envelopes. Because they were reliable donors as well. Not just to us, but to a host of other groups and causes. All of whom now have large holes in their lists now too.

Harriet Irby

It’s particularly hard to imagine not hearing Harriet harangue officials at air quality meetings any more – she was a good haranguer. Because she seemed so frail and towed an oxygen tank around – a non-smoker with COPD –  there was a tendency for officialdom to give her lots of slack…which she promptly took and ran with until the slack ran out and the line cut. If she couldn’t get out of the house that often and do other things for the cause, she would at least use her damn infirmaries to gain political advantage when she could.

The country needs more Harriets and Anns, not fewer, and so one would like to think that among the throngs of newly-motivated-to-act teens that the current administration has produced, there are some who already understand the value of just showing-up…for the rest of their lives. Rest in Peace Harriet and Ann – although it’s just as likely you’ve probably already started a project or campaign that will keep you busy for awhile.

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by jim on March 25, 2018


Move along. Nothing to be alarmed about. We asked the manager.

Back on December 11th, there was a serious fire at the “Sunshine Recycling” facility in West Dallas, aka, another West Dallas scrap and junk yard. Beginning at around 3 in the afternoon and continuing to burn overnight, it produced huge clouds of dark thick smoke that covered whole blocks and could be seen for miles on its way toward Irving. There were still “hotspots” requiring attention the morning after, 20 or more hours after ignition.

A Dallas Fire Department spokesperson reported cars, appliances and “other scrap” were burning with intensity.

So if you lived in the neighborhood, you might have been relieved to see your local city council member post on his FaceBook page that “The Fire Dept has conducted testing and there is no hazardous materials burning.”

You might have been reassured to hear the authorities claim, and news media report, that a Dallas Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team was on site.  

But none of that was true. 

After a lengthy Open Records Act request by Downwinders, many phone calls and emails, we can now piece together what really happened. The Dallas Fire Department never showed up with its Hazardous Mat unit. It never did any air monitoring at the fire. It did no testing. 

Instead, at some point that afternoon, as she looked out her window at FountainPlace downtown and saw the fire’s plume wafting only a few miles away, Superfund Division Chief Susan Webster at the Regional EPA office called the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality’s regional office in Fort Worth and asked the state to send someone over to monitor the fire’s smoke. Whether she did this knowing the Dallas Fire Department had already decided not to do any air monitoring itself, or whether is was double-checking is not known. Ms. Webster wouldn’t return our phone calls.

Was seeing this plume from her downtown office building what caused EPA’s Susan Webster to request TCEQ monitoring?

At around 4:30 pm Dallas Fire Department dispatch notes a call from “PCAQ” asking whether the City’s own Haz Mat team was on site and whether any air monitoring was going on. Ted Padgett, a Chief with the DFD, says that “PQAC” was really the “TCEQ” but was misunderstood on the phone.

Told no testing was going on, the TCEQ regional office in Fort Worth begins to assemble a site team and get their own monitoring equipment packed to go – hand held portable monitors.

This is the TCEQ side of that call: “TCEQ staff confirmed, via media coverage and contact with the Dallas Office of Emergency Management (OEM), that a fire was occurring at a scrap metal yard in Dallas. However, staff could not confirm the status of the fire nor what specifically was burning.” Emergency response in the Information Age.

The TCEQ monitoring team shows up in West Dallas at 6 pm – three hours after the fire has started. 

Once there, the TCEQ monitoring team  has the capabilities to monitor two pollutants: Particulate Matter (PM) and Volatile Organic Chemicals, or VOCs. They took one background sample away from the fire and four samples of about five minutes apiece downwind of the smoke.

The team says it doesn’t find significant VOCs in the air, but of course it’s possible those kinds of highly flammable materials like Benzene (via gas lines and tanks in the burning cars) had already been burned off.  The category of VOCs is broad and covers a lot of sins, but it’s not the definitive list of “toxic chemicals” by a long shot. We know burning plastic will produce lots more Dioxins and Furans – the stuff that made Agent Orange so deadly. We know PM pollution can carry lots of bits of metals and other chemicals on them. 

We know this because there was a very similar, if slightly more bureaucratic 21-year continuous incineration of car parts, plastics, used oil, dashboards, and scrap at the TXI cement plant in Midlothian, just south of the Tarrant/Dallas County lines. When you look at the before and after volumes of weird laboratory-induced chemical names you can’t really pronounce coming out of the stacks at tests controlled by the company, there’s no question burning junk fills the air full of junk too.

