Ellis county TXI

Fouling the Air at TXI

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TXI This week the Texas Toxic Tour takes you to Midlothian, Texas, a small town near Dallas, where Texas Industries operates one of the nation's largest hazardous waste incinerators. The plant, exempted by Texas law from following current environmental regulations, has a long history of polluting the air, land and water, and threatening the health of area citizens. It also has a track record of receiving political favors from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), on whose board sits one of TXI's former lobbyists. Be sure to listen or watch the interview with Debbie Markwardt and Cecil Booth who live near the waste incinerator in this week's stop on the Texas Toxic Tour.

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Toxic Air Releases at TXI

Debbie Markwardt and Cecil Booth live less than a mile from the Texas Industries' cement plant - the only cement plant in Texas that burns hazardous waste as fuel. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's toxic release inventory, the TXI Midlothian cement plant more than doubled the release of toxics into the air between 1994 and 1995. During 1995, TXI discharged 11,000 pounds of chromium, 2000 pounds of butadiene, 7000 pounds of benzene, 255 pounds of methyl ethyl ketone, 3000 pounds of toluene, 750 pounds of xylene and 250 pounds of cyclohexane. While emitting "probable carcinogens" such as benzene, butadiene and chromium, TXI also releases toxic heavy metals including arsenic and mercury. (1) The EPA has determined that cement plants are the second largest source of dioxin emissions in the U.S. (2)

Threatening Peoples Health

Cecil and Debbie's health has declined since they moved into their home near TXI years ago. Local medical health professionals have linked the emissions from Midlothian's cement kilns to sickness among their patients. One area physician has stated, "I have seen an increase in the number of visits to my office by patients complaining of eye, nasal, and sinus irritation, more frequent sinus infections, exacerbation's of asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis as well as pneumonia. I have had an increase of hospital admissions for exacerbation's of asthma and emphysema from patients living in the proximity of the plants." (3)

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A veterinarian from the area has also noticed that in a neighborhood directly downwind of the Midlothian plants, " there appears to be an abnormally high incidence of reproductive problems (with area horses) for such a small area and population of horses."(4) By law TXI is permitted to burn at least 11 chemicals that scientists have identified as "endocrine and reproductive disrupters." (5)

Fouling the Air

The Midlothian cement plants, located 30 miles southwest of Dallas, are the largest air polluters in the area, producing an estimated 48 percent of the Dallas / Ft Worth region's industrial air pollution. The cement plants release into the air over 35, 185 tons of smog forming chemicals a year. It would take an estimated 600,000 cars to equal the chemicals producing smog released by the Midlothian cement plants. (6)

View maps of smog plumes resulting from the Midlothioan cement plants near the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, by visiting the TNRCC website. (Select Region 4 on their Texas map to get the Dallas/Ft. Worth area animations.)

Picking the Fox to Guard the Hen House

In May of 1995, Governor Bush made his first appointment to Texas's environmental regulatory commission, the TNRCC, choosing former TXI lobbyist Ralph Marquez. Marquez had been employed by Texas Industries as late as 1994 to support TXI efforts to secure permits for an additional toxic waste incinerator. Previously, Marquez worked for the Texas Chemical Council where he served for years as vice president of the Environmental Affairs, questionable experience for a member of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

The TNRCC - Protecting the Polluters

In November of 1995, the TNRCC published a report in support of the continued burning of hazardous waste at TXI. In the report, the TNRCC concluded that the increase in hazardous waste burning from 100,000 to 270,000 tons per year (including large volumes of waste from Gulf Coast refineries and chemical plants) posed no hazard to public health in Midlothian or downwind in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex.

Concerned that former TXI lobbyist now TNRCC Commissioner Ralph Marquez may be unduly influencing TNRCC agency positions, Dallas and Midlothian residents formally requested in April of 1996 that Commissioner Marquez recuse himself from voting on TXI's permit issues. After indicating publicly that he would not vote on any because of his conflict of interest, Commissioner Marquez reversed himself during March of 1999 and voted with Gov. Bush's two other TNRCC appointees to approve TXI's permit to increase the burning of hazardous waste at Midlothian for another ten years. (7)

TNRCC Back Room Deals for the Cement Industry

When the Dallas/Ft. Worth region failed Federal minimum air quality standards and was designated in non-attainment its business and political leaders formed the North Texas Clean Air Committee to jointly develop local recommendations for a TNRCC smog reduction plan.

Concerned about cement industry influence within the TNRCC, Downwinders at Risk, a citizens group opposing cement plant pollution, filed an open records request in early November 1999 to uncover industry dealings with the agency. The open records filing revealed two meetings behind closed doors in September of 1999 between TNRCC Commissioner Marquez, other TNRCC officials, and cement industry representatives in which the scope and size of cement plant smog cuts was decided.

This came almost two full months before the local representatives of the North Texas Clean Air Committee voted in October to recommend a 50% reduction in cement emission cuts. A recommendation rejected by the TNRCC.

Oddly, no minutes can be found for the second meeting in September between cement industry representatives and Commissioner Marquez and other TNRCC officials. However, one document entitled "Issues and Concerns," dated the same day as the second meeting, surfaced during the open records search. The document listed a number of assurances that industry wanted from the TNRCC plan. These included that no further reductions in emissions would be required after this agreement from the cement plants, even if air quality worsened. Other issues included assurances that the "cement industry would be highly involved" with developing the smog reduction plan, and that the TNRCC plan would emphasize only seasonal controls instead of permanent ones. (8)

Community Response to the TNRCC Plan

In December of 1999, the Dallas Morning News editorialized about the weaknesses of the TNRCC's cement industry smog reduction plan and clear favoritism to the Midlothian cement industry.

"The (TNRCC) plan asks too little of cement plants in Ellis County, which are the largest fixed source of ozone-forming chemicals in Dallas-Ft. Worth. A steering committee of local politicians and businessmen had asked the agency to reduce the plants emissions by as much as 50 percent. But the plan calls for cuts of only 40 percent. Environmental watchdogs say the true figure could be as low as 18 percent. If local electric utilities must reduce their emissions by 88 percent, and commuters and builders be greatly inconvenienced, why should cement makers have to do so relatively little?"

For additional media coverage of toxic TXI see the following:

Join Texas PEER soon for another stop on the Texas Toxic Tour.

Sources:

  1. 1995 EPA Toxic Release Inventory
  2. Source: EPA, "Estimating Exposure to Dioxin-Like Compounds, " 1994, TXI test burn data from 1991
  3. Sources: March 2, 1994 letter from Dr. Gartner to Carol Browner of EPA.
  4. Sources: March 7, 1994 letter from Dr. Athon to Carol Browner of EPA.
  5. Erice Statement, May 30, 1996, in Rachel's Environmental and Health Weekly #501
  6. Downwinders at Risk, Smoke and Mirrors, January 2000, page 3.
  7. Downwinders at Risk, Smoke and Mirrors, January 2000, page 2, DAR Open Records Act Request Shines Light on TNRCC Back Room Deals with Cement Plants
  8. TNRCC documents received from Downwinders At Risk November, 1999 Open Records Request entitled Issues and Concerns Associated With The Forthcoming TNRCC NOx Reduction Rulemaking
 
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