Clean Up Garland aims to stop a concrete batch plant just as EPA-TCEQ testing finds lead in residential property near a former battery manufacturer. Photos by Betsy Friauf.
Sept. 22, 2020
A citizen's group in Garland is preparing to go to court to stop a concrete batch plant, which they say will exacerbate already high levels of pollution in the community.
The litigation is part of the Clean Up Garland's decades-long fight to clean up multiple sources of pollution that put lead and other toxins in soil where children play and that carries runoff into drinking water sources.
Residents of the Meadowlark and Williams Estates neighborhoods in south Garland blame clusters of cancer, neurological disorders and respiratory disease on contaminants from the vast industrial parks nearby.
Namely, the former Globe-Union plant at 1111 S. Shiloh Road, which manufactured lead oxide batteries for vehicles and has long been a focus for Clean Up Garland.
Now residents are preparing to seek an injunction to stop a batch plant, at 3159 S. Garland Ave, intended to produce concrete for the Interstate-635-East expansion.
The concrete batch plant at 3159 S. Garland Ave is set to produce concrete for the I-635-East expansion. Photo by Betsy Friauf.
The highway project is forecast to continue until at least 2024. Yard signs saying “Move the batch” and “Muevan la fabrica de concreto” dot the neighborhoods, a project of Garland Greater Good.
Garland Mayor Scott LeMay said a future use of the land hasn't been decided. The highway expansion will provide better access, making the site suitable for warehouses, distribution centers or a complex of retail stores and restaurants, he said.
GETTING THE LEAD OUT
Stonewalled in most of their attempts to get action from government agencies and some of their elected officials, residents are enlisting allies including their state representatives, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, private attorneys and the Dallas Sierra Club.
The residents’ decades of work on the Globe-Union site finally moved the needle earlier this year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality sampled soil in February and finished a report in May. High levels of lead were found in several locations. A residential property, south of the Globe-Union site, two blocks from Park Crest Elementary, showed 61,200 parts per million, 153 times the EPA threshold for cleanup.
The EPA plans to test more properties in the near future, says Holli Sandborn, whose yard, about a mile south of the plant, yielded the 61,200 ppm. She said the EPA sent letters to 70 residents seeking the necessary consent for sampling on their property. Few replied, thinking the letter might be a scam.
The next step would have been EPA field workers going door-to-door to ask for consent, but the COVID-19 pandemic made face-to-face visits impossible. Now, the EPA will resume the effort in the near future, Sandborn said she was told by Eric Delgado. He is the On-Scene Coordinator for EPA Region 6 which includes Garland and is headquartered in Dallas.
“EPA plans to resume fieldwork around the Globe Union site as soon as is safely possible,” Jennah Durant, a spokesperson for EPA, told GreenSourceDFW. “EPA continues to work to obtain consent from residents for residential soil sampling. Residents who want to participate can find access agreement forms here. Soil will be tested to a depth of up to 24 inches.”
If a cleanup becomes necessary, Sandborn said, 18 inches of soil would be removed from contaminated areas and replaced with clean soil. See more information on EPA action regarding Globe-Union.
The residential neighborhoods in south Garland were built in the 1950s and early '60s. About that time or shortly after, the industries began moving in, primarily across Shiloh Road. The Globe-Union site began producing batteries in 1955. It ran two lead smelters for decades and charged batteries in troughs of water. The property changed hands several times and has not produced batteries since 1995.
Don Phillips, leader of Clean Up Garland, is concerned that pollutants are running off into Duck Creek, which flows into the East Fork of the Trinity River. Photo by Betsy Friauf.
While advocating for action on the lead issue, residents also are working to prevent a concrete plant from going online. A banner in the neighborhood proclaiming “Garland City Council did you dirty—demand city council relocate the concrete plant out of this neighborhood” speaks to Garland Greater Good’s frustrations.
“It seems like in Texas, if you just go pay more, you get a permit” to pollute more, said Don Phillips, who for three years has helped lead the group called Clean Up Garland.
Garland Mayor Scott LeMay said that on the contrary, the contractor, Pegasus Link Constructors, was “vetted thoroughly” and that air-quality monitoring is being done by PLC and the city, and the results are being posted online. Current readings are establishing a baseline. The activity at the plant, the former Hypermart site at 3159 S. Garland Ave., as of Sept. 17 was staging in preparation for cement production, LeMay said. A week prior, 18-wheel gravel trucks and cement mixers were observed on site.
TCEQ’s role appears less prominent than that of the city.
Gary Rasp, TCEQ Media Relations Specialist, said in an email, “Consistent with federal air monitoring requirements, the placement of stationary air monitors within TCEQ’s air monitoring network are intended to assess the overall ambient air quality within a region and not the specific contribution from individual facilities or industry sectors. As a result, the TCEQ has not sited a stationary air monitor for this plant. The region would address complaints and as part of an investigation may conduct air monitoring with handheld equipment. However, the region [TCEQ regional office] has not received any complaints regarding this facility.”
Rhonda Mullen believes cancer in her family was caused from exposure to industrial sources near her childhood home on Bluebird Lane in Garland. Photo by Betsy Friauf.
One of the longtime activists is still working for change although she is ill and no longer lives in Garland. Rhonda Mullen lived a half-mile from Globe-Union for eight years. She and her parents moved into a brand-new house at 1217 Bluebird Lane in 1955, a half-mile east of the Globe-Union plant, when Rhonda was in seventh grade.