But it you don’t look for it, you won’t find it.

TCEQ was only looking for two kinds of pollutants that night, so it didn’t find anything else. It didn’t even bother to collect PM samples for “chemical characterization”  – that is, determine what, if any, toxic baggage like lead or arsenic the PM particles were allowing to hitch a ride on them during the fire.  Without such samples, it’s impossible to say the plume was not “toxic” in the “Really-Bad-For-You,” traditional regulatory meaning of that term.

Then there’s what the TCEQ team did find.

TCEQ recorded only four PM samples the whole evening. Half were alarmingly high: 113 ppb near the intersection of Singleton and Westmoreland, over three miles away, and 180 ppb near the intersection of Chalk Hill Road and Singleton between one and two miles from the fire.

Two other samples, one taken way north along Bernal And Hammerly, and  further south down Westmoreland at Canyon Bluff  showed “background” levels of PM at 14 ppb and 18 ppb respectively.

The EPA annual standard for PM exposure is 12 ppb, the daily standard is 35 ppb. The results from two of the four samples TCEQ took were three and five times the daily standard. That’s “toxic” in the “Science-Says-That-Stuff-Will-Kill-You” way.

The TCEQ inspectors left after only about an hour. No other monitoring took place for the duration of the fire, which was still going the next morning. So out of approximately 20 hours the incident lasted, only one was monitored.

TCEQ did note that the wind was out of the West at 10 mph and that “Potentially Impacted Receptors” included residences and businesses between Highway 12 and I-30. 

There’s no record of the Dallas Fire Department, or anyone at Dallas City Hall, asking for the TCEQ’s monitoring results and TCEQ never sent them to anyone there. It wasn’t until Downwinders requested the results through an Open Records Request that any member of the public had seen the full record of what was done.

But some West Dallas residents complained about health effects from the fire to State Senator Royce West. One email the Senator got related how the fire had caused “my throat to become scratchy, coughing …. The smoke was so thick it hovered over all of West Dallas. The smell was horrific, very strong & lingering. You could smell it from loop 12 & all over West Dallas & I’m sure the lingering included other local surrounding areas in our city. The fire department said by it being cold outside, it causes the materials burning & the smoke in the air to continue to stay low where it affects us when breathing.

Senator West’s office wrote a letter to the TCEQ regional office asking about what they’d found when they did their air monitoring. Here’s the reply he got:

 “Smoke is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. While the main pollutant of concern in smoke is the particulate matter, smoke may also contain other pollutants that are dependent on the product that is burnt, the moisture content of the product, and the fire temperature. Particles from smoke are often very small in size and have diameters that are 2.5 micrometers and smaller (PM 2.5). These particles are respiratory and eye irritants. Short-term exposures (hours-weeks) to these particles can cause headaches, respiratory (e.g., runny nose, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, and bronchitis) and eye irritation (e.g., burning eyes). However, these symptoms typically disappear quickly once the person gets out of the smoke. Exposures to high concentrations of these particles can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. While some people are more susceptible to the adverse health effects of smoke, particles from smoke can also cause respiratory symptoms, transient reductions in lung function and pulmonary inflammation in healthy adults. Children, older adults, and people with pre-existing heart or lung disease are more susceptible to lower levels of smoke than healthy people…(monitored) PM ranged from 0-180 ppb…..”

No mention of the scientific consensus that even short term exposure to low levels of PM can cause a host of permanent heath injuries, including brain and learning disorders, immune damage, and life-long respiratory ailments.  No mention that fully half the samples taken by TCEQ were over 100 ppb and exceeded the 24-hour EPA standard for that specific pollutant.  In fact, TCEQ says, all of your problems should disappear once you get out of the smoke – or your house, if the smoke from the toxic fire down the street is making it unlivable.

There’s an email from a TCEQ Special Assistant to the Deputy Director in Austin that asks:  “…is there any way to put the highlighted PM detection in context….is this the level we would normally expect to find in smoke; at what level would we take action, can hand-held equipment quantify, etc?

She didn’t get a reply to those questions that we saw. Probably because no one at the Austin or Fort Worth TCEQ offices really knew the answers, or didn’t want to write them down and send them to a State Senator.

