The city installed an air quality monitor at South Central Park in Joppa (pronounced "Joppee") on Monday, and another monitor is headed to the southern Dallas neighborhood soon. The city is working on installing 40 of these monitors by the end of the year as part of something called the Breathe Easy Dallas Program.
The program is paid for through an environmental justice grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as by the American Rescue Program Act and city funds. The $1.7 million program is meant to provide air monitoring throughout Dallas at the neighborhood level.
The city now has five active monitors as part of the program. Two have been installed in West Dallas near the GAF shingle manufacturing plant. Two were also installed in South Dallas’ Dixon Circle community. Neighborhoods chosen for the program get two air monitors. The second air monitor for Joppa is planned for installation at Joppy Momma’s Farm off Carbondale Street.
The data collected by these monitors will be accessible to residents through an online dashboard. While the data won’t be used for regulatory or enforcement purposes, it’s meant to inform residents and city officials about local air quality so they can decide if further action is needed.
Joppa is a freedman town, settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. Today, it's one of the most polluted neighborhoods in Dallas. Temeckia Derrough, the environmental commissioner for District 7, bought a house from Habitat for Humanity in Joppa in 2006 and has lived in the community ever since. She said the community is surrounded by industry. “It’s like an industrial port hub,” Derrough said.
She started getting involved in environmental advocacy in 2018 when she successfully fought off the development of a concrete batch plant in the neighborhood. She’s been fighting for better conditions in the community ever since. Now she’s doing so as a member of the city’s Environmental Commission. Derrough said the air monitor installations in her district represent another step toward environmental justice. “This data will help the city to understand what their residents are breathing in the air, and help the city to implement and form policies to protect their residents,” Derrough said.
Kathryn Bazan, chair of the Dallas Environmental Commission, said residents often have anecdotal evidence of poor air quality in their communities, but without any hard data it’s difficult for them to demonstrate and work toward any sort of change. “So, with this data what we hope to do is be able to demonstrate that there certainly are implications of bad policy making and bad zoning decisions,” she said.
“So, with this data what we hope to do is be able to demonstrate that there certainly are implications of bad policy making and bad zoning decisions." – Kathryn Bazan, Dallas Environmental Commissiontweet this
The data could be used when considering issues like individual zoning cases. But more broadly, Bazan said it could also be used to help guide ForwardDallas, the city’s comprehensive land use plan, which is coming up for review.
The monitors measures particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. An important distinction to make, Bazan said, is that there are already air monitors set up in Dallas-Fort Worth by various organizations, but the monitors the city is using in its program are more accurate, and they’re calibrated by city staff at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s regional air quality monitoring station. “So the data that we’re going to get is as close to regulatory monitoring data that you could get with a device like this,” Bazan said.
Bazan said communities in Dallas determine where these air monitors are placed. The city reaches out to community organizations and neighborhood groups to see if they’re interested in having these monitors. Then comes a community meeting, generally hosted by the Office of Environmental Quality along with the district’s environmental commissioner. This is the community’s opportunity to share their air quality concerns. From there, they have an opportunity to pinpoint on a map where they’d like the air monitors to be installed.
Staff with the Office of Environmental Quality will go to the area chosen by the community to determine where the monitors can be installed. Each community gets two air quality monitors. Bazan said the city is in talks with residents in Dallas’ Floral Farms, previously home to a mountain of shingles weighing between 60,000 and 100,000 tons, to install two air monitors in the neighborhood.
Bazan thinks this program can help bring about a change that's been needed for some time.
"What these air quality monitors, and the data that we collect from the neighborhood, will do is help our elected officials make better policy decisions about not just land use," she said. "But resources that can go to these communities that are having quality of life issues because of the decisions that have been made by our city in the past.”