It's 2014. Distant parts of the globe are connected within micro seconds. Some of us are driving electric cars. Our phones are more powerful than all the computers it ever took to put a human being on the Moon, combined.
And we use five gallon buckets from Academy to collect and store industrial hazardous waste.
Or at least the Exide contractors that are in charge of "cleaning-up" Frisco's Stewart Creek do. And they not only use them, they lose them.
On May 8th, workers for Apex-Titan Inc. were collecting battery casing chips and bits of lead slag from fields near the Creek a the intersection of Legacy and Stonebrook and putting them into the bucket. For decades before it closed in 2012, the Exide lead smelter dumped waste into and around the Creek, leaving a still-contaminated trail from the plant site all the way to Lake Lewisiville, approximately five miles away.
After collecting a full load of Exide waste, the contractors placed the bucket in the back of a pick-up truck and drove off – apparently without securing the tailgate first. Despite two staff from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on the scene to "document field activities" and the City of Frisco's own contractor present – nine people in all – no one noticed when or how the bucket fell off the truck on he way back to the plant site.
When they discovered the loss, the workers retraced their route. They searched the parking lot of a city park located across the street from a school – one of two in the immediate vicinity. No bucket. More than two weeks later the bucket of hazardous waste is still missing. But we're only now finding out about it.
This would be funny if it weren't for the possibility of this bucket ending up with kids or in a garden or as a water container. As a memo from the City of Frisco puts it:
"We believe it is a reasonable assumption that the bucket was found in the street by a person who picked it up for their own use; without realizing the contents might be hazardous waste."
With that in mind, did the City of Frisco inform the Frisco School District? Did any warnings get issued to students and parents at the two near-by schools? Not as far as we know. Did the City put out an All Points Bulletin for the bucket? No it did not. Embarrassment often keeps officials from doing the right thing about public health. So there's hazardous lead waste out there in a Frisco neighborhood that could be diminishing kids' IQs even as you're reading this, even as officials are too embarrassed to ring the alarm.
Now maybe you're thinking this whole Frisco lead cleanup fiasco now has a new mascot. And you' be right. This bucket pretty much sums up the FUBAR'd state of things. A bankrupt company entrusted to clean-up its own mess. A city council seemingly intent on making sure it ends up with a Superfund Site in the middle of the "second-fastest growing city in America." A state and federal government asleep at the wheel. It's all nicely summed up by that lost five gallon Academy bucket. That's the image. Here's the caption, however, thanks to Jack Fink at Channel 11:
"Mack Borchardt of the city of Frisco said he’s surprised, since they were assured going into this process by Exide that there wouldn’t be any problems with the system in place. “Obviously, that didn’t turn out to be the case,” said Borchardt."
City officials were shocked! Shocked they tell you, that Exide screwed up.
Frisco City officials handed the job over to Exide and expected the same company that ran an outlaw smelter operation to provide an excellent clean-up of their own mess. They had faith! The City is handing over the toxicology and assessment to the state and EPA. They have faith! They're handing the decision about what to do with the waste in Frisco to their lawyers, who are recommending the city host a toxic waste landfill by Stewart Creek in front of the new Grand Park. They have faith! What they don't have is any faith in their own citizenry. After 2 years there's still no transparent, civic dialog on the fate of the thousands of tons of lead waste that remains in the heart of the central business district.
There's no question that given a choice, most Frisco residents would vote to haul the waste completely out of town to a hazardous waste disposal site and develop the property as any other prime piece of real estate. And yet the Frisco City Council is still on course to approve a permanent toxic landfill of its own…… that would be monitored by the same state agency that didn't see that five gallon bucket falling out of the contractor's truck.
What's needed now more than anything else is homegrown vision and leadership. The city needs to take its fate into its own hands instead of entrusting others to look out for its self-interests. There's millions of dollars in state-collected battery fees that are supposed to be going to communities impacted by lead smelting. Frisco certainly qualifies. Instead of arguing with its own residents over a permanent landfill, the Council should be proposing legislation for the next session in Austin to finance a full clean-up.
This incident is a five-gallon splash in the face. Following instead of leading can only result in many future "problems with the system."
On Wednesday, a national coalition of environmental and community groups that included Downwinders at Risk asked a federal court to stay a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to weaken and delay Clean Air Act protection against toxic pollution from cement plants.