TCEQ was able to tell the Senator West that, despite plastics and metals and other materials on-site capable of producing toxic smoke, there were “no hazardous chemicals” on-site or involved in the fire.

How did it know? TCEQ inspectors asked the manager of the facility. There was no independent inspection. 

And that, Dear Citizens, is how you’re protected by potentially toxic fires in Dallas, Texas. Feel safer?

Homes along Singleton probably exposed to some of the worst fallout of the December 11th fire.

Along with the high PM levels our PM Committee found in Joppa, this incident is another case study of why Dallas should have its own 24/7/365 dense network of air quality monitors – monitors that will be there when such a fire starts, as well as when it’s finally extinguished. Monitors who won’t make the value judgement about when the A Team should be called out. Because along with all the other questions this response poses you have to ask yourself if something like this happened in Preston Hollow or Uptown, would the Dallas Fire Department have still shown-up without its hazardous materials crew in tow?

This incident is Exhibit A why Dallas should also be incorporating public health into emergency responses. Why doesn’t the Fire Department have access to its own toxicologist or public health expert who could tell them what to sample for, where to sample, and whether the fire really posed any concern to neighbors or not? Why isn’t the automatic response to a fire like this to send out its own hazardous materials team instead of outsourcing it to TCEQ, 30 minutes away in Fort Worth?

December 11th allows us to peak behind the the modern post 9/11 facades of “Public Safety” and “Emergency Response” we all take for granted and see what a decrepit cynical reality is in charge of assuring us that “there’s no reason to be concerned.” That’s why we need a new reality.



Downwinders PM Committee did the unthinkable this last week and monitored ambient air quality in the tiny Joppa community, where two proposed new concrete batch plants coming up for a Dallas City Council vote on Wednesday want to set-up shop.

This was unthinkable because despite months of controversy over the siting of yet more concrete batch plants in a predominantly-minority neighborhood already jammed with heavy industry nobody had thought of doing it before our team of SWAT Citizen Scientists showed-up.

Not the batch plant operators seeking approval of their permit requests.

Not the staff of the City of Dallas, who are recommending approval of those requests.

No…it was our all-volunteer “Soot Sisters” armed with their newly acquired fully-calibrated portable PM monitors who had the audacity to actually see what levels of pollution Joppa residents were breathing now – before the addition of any new sources of bad air.

After we got our results, we kind of understand why air monitoring was unthinkable to those other folks: because the air in Joppa is often unbreathable.

Since our monitors arrived late to the scene in Joppa, we’ve only been able to get snapshots of air quality before the scheduled council vote in the 28th. Two hours on this day, another two on that day. The sample is very small, but it’s also very disturbing.

Joppa is already surrounded on three sides by heavy industry

First, they found significantly higher levels of ambient PM pollution in Joppa than was recorded by the only official EPA PM monitor in Dallas, located near Stemmons Freeway during the same time period, and higher than the levels the Committee found at various DART bus stops and routes they’ve also been monitoring as part of the new Green Streets bus electrification campaign

Levels in Joppa were as much as 30 to 50 % higher than the EPA monitor – even on a Sunday. Residents there are already breathing more PM pollution than residents in other parts of the city.

Secondly, if the Committee’s results were extrapolated over the course of a full year, these daily levels would add up to a violation of the EPA’s annual PM pollution standard. That is, if our findings are indicative of daily exposure, Joppa could already be exceeding the EPA standard and any additional PM pollution would only make matters worse.

You can read the entire short report on Joppa, Round one, prepared by Dr. Tate Barrett, our PM Science Director here: Joppa Report #1

Shannon Gribble and Cresanda Allen on a monitoring run in Joppa

Because there’s been no monitoring in Joppa until now, it’s possible the area has been in routine “non-attainment”of the EPA PM standard. It takes three years of annual averages above the standard, recorded at an officially designated  EPA monitor, to classify an area as non-attainment and qualify for new federal new controls. However, Dallas’ only official EPA PM monitor is nine miles north of Joppa near Stemmons Freeway and Mockingbird.

