(DALLAS) --- While the Dallas-Ft. Worth area struggles to find a way to reduce smog, the state environmental agency cut a backroom deal with TXI Operations, L.P., a Midlothian cement plant, to shut down its pollution control technology. The result will significantly increase emissions of toxic and smog forming pollutants. Outraged parents and environmental groups demand the state agency protect people over profits. A hearing to determine which is more important will be held June 7, 2005, City Council Chambers, 401 South Rogers Street, Waxahachie, Texas 75165. Parents and environmental groups will hold a press conference at 9 AM before the hearing.
"TXI thinks it is above the law," said Wendi Hammond, Blue Skies Alliance. "Even President George Bush's EPA has said TXI's request cannot be issued, but our state environmental agency is again caving to industry pressure while sacrificing the health of our children. Once again, it will be up to parents and environmental groups to ensure our environmental laws are enforced and our children protected."
"TXI's greed has gotten out of hand. Although TXI has enjoyed record profits while successfully operating the pollution controls, TXI claims the technology costs too much to operate because of increased natural gas prices," said Rebecca Bornhorst, Downwinders At Risk. "Everybody is dealing with fuel price increases, including other industries. It's a fact of life. But TXI thinks rules that apply to everyone else shouldn't apply to them."
TXI filed its application before Ellis County was reclassified as nonattainment for violating the Clean Air Act. Cost is no longer an excuse under the new classification. The shut down would result in significant increase of toxic emissions year round, including an almost 12% increase of smog forming emissions during the ozone season.
I'll see if there's any press coverage on this tomorrow - right now, a Google news search on "TXI" is pretty barren. Well, not completely. Look who's coming to Ellis County:
Erin Brockovich, an environmental crusader made famous by the movie that bears her name, is coming to Ellis County.
Brockovich and a team of lawyers are researching the county's industrial pollution to determine whether it is affecting people's health.
If so, they say, they will sue the operators of cement kilns and other industries in Midlothian.
The group plans to schedule a public meeting next month in Midlothian to discuss its research and gauge interest in a suit, said Jim Ross, an Arlington lawyer who is working with Brockovich.
Brockovich said she is coming "to educate and make the community aware of the facts."
"We don't want to create a community scare. But if I can come in and create greater awareness of the issues, that's a giant part of my job."
State health statistics show that rates of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease per 100,000 residents in Ellis County exceeded the state rates in 2002 — the latest year for which statistics are available from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
But so did the rates of those illnesses in other counties in North Texas, according to the statistics.
Kaufman County has a higher overall cancer rate than Ellis; five other area counties have higher rates of respiratory disease, with Denton County recording the highest.
Only the lung cancer rate in Ellis County exceeded the rates in the other metroplex counties in 2002.
The overall birth defect rate in Ellis County exceeded the state rate per 10,000 live births in 2001, the latest year for which statistics are available. But Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties all exceeded Ellis County's rate.
However, several studies in the past decade have suggested that toxic pollution affects the health of Ellis County residents, say Ross, the lawyer working with Brockovich, and others.
One is a 1995 study led by Marvin Legator, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Legator's study found three times more respiratory illnesses in Midlothian — home to most of the county's industries — than in Waxahachie a few miles away.
It also found that the rate of cancer deaths in Ellis County was consistently higher than the rate in neighboring Tarrant County.
A year later, researchers at the University of Michigan ripped a state health-risk assessment that determined TXI's cement-kiln emissions posed little health risk.
The study, commissioned by the American Lung Association and the regional environmental group Downwinders at Risk, said the state's scientific approach was severely flawed and its conclusions unfounded.
That same year, Peter Langlois, a senior epidemiologist with the Texas Department of Health, published a study that found an unusually high number of babies in Ellis County born with Down syndrome.