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 Downwinders At Risk - Articles: March 2007

Friday, March 16, 2007

Dallas Mayoral Race/TXI



Sam Coats' Dirty Secret - It's Not Little

As he solicits votes from Dallas residents, mayoral candidate Sam Coats portrays himself as a savvy businessman with ties to Continental Airlines and Schlotzky's.

What he doesn't mention is that he's also on the board of directors of North Texas' largest industrial polluter and hazardous waste disposal operation - TXI cement. Or that he's also a director of a company - Safety-Kleen - that pays TXI to burn hazardous waste in their 47 year-old cement plant in Midlothian, just south of Dallas.

Study after study has shown pollution from the TXI Midlothian plant significantly affecting DFW air quality. A recent modeling exercise by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality concluded that the plant could contribute up to 5.5 parts per billion of ozone on the worst summer days-more than any other single industrial polluter in North Texas. EPA included Ellis County, home of the TXI Midlothian cement plant and two others, in DFW's "non-attainment area" for ozone pollution in 2003 because so much smog-forming pollution comes from the cement plants.

Since 1989, citizens living adjacent to, and downwind of TXI have fought to end the practice of burning hazardous waste in facilities now considered obsolete and lacking modern pollution controls. The furnaces, or kilns, TXI uses to burn hazardous waste do not even have scrubbers on them, much less any of the other kinds of controls a typical hazardous waste would have as standard equipment. The plant is the largest hazardous waste disposal operation in the region and is consistently among North Texas' largest toxic air polluters with approximately half-a-million pounds emitted annually. Information about TXI's toxic pollution can be found in the company self-reporting Toxic Release Inventory online at RTK.net or through EPA TRI Explorer at the official EPA website.

Safety-Kleen collects waste of all sorts, including hazardous wastes, mixes them all together in large facilities called "blending plants" (there's one in Denton) and then pays to send that waste to cement plants such as TXI to be burned as "fuel." Such waste contains metals or chlorine which are not flammable. The result is hazardous waste residues going up the stacks in Midlothian and being delivered where ever the wind and gravity take them.

TXI is currently fighting tooth and nail against adding modern smog pollution controls recommended by the state's own experts in a special court-ordered study released last year. These controls have been shown to reduce smog pollution at cement plants in Europe by 80 to 90%. State Senator Kim Brimer of Tarrant County recently filed a bill - SB 1177 - mandating the testing of these controls in Texas. TXI has sent wave after wave of lobbyists to kill it.

How can a candidate for mayor ask for support from voters in Dallas while at the same time making it harder for them to breathe? When his company is actively working against installing modern pollution controls?

Maybe that's why Coats has failed to disclose his ties to TXI and Safety-Kleen on the campaign trial. If he was proud of his connections to these two companies, don't you think it'd be right up there on his public resume with giving people rides on planes and making them sandwiches?

It gets more interesting when you know that the City of Dallas had announced plans last fall to pass a new "clean air" cement procurement spec that would prohibit municipal projects from buying cement from TXI's old haz-waste burning kilns. It's coming up for its first vote before the City Council's Transportation and Environment Committee in the next month. If as expected, this new procurement policy passes the entire City Council, would it be a goal of a Coats Administration to have it gutted?

It's time to ask Coats what he considers more important: keeping TXI's industrial dinosaurs free of pollution controls or improving Dallas public health? Time to ask why his service to TXI is not a direct conflict of interest with the City's goal of cleaning up air that has not been in compliance with the Clean Air Act in 16 years?

Dallas voters and the people who inform Dallas voters need to fully explore whose Mayor Sam Coats would be - Dallas' or TXI's?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Plan targets odors, dust from Frisco industrial plants

risco: Attorneys for facilities see legal issues with draft of ordinance

09:06 AM CDT on Monday, March 12, 2007

By JAKE BATSELL / The Dallas Morning News

FRISCO – City officials have drafted an ordinance to cut down on pollution after years of complaints about odors and dust near three concrete and asphalt plants in southeast Frisco.

FILE 2004/Staff photo
A concrete plant stands near a Frisco subdivision. A proposed pollution ordinance could be passed as soon as March 20.

At a City Council public hearing last week, the draft ordinance drew kudos from nearby elementary school students and residents who said it would help curb persistent dust and breathing problems.

"Vote for the clean air ordinance so the air can be clean, and me and my friends don't have to play in the black dust," said Grace Caputo, 10, a fifth-grader at Isbell Elementary School.

But attorneys for the plants said the ordinance conflicts with state environmental laws and leaves questions about how it will be enforced.

"If a citation can just be issued based on a phone call from a citizen, we're going to have a lot of effort wasted in jury trials at the city," said Bob Stewart, an Austin-based attorney for the Southern Star concrete plant.

The ordinance appears headed for a vote when the Frisco City Council next meets on March 20. It would ban the burning of industrial waste oils and prohibit plants from emitting strong odors and visible dust particles beyond their property lines.
Council members did not comment on the ordinance during last week's public hearing. But given the history of residents' complaints, council member Matt Lafata said he expects the measure to pass in one form or another. "I see no negative aspect to passing this thing," he said.

While the ordinance would apply to plants citywide, the recent debate has centered on emissions from three plants – the Southern Star and Redi-Mix concrete plants and the APAC asphalt plant. All are near State Highway 121, west of Custer Road.
Tests conducted by a city consultant and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that the air in southeast Frisco is safe. But the tests also confirmed that dust from the plants could cause respiratory irritation.

Carolyn Lis, a leader of a neighborhood group pushing for better air quality, said the ordinance balances the needs of residents, students and businesses. "We're excited about this ordinance," Ms. Lis said. "It would mean cleaner, healthier air in our neighborhood and at our neighborhood school."

Grace, the fifth-grader, said she and her friends are tired of brushing black soot off their skin.
"When we are playing on the trampoline, we get black dust on us," she said. "When the asphalt plant is in production, it smells really bad. The smell makes it hard to breathe."

Kirk Morris, area manager for the APAC asphalt plant, deferred comment to a company attorney, who could not be reached Friday. Attorneys for the two concrete plants told council members that they would oppose the ordinance because it collides with state regulations.

City Manager George Purefoy said attorneys are reviewing the plants' concerns. But he said the city is committed to reducing odors and dust in the area. "It's not the most pleasant thing to have dust blowing into neighborhoods," Mr. Purefoy said. "I think at the end of the day, we'll be able to work hand in hand with [the plants] and find some common ground."