Study after study has shown how People of Color generally, and African-Americans specifically, are disproportionately exposed to, and harmed by, PM pollution. While Dallas’ one and only EPA-designated PM monitor could be accurately recording PM levels north of the Trinity River, it’s not reflecting the reality of residents in Joppa, West Dallas, Cadillac Heights, or Cedar Crest.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently concerning inequity of resources in Dallas. It’s not news that this inequity extends even to the very air residents breathe and how the current regulatory system ignores those differences. But our Joppa monitoring casts a new spotlight on that fact. No equal protection is possible unless you have equal access to official monitors which determine enforcement of the laws.

That’s why when we turned our first results over to District 7 Council Member Kevin Felder on Friday, we recommended the City  either consider moving Dallas’s sole EPA-designated PM monitor to Joppa, or pay for a second EPA-designated PM monitor to be located in Joppa, to begin recording data as soon as possible to determine if the area is indeed violating the EPA PM standard year-round.

These Joppa results also become another compelling example of why DFW needs its own local air quality monitoring network.  It’s ridiculous that there’s only one PM monitor for all of Dallas County’s 2. 5 million residents stretched out over 900 square miles. PM levels as low as 5 ppb

Downwinders has joined with local universities and governments in pursuing the establishment of a local air quality monitoring network that could place inexpensive year-round PM monitors throughout Dallas and North Texas with real time information accessible to the public by a simple phone app. Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniels is expected to sponsor a resolution for the creation of such a network at the Commissioners Court in the coming weeks.

Dallas should follow. The City’s Office of Environmental Quality approves or disapproves of zoning changes like the ones being sought by the batch plants in Joppa without knowing what environmental burdens residents are already carrying. Even though they have the ability and capacity to do real time monitoring of neighborhoods where new industry wants to expand or locate, the OEQ never does. Nor does it have a single toxicologist or public health expert on its staff who’d want to see that kind of information before passing judgement on a zoning request. Instead it’s headed up by a lawyer and is mostly concerned about not making any definitive statements about local environmental health problems or environmental justice issues at all. With all the house-cleaning at Dallas City Hall since a new city manager took control, the OEQ now looks to be one of the last repositories for Business As Usual thinking. That must change.

Downwinders PM Committee was back out in Joppa this last weekend for more rounds of air monitoring. Those results will be dowloaded and analyzed by Dr. Barrett and presented to the City Council on Wednesday by PM Committee member Misti O’Quinn. Stay tuned.


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Meet Our New Scientist

by jim on March 11, 2018

Downwinders is proud to announce UNT’s own Dr. Tate Barrett as our new PM Science Director.

Dr. Barrett will be coordinating all of our PM sampling in the field using our portable monitors. That includes helping to identify potential targets, training citizens on how to use the monitors, and distilling the results into citizen-friendly summaries.

Dr. Barrett is an Environmental Science graduate of Baylor University, where he also got his PhD from The Institute for Ecological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. He’s currently a post-doctoral Research Associate at UNT and has written at least five peer-reviewed, journal-published research paper on particulate matter and black carbon.

Dr. Barrett joins fellow UNT researcher Kari Northheim, our Wise County Ozone Project Director, in bringing scientific methodology and rigor to our grassroots air monitoring efforts.

Stay tuned as Downwinders and Dr. Barrett begin to assemble a citizen workshop on how to use the portable monitors. Graduates of these workshops will be cleared to use the equipment on projects approved by him.


Downwinders at Risk’s PM Committee wasted no time in taking our new portable Particulate Matter  monitors out in the field.

Less than two weeks after their arrival from New Zealand, Misti O’Quinn, Evelyn Mayo, Mandy Poland, Shannon Gribble and Cresanda Allen were using the devices to measure PM levels at DART bus stops and DART buses around Dallas this last weekend.

The group also conducted
an informal survey of DART riders on quality on air pollution concerns.

It was all part of a new effort to focus on PM pollution and public transit in preparation for this Wednesday’s combined meeting the the North Texas Transit Riders group. at GoodWork Co-working space, 1808 Good Latimer.

Bus riders are among those most heavily exposed to PM, both because of their exposure to traffic while waiting for a bus as well as the bus’ pollution itself.

Comparison and analysis of large “stationary” sources of PM pollution show that if DART bus pollution was coming out of a single smokestack, it would be the 10th largest source of PM pollution in North Texas.

Although the monitors’ PM sampling is in real time, the data collected has to be downloaded and logged by our new PM Science Director, Dr. Tate Barrett. There may be some results ready for Wednesday’s meeting.



by jim on March 11, 2018


Thanks to a grant from the Simmons Sisters Foundation, Downwinders is proud to announce we’ve purchased our first two portable Particulate Matter sensors for our No Safe Level Campaign against PM pollution.