“Kids were raised differently then,” she said. “There were no fences. We ran all over the neighborhood. You were indoors only if you were being punished. We rode bicycles, dug in the dirt. Almost everyone hung their laundry on clotheslines outdoors. We played in the creeks.”
Kids still do.
A recent visit to Ruppards Branch Creek, which is fed by EPA-designated Stream 2C4, revealed elaborate graffiti on a rocky bank.
Now, Mullen blames her stage 4 bone cancer on exposure to industrial pollution during those outdoorsy years of her youth. She had a mastectomy when her first cancer was diagnosed in 2002. Remission followed, but about two and a half years ago she was diagnosed with bone cancer.
“It’s in both hips and my rib cage, skull and sternum,” she said.
Clean Up Garland went door-to-door a few years ago and documented cancer clusters. Mullen says her family is among them.
“My sister’s cancer started 10 years earlier than mine; she lived closer to Globe-Union,” Mullen said. “Until she had it, there was never cancer of any kind in our family, but now there have been six members.”
The door-to-door canvas turned up families with as many as eight members who had suffered cancer although there had never been a family history of cancer prior to moving into the neighborhood.
Mullen moved to Rowlett a decade ago. Despite living in a different area and battling cancer at age 78, she does what she can to see the cleanup through.
“I’m concerned especially for the children,” she said. “The City of Garland and school administration did not want to respond, even back in 1998 when I started working on this.”
Mullen said that she and her fellow concerned citizens told officials from the beginning,
“ ‘Our aim is not to sue, just to get you to clean up the air and the water.’ But they are not willing to work with us.”
Now, she says, “I guess the only way to get their attention is to sue. We are willing to, if we have to – it’s too important. If I can save even one life, it will be well worthwhile.”
A recent EPA-TCEQ study found high levels of lead on Park Crest Elementary school grounds. Photo by Betsy Friauf.
More than one activist has raised the issue of environmental racism. Park Crest Elementary, at 2232 Parkcrest Drive, is predominantly Latinx and its students predominantly qualify for free meals. Some nearby housing is subsidized by Section 8. The EPA-TCEQ soil sampling showed that 14 of 23 soil samples were above the maximum safe level for lead, including samples on the school grounds.
The EPA allows “400 ppm for lead in bare soils in play areas and 1,200 ppm for non-play areas for federally funded projects, according to US Health and Human Services,” says the federal website for the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.
Park Crest is a Title I school receiving federal funds, according to the Garland Independent School District website. The Garland ISD superintendent did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
At Park Crest Elementary, there's a playground and community garden where the children grow vegetables for the school cafeteria and for their families. A 3-foot-tall chain link fence is the only barrier between the playground and the banks of Stream 2C4 that takes runoff from the school grounds and flows into tributaries leading to Duck Creek, which flows into the East Fork of the Trinity River.
The Dallas Sierra Club is planning and organizing its strategy to assist the citizen activists vs. both the batch plant and the previous industrial pollution.
“We have approximately 30 members who live in Garland,” said Dick Guldi, immediate past co-chair of the club’s Conservation Committee and longtime activist vs. cement plants. “Many more live in neighboring cities whose air will be impacted by batch plants. The club is also concerned about lead in the creeks going into Lake Ray Hubbard, the principal reservoir for the City of Dallas."
Water run-off from Park Crest Elementary school grounds flows into a nearby creek. Photo by Betsy Friauf.
Neil Carman, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Clean Air Director who holds a Ph.D. in botany and has done research in plant chemistry, reviewed the EPA-TCEQ report.
“I think there’s a big problem but the City of Garland doesn’t want to deal with it,” said Carman.
He says it’s concerning that 14 of the 23 samples in the EPA-TCEQ report are above 100 ppm for lead.
He explained in an email that although 400 to 500 ppm is the EPA and TCEQ threshold for soil cleanup, it’s “a high concentration for a neurotoxic metal that will never break down in the soil. It remains there forever.”
Carman pointed out that “a more protective 100 ppm cleanup level was used in Cedar Park, northwest of Austin, in 1990 after an elevated water tower had old, leaded paint sandblasted off,” contaminating the neighborhood.”
Carman pointed out that “Cedar Park was a predominantly white suburb of Austin.”
He said that in addition to lead problems in Garland, the EPA-TCEQ report showed concerning levels of arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium and nickel in each of the 23 samples.
Clean up Garland leader Phillips says Legal Aid of Northwest Texas is preparing to file a federal complaint because of the Section 8 housing in the area that is impacted by pollution.
Asked for comment, LANT responded, “It is Legal Aid’s policy not to confirm or deny any client relationship. As such, we have no immediate comment to your question.”
Spanish version of concrete batch plant protest sign in Garland. Photo by Betsy Friauf.
Clean Up Garland is working with law firms including locals and one based in Washington, D.C., Phillips said.
State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-102) is looking into whether the TCEQ’s Region 4 needs more than the 71 investigators it now has for an area that includes not only Garland but the entire 19-county Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“Rep. Ramos is trying to figure out what to bring up in the legislative session that begins in January,” said her chief of staff, Lawrence Zarramon. “She wants a better understanding of investigators’ qualifications. She definitely cares deeply about residents’ environmental concerns.”
Phillips says that the EPA-TCEQ report indicates nine sites in Garland should qualify as “Superfund” sites eligible for federal cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
Guldi said, hearkening back to a massive industrial pollution episode of the 1970s in New York state, “This could almost be the Love Canal of Texas."
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