West Dallas Lead Pollution Victims Still Seeking Justice All These Years Later

Late last month, West Dallas activist Otis Fagan turned up at City Hall backed by 20 or so other members of a group he calls the Clean Association for Environmental Justice, asking the city council to intervene on their behalf and help them get medical benefits he said they're guaranteed by a court decision years ago over pollution from the old West Dallas RSR lead smelter.

"The survivors are here because we have actual documentation the court had ordered for us to get medical treatment, and we have not received that," Fagan said. The activists punctuated the point by holding up copies of the court order that guarantees them medical treatment and blood screening.

For more 60 years, the RSR lead smelter in West Dallas polluted the surrounding community and sickened its residents. Lawsuits closed the smelter in the '80s, initiated a clean-up of the area in the '90s and guaranteed medical care for its victims, but years later people are still suffering from the after effects of lead poisoning and the mandate to provide care to its victims was never enforced.

Blood tests used to detect lead in the bloodstream were provided by the RSR Corporation, but Fagan says that is a far cry from the medical screenings and compensation guaranteed by the court order.

"Parkland will give them treatment, but will not pay their bills," Fagan said at the City Council meeting. "It's not right for them to have to pay the bill for someone else's contamination that was forced upon them."

Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said he was making note of the group's repeated efforts and helped them schedule a meeting with City Attorney Tom Perkins. "You're being heard, but now we need to get you some action," Caraway told them at the meeting.

Since then, Fagan tells Unfair Park, his group has finally made a "modest impression with Perkins and the council," after two years of attending council meetings en masse.

"We have been petitioning the city for quite some time to assist us in getting medical treatment," Fagan says. "We've had nothing but difficulty in getting our point across that we are sick and dying from the exposure."

There is no official statistic for the number of deaths associated with the West Dallas lead contamination, but according to Fagan there have been as many as 11,000 deaths over a span of decades.

"As a young boy growing up in Dallas, ambulances ran day and night hauling bodies," Fagan recalls.

Fagan says that birth defects and illness caused by the contamination were common, though lead poisoning was rarely listed as a cause because at the time toxicology tests were rare and medical examinations were shallow.