By the agency’s own calculations, the delay will cause between 1,920 and 5,000 avoidable deaths and will allow cement plants to release an additional 32,000 pounds of mercury into the environment.
The complete list of groups seeking relief include Cape Fear River Watch, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Downwinders at Risk, Friends of Hudson, Huron Environmental Activist League, Montanans Against Toxic Burning, PenderWatch & Conservancy, and the Sierra Club, all of which have members who live and work in close proximity to cement plants and have suffered from cement plants’ excessive pollution for many years. Earthjustice filed the stay motion on their behalf in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. A copy of the groups’ motion can be found here: Cement Motion to Stay Rule
Cement plants are among the nation’s worst polluters, emitting vast quantities of particulate matter, mercury, lead, and other hazardous air pollutants.
“As if gutting and delaying the rule were not bad enough, EPA has essentially created a compliance shield for the industry, making it impossible for citizens to hold facilities accountable for their toxic emissions. These changes in the cement rule are irresponsible and reckless,” said Jennifer Swearingen, of Montanans Against Toxic Burning.
“Los Angeles is ringed by cement plants, and three of them operate near my home in Rosamond,” said Jane Williams, of Sierra Club and Desert Citizens Against Pollution. “The pollution from these plants hurts the people in this community and robs us of the outdoor lifestyle we came here to enjoy. We can’t wait two more years to get relief from these plants’ pollution. I don’t want anyone in these communities to be among the people this pollution is going to sicken and kill.”
Our own Midlothian is the cement capital of the United States and so Downwinders at Risk' Director Jim Schermbeck had something to say about the move. “The EPA seems to have learned nothing from having cement plants exploited as inadequate hazardous waste incinerators. As cement plants are once again becoming the nation’s Dispos-All, and new wastes are generating new emissions, the Agency is weakening air pollution controls and making it easier for cement kilns to poison their neighbors. It was wrong to turn kiln into incinerators in the 1980s and it’s wrong to try and do so again in the 21st century – especially accompanied by a roll back in regulations."
In North Carolina groups are fighting a massive proposed cement plant. “A gigantic foreign cement company wants to build one of the world’s biggest plants here,” said Allie Sheffield, of PenderWatch and Conservancy, a group that works to protect the coastal ecosystem in Pender County, North Carolina. “If this plant is built, EPA’s new rule will let it emit twice as much lead, arsenic, and particulate matter into our air and waters. At this point, I have to ask – why do they call it the Environmental Protection Agency?”
William Freese, of Huron Environmental Activist League, lives near what the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory lists as the dirtiest cement plant in North America for point source pollution. “This makes one wonder how the EPA, in violation of U.S. Court of Appeals’ order, can allow this company to do keep polluting for two more years. By the time they get around to finally doing what’s right, they won’t have any environment to protect,” Freese said.
“Federal law required EPA to put limits on this pollution more than a decade ago,” Earthjustice attorney James Pew said. “But under one administration after another, the agency has refused to put limits in place. Real people suffer as a result of EPA’s scofflaw behavior, and now they are going to court to say ‘enough is enough.’”
The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act required EPA to limit cement plant’s emissions of hazardous air pollutants such as mercury. In 2000, a federal court had to order EPA to set these standards after the agency refused to do so.
In 2010, in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of community groups living in the shadow of cement plants, EPA finally set the standards that the Clean Air Act had required it to set more than a decade before. These standards would have significantly reduced cement plants’ emissions of soot, mercury, lead, benzene and other toxic pollutants by September of this year.
Rather than acting to clean up their pollution, cement companies attacked EPA’s new rule in court and in Congress. The attacks failed. The court denied their request to vacate or delay the standards, and legislative efforts to do the same failed to gain support on the Hill.
In 2013, however, the EPA voluntarily gave the cement industry the very relief it had failed to get in court or in Congress. It delayed emission reductions that were already more than a decade overdue for another two years, until 2015. Additionally, EPA weakened particulate matter standards and eliminated requirements that would have required cement plants to monitor and report their emissions to the public.
Citizens are down but not out. And we will never rest until we see cement plants regulated the way they should be when they burn so many different types of waste. We can fight this fight because of your support over the years. Please help us keep fighting by putting a bill in the tip jar. We need your help to raise our 2013 budget to keep our staff in the field working for your lungs. Thanks.