They’ll be the only PM monitors of their kind in the region, and their arrival will inaugurate a new era in DFW citizen-empowered science.

The sensors are made by AEROQUAL, a New Zealand company, and you can’t find them on Amazon. They measure both PM 10 and PM 2.5 (microns) at the same time. Their sensor heads use laser and optical sensors to measure light scattered from particles passing through the laser beam. A built-in fan ensures a stable and precise flow of sample air to the sensor. They also compensate for humidity by way of an on-board humidity sensor.

Each comes with a long-life Lithium battery which allows for 24 hours of remote operation between charges. Recharging takes just 3 hours. The monitor can be plugged-in and left to run indefinitely. Besides displaying levels in real time, measurements can be stored on the device and downloaded later to a computer via the USB cable and bundled software.

They come factory-calibrated to European Union standards and are capable of being re-calibrated for side-by-side use with an EPA monitors, or any other local baseline.

These monitors have two parts – a base and a a detachable sensor head – making them even more useful. In the future Downwinders can buy other kinds of sensors from AEROQUAL to plug into the base and test for gaseous pollutants like Ozone, or Sulfur Dioxide. In all, 28 other sensors are available.

Before now you either had to buy $16,000 PM sensors that were fully calibrated or settle for much less reliable equipment. But the technology is moving so quickly and demand is scaling up so fast that a middle-income niche market for scientifically-rigorous instruments is beginning to provide opportunities to non-profit groups like Downwinders, and the public in general.

Along with these portable sensors, we’re also ordering stationary PM monitors as part of the regional network being established by UTD and others.

As a result of this influx of technology, Downwinders is creating a PM Project Science Director position to maintain the integrity of our research. The Science Director will be in charge of these monitors, training citizens on how to operate them, and overseeing their use in the field.

Our plans are to begin using the sensors in neighborhoods and suspected hot spots as soon as possible to help us fill out our PM Map of DFW. We want to be able to loan them out to those citizens who’ve gone through the training and have a problem they want to investigate. They’ll also be available for use during accidents, explosions, and fires.

We’re not letting state and EPA rollbacks stop us. We’re creating our own regional air monitoring network. Are you interested in joining? Stand by. We’re just getting started.



Reviewing a decade of death statistics revealed a 16% increase in mortality risk on the first day of haze and a 27% increase on the second day compared to better air days.

If the haze was accompanied by high ozone pollution, the risk of death increased by 79%.

As shocking as this sounds, it aligns with other recent studies that have found a connection between short-term increases in air pollution and aberrant mental behavior. Significantly higher rates of Autism, Parkinson’s, ADHD and juvenile delinquency have all been linked to PM pollution, most at ambient levels assumed by regulators to be “safe.”

PM pollution has even been linked to low stock market performance in more than one study.

Researchers believe air pollution affects a person’s emotional state, making them more likely to feel depressed. They urge mental health professionals to be aware that bad air days are triggers for acute episodes.

PM pollution is so microscopically tiny it not only goes deep into your lungs, it actually can pass through your lung lining directly into your blood stream. Think about the places where your body uses a lot of blood – your heart and your brain. We’ve known PM causes heart attacks and strikes for some time. But research linking it to a wide variety of brain disorders is only fairly recent.

Authored by faculty at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, this most recent study examined more than 284,000 deaths, including those among people with mental and behavioral disorders including depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and dementia. It defined “haze days” as those on which pollutants gather in the air and cut visibility, usually dry days with low winds. In the study period from 2007 to 2014, there were 111 haze days when particle pollution was on average twice as high.

These findings are compatible with a recent Belgian study, which reported “[Short-term] increases in outdoor air pollutants such as particles or ozone can trigger suicide, particularly during warm periods, even at concentrations below the European thresholds.”

Unfortunately, we may have a local way to further prove this hypothesis. On October 19th of last year there was a still unexplained catastrophic air event that caused PM levels to go much more than twice a high as “normal,” accompanied by an increase in ozone pollution so severe it bumped the entire regional average by a part per billion. Could an examination of death certificates in Ellis, Dallas, Tarrant and Denton Counties reveal if this really “bad air day” caused a spike in North Texas suicides?


