When Raul Reyes Jr. steps out of his home, he can smell a burning stench emanating from the GAF asphalt shingle factory that’s been in West Dallas since he was a kid. With data reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Reyes can tell it’s not just a smell in the air. It’s pollution. The plant in West Dallas is the largest industrial sulfur dioxide polluter in the whole county, according to the state of Texas 2019 official emissions inventory.
The data are compiled and released by TCEQ every year but are not widely distributed or mapped out.
Paul Quinn College’s Urban Research Initiative made that data a lot easier to read and much more accessible with a tool mapping polluters in North Texas counties. From that, they’ve recently released lists of top polluters in all of Dallas-Fort Worth, per county and per pollutant. You can see them all here. The report also explains what effects different pollutants have on a person's health.
Some of the top polluters in Dallas County include the Mountain Creek Steam Electric Station, the Sunnyvale Manufacturing Plant, Luminant Generation Co., the West Dallas GAF factory and Texas Instruments.
“It’s that next degree of knowledge to equip neighborhoods to say ‘OK, this isn’t just some place that smells," Evelyn Mayo, a fellow at Paul Quinn College, said. "This is a hazard to your health and therefore it’s your right to make your own stink about it.” Mayo is also chair of the Dallas-based environmental advocacy group Downwinders at Risk. The group was involved in ridding the Floral Farms neighborhood of Shingle Mountain.
Downwinders also partnered with Paul Quinn College to create a study called "Poisoned by ZIP Code." According to the study, the city's worst air pollution is in the West Dallas ZIP code 75212.
Their role in these fights is to bring the numbers and support people facing environmental injustices.
She said it can be hard to find information about a facility if you don’t know how to navigate TCEQ’s website. “So, this entire process is hopefully just to cut down the red tape in a way that residents feel, ‘OK, I can just file a complaint every day because it smells bad every day.’” Those complaints pile up in the public record, which can help balance the scales in a permit fight.
In a legal sense, it’s hard to draw a cause and effect relationship between industry and health.
“It could be this, or it could be your genes, or it could be something that we just don’t know because we’re not constantly taking measurements of what’s happening around you,” she said.
In creating policies, she said it’s about common sense. The information speaks for itself. Mayo said, “If it’s all stacking up in the same areas, which we’ve observed it tends to be, then I think you have a policy question that doesn’t need to meet that legal standard.”
The emissions inventory list is a way to monitor pollution until they have enough air monitors in enough places to get real-time data about environmental issues.
The top polluters in DFW are called the “Dirty 30” in the report. It includes three cement plants in Ellis County’s Midlothian, often called the “Cement Capital of Texas.”
After Laura Hunt and her family moved from Oklahoma to Midlothian, a half-hour drive from Dallas, in 2015, her daughter began getting sick.
“She just had recurrent pneumonia. She stopped eating, stopped growing, her lung function decreased to half normal,” Hunt, a pediatrician, said. She always thought it had something to do with the three main cement plants in town: Ash Grove, Holcim and Martin Marietta. No. 1 on that Dirty 30 list is the Holcim cement plant.
If Holcim had any worries about being knocked down a few spots on the list, those were squashed this week with the approval of a permit by TCEQ. The cement plant will soon be able increase carbon monoxide emissions by about 40-50% and start burning 100% petroleum coke as their flexible fuel, which could triple the amount of particulate matter and add heavy metals into the air. Hunt formed the group Midlothian Breathe in an attempt to fight the Holcim permit.
Although Hunt and the others didn’t get what they wanted, she said they now have the infrastructure to fight something like this more efficiently in the future. For now, they’re focused on getting more data to use as ammo in these fights.
Three compressor stations in Arlington made it in the top ten list of Tarrant County polluters. These stations maintain the flow and pressure of natural gas in the pipelines.
Ranjana Bhandari, the executive director of environmental advocacy group Liveable Arlington, said a horrible smell, like car exhaust, pours out of these stations. Visiting one of the stations, Bhandari said she could taste the pollution. “There were times you couldn’t smell anything. There were times you could taste it. But you always came back feeling like you had the flu,” Bhandari said, adding that the feeling would last for around three days. “It’s that bad."
She said they've received a lot of reports of people feeling sick and attributing it to the compressor stations. Between their experiences and the data from Paul Quinn College's report, local activists like Bhandari will have more fuel to fight environmental injustices in their communities.
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