Downwinders at Risk’s “No Safe Level”  PM Pollution Campaign Committee has scheduled its next meeting for Saturday March 10th at the Meadows Center at 2900 Live Oak. 


And BuzziUnicemUSA wants the City’s permission to build a new 170-foot tall silo to store it in


Just when you thought you had a handle on the environmental hazards plaguing West Dallas, up pops another out of left field.

Lead, sure. Asbestos, check. Benzene too. Arsenic, yes.

But you might not expect rail cars and silos full of finely-grained toxic cement – cement made by burning hazardous waste as “fuel” in a cement plant. Cement that still has the residues of that hazardous waste inside it. Residues like lead, and arsenic and Dioxins – the stuff in Agent Orange.That was one of the unpleasant surprises during a February 1st on-site meeting between neighborhood activists and the folks who own and operate the Buzzi cement terminal on Lone Star Drive between Commerce and Singleton to discuss the construction of a huge new silo at the facility.

BuzziUnicemUSA is a a huge Italian-based multinational. In the US, the Company operates 7 cement manufacturing plants and 29 other distribution terminals in the United States besides the one in West Dallas.

On February 22nd, Buzzi is scheduled to come before the City of Dallas Board of Adjustment seeking a “height variance” that would allow it to build the new silo 17 stories tall – 60 feet further up than they can go now with current zoning restrictions.

With the exception of the abandoned but still-standing 1920’s garbage incinerator smokestack just a couple of blocks away on West Commerce, it would be the tallest structure in West Dallas.

The idea of yet another industrial eyesore in a neighborhood that has battled for over a century with such things was not well-received by the delegation of neighborhood residents. Nor was the news that the company didn’t have a Plan B for addressing their concerns.

But perhaps most surprising was the news that the company was importing cement from its hazardous waste burning kilns in Missouri and off-loading it in Dallas to be used in the construction boom here.

To know how offensive that might strike residents and local environmentalists, you have to know history. Lots and lots of history.

The Trinity Portland Cement Plant in West Dallas          1906-1984, Dallas Public Library

West Dallas was founded in part when a group of Galveston investors established the Trinity Portland Cement Company in 1906 and imported an entire Mexican village to build and run their cement kiln.

“Cement City” was established a couple of miles west of the then-Dallas city limits, and existed on the books up into the 1960’s. This was part of the White Establishment pattern of keeping those deemed “undesirable” – polluters and people – segregated from Dallas proper. Many West Dallas families can trace their beginnings in this country to these first cement plant workers.

Even after a growing Dallas swallowed Cement City, the West Dallas cement plant remained. In 1984, its owners announced plans to begin burning hazardous waste instead of oil or gas as a “fuel” for making its product.

But 1984 happened to be the year West Dallas residents’ fight against wholesale lead contamination from the RSR smelter was reaching its climax. They were forcing a complete closure (a complete clean-up would take much longer), and were in no mood to battle another source of toxic pollution.

At that time, the community was represented in Congress by U.S. Representative Martin Frost, a mid-cities Democrat. He was able to draft and successfully pass what became known as “The Frost Amendment” which prohibited the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns located in any U.S. city with 500,000 or more residents. Welding the law’s language as carefully as a surgeon’s knife, Dallas was the only city affected.

Without the prospect of becoming a hazardous waste incinerator and being able to charge for waste “fuel” instead of having to pay for gas or coal, the West Dallas cement plant closed shortly after Frost’s amendment was passed.

Two years later the idea would surface again in near-by Midlothian, the self-proclaimed “Cement Capitol of Texas” with three cement plants and only three thousand residents. This is Downwinders at Risk creation story. We’re here because of those Midlothian waste-burning cement plants and the multi-decade campaign citizens fought to end it.

Part of that ending was the successful  “Green Cement Campaign” which persuaded local governments to quit buying and using the cement from the dirtier waste-burners in favor of those cement plants using conventional fuels. Dallas was the first of a dozen cities and counties to pass a Green Cement procurement ordinance. Fort Worth, Plano, and Arlington passed similar ordinances. They were the reason why TXI decided to stop burning hazardous waste in 2008. For the first time in over 20 years, no toxic cement was being made or used in North Texas. Most locals probably thought they would never have to deal with the subject again.

Which makes the news of Buzzi’s importing of cement from Missouri waste-burning kilns very disappointing indeed. Apparently the company is shipping tons and tons of the stuff into Dallas for Ready-Mix to use in a host of construction projects, including many in Frisco. It’s quite possible the the new Cowboys facility there is being built with cement containing the residues of hazardous wastes, including lead.

The RSR lead smelter in Dallas, 1981

And that’s problematic because much like West Dallas, Frisco has had a long toxic dance with lead. The ancient and dilapidated Exide lead smelter was shut down in 2012 because it was violating lead air pollution standards. It’s not operating now, but the land the smelter owned is still severely contaminated and at the center of a bitter legal battle between the City and Exide. How ironic is it for Frisco to have recently rid itself of a lead smelter only to have lead waste imported into the city and disposed of under the guise of cement?

How ironic to have Dallas and Plano help stop the manufacture and use of local toxic cement, only to provide a commercial market for Missouri’s?

And for West Dallas to get rid of one of the its first environmental injustices, stop the original waste-burning wanna-be in its tracks, and still find itself a major depot for toxic cement?

Residents who want to see West Dallas continue to overcome and redress its racist past should be at the Board of Adjustment hearing at City Hall on the 22nd. Call Trena  Law @ (214)670-4206 to get details about time and speaking opportunities. Stay tuned. 



Public Health
Economic Development
Childhood Development and Education
Environmental Justice


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can make progress. But we need your help.

   Particulate Matter   


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

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

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




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




Q: What caused PM and Ozone pollution to spike so high and fast on Oct 19th that health alerts had to be issued from Dallas to Denton?

A: The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality couldn’t care less.

That’s the take-away from Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe’s story that appeared over the weekend in the Denton Record Chronicle.

You may remember we reported on the mystery shortly after it happened and tracked down all the local and non-local suspects cited by officials in the media that day. None of them turned out to be the cause of an air pollution incident that was so potent it raised the entire regional ozone average a whole part per billion and forced PM levels into the triple digits.

Heinkel-Wolfe goes one step further and makes inquires from the TCEQ itself. And the run around she gets is Catch-22 material.

TCEQ says they can’t investigate an air pollution problem unless there’s a known cause. But if there’s a known cause, what you’ve got there really isn’t an investigation any more, it’s an enforcement action, isn’t it?

This article may be the single most compelling case for why DFW needs its own locally-controlled air quality monitoring network. Find it here.

Q: Where are the results of the air samples the Dallas Fire Department supposedly took when a West Dallas Recycling was sending large plumes of black smoke over the surrounding and downwind neighborhoods on December 11th?

A: Nobody seems to know.

A huge pile of metal scrap burned and smoldered for over 24 hours at Sunshine Recycling on Ruder Street in West Dallas on December 11th. Thick plumes of smoke streaked the sky for half a day and into the night.

According to WFAA-TV, a Fire Department Hazardous Materials response team was on site because there were hazardous materials on site – although exactly what those were, or are, remain nameless.

That evening the Dallas City Councilman who represents West Dallas, Omar Narvaez, posted on his FaceBook page that “The Fire Dept has conducted testing and there is no hazardous materials burning.”

Really? Because when a scrap yard like that catches fire, you can bet there’s “hazardous materials” burning whether it’s officially noted or not. Plastic tubing and hoses become Dioxin-generating embers. Used oil has all kinds of metals in it that attach themselves to the smoke particles. Vinyl can generate very toxic fumes. Just the PM pollution from the smoke alone was enough to trigger all kinds of harmful health impacts. Very likely the entire pile of metal waste that was burning that night was indeed “hazardous.”

But OK, you say you took tests and they showed nothing out of the ordinary? Let’s see them. In December Downwinders submitted a Texas Open Records Act request to the City of Dallas for the results of those tests. We’re still waiting. As of today, and despite three phone calls to the Open Records Division of the City Secretary’s office, we still don’t have what it’s supposed to take no more than 10 business days to get. It’s been a month and counting. We’re trying to get some legal help to extract the information. Stay tuned.

For $500 a piece, we can install a dense grid of PM monitors across the region, tie them all together and present the information to the public in a transparent accessible way. It can be locally-controlled, directed by scientists, and independent of political influence.

It would automatically track plumes in real time, not an hour ago. It would give you reliable and specific levels of pollution rather than vague reassurances. It would transfer the power from officialdom to citizenry.

That’s the new Network we’re building. Stay tuned.