Downwinders at Risk is an organization dedicated to the continued education and
advocacy concerning cement plant pollution. Downwinders at Risk acts as an
information clearinghouse for groups who are concerned with the burning of
hazardous and other wastes by the cement kiln industry within and outside the
state of Texas. Over the past twelve years, Downwinders at Risk has acted as a
resource for citizens’ groups nationally and internationally, including Puerto
Rico, Great Britain, Mexico, Montana, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma,
New York and Michigan.
Since 1993, Downwinders at Risk has worked as a grassroots organization and
holds both a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4) designation. Since its inception,
Downwinders at Risk has worked to educate the public about cement kiln issues.
The group has participated in numerous joint projects, workshops and education
seminars with the Sierra Club, American Lung Association, League of Women
Voters, Clean Water Action, Public Citizen, chambers of commerce and other
environmental, public health and civic organizations. Downwinders has actively
sought to encourage public participation and advocacy on issues related to waste
burning cement kilns including how they should be regulated by both state and
federal agencies and legislative bodies.
Downwinders worked with the American Lung Association of Texas to produce a 15
minute video primer on kiln incineration that has been distributed to every
member of Congress, the Texas Legislature and citizen activists throughout the
country. It remains the only professionally produced documentary on the subject.
Downwinders has also been instrumental in the passage of PTA resolutions from 11
different schools in three separate communities opposing kiln incineration, and
resolutions opposing the practice from the Dallas NAACP, Lone Star Chapter of
the Sierra Club and Dallas chapter of the League of Women Voters. In November of
1996, over 1600 delegates to the Texas state PTA passed a resolution and
legislative positions urging tighter restrictions for kiln incineration despite
heavy lobbying by the cement industry. Many local physicians have also become
supporters, including many which have authored or co-signed letters to the state
or federal government seeking tighter emissions controls on cement plants.
Downwinders at Risk is an aggressive lobbying force. In its 501(c)(4) capacity,
Downwinders at Risk initiated several bills in the Texas legislature. These
bills had overwhelming community support as well as the support of both the
Texas PTA and the NAACP, but never made it to the House and Senate floor due to
opposition by committee members sympathetic to the industry. The group
continues to have good working relationships with many local, state and national
Downwinders has successfully persuaded the local city and county governments in
the Dallas-Ft. Worth area to quit sending household hazardous wastes they
collect to under-regulated cement kilns.
Downwinders At Risk raised money to commission a report from Dr. Marvin Legator
of the University of Texas on the Effects Screening Level system used by Texas
and most other states in assessing risk from air pollution. This landmark
report, published in October 1996, is the first to examine the link between the
discredited federal standards and the states’ adaptation of them to regulate
toxic emissions. Dr. Legator also conducted the first health symptom survey of
citizens living downwind of a hazardous waste burning cement plant. The survey
showed a 35% increase of respiratory problems in the downwind population. The
Legator health study is the only journal-published, peer-reviewed health study
ever done in Midlothian.
In May of 1996, Downwinders at Risk assisted the American Lung Association in
its commission and release of a report by Dr. Stuart Batterman of the University
of Michigan entitled "Evaluation of The Screening Risk Analysis for the TXI
Facility in Midlothian, Texas". The report is the only complete review of the
government's "risk assessments" of the TXI cement plant.
In less than 24 months, Downwinders at Risk raised over $25,000 (in addition to
its regular operational expenses) to cover the costs of a contested case hearing
opposing the largest permit to burn hazardous waste in the state of Texas at the
TXI cement plant in Midlothian, Texas. In addition, Downwinders at Risk
successfully enlisted the donations of $50,000 from the cities of Duncanville
and DeSoto to participate in the contested case hearing. The hearing was the
longest and most expensive in Texas history. Although, the permit was awarded,
opponents were able to show that TXI is and probably will continue to be a
public nuisance because of its plumes, property line violations of sulfur
dioxide pollution, noncompliance with particulate matter pollution standards,
and lack of "best available control technology".
Furthermore, the organization is supported by an active volunteer group who
donates hours of labor towards ** fundraising, writing grant proposals and press
releases, attending, planning and participating in local civic and political
activities, media events and fundraising events, writing letters, maintaining a
mailing list and e-mail network and serving as the voice for clean air in North
Downwinders and other local clean air groups participated in the writing and
publicizing of a "Citizens' Implementation Plan" for cleaning up smog in DFW.
This 15 page document was the official response by DFW's environmental and
public health communities to the state's own anti-smog plan. Throughout a
series of local public hearings, hundreds of citizens testified in support of
this tougher citizens clean air strategy.
We initiated a letter, co-signed by 14 other environmental and public health
groups, to the local Clean Air Steering Committee of the North Central Texas
Council of Governments requesting public interest representation on the
Committee as well as sponsored a news conference releasing the letter. The
committee is responsible for writing a State Implementation Plan to bring the
area into compliance with the Clean Air Act. As a result, five environmental
and public health organizations now sit at the table with representatives from
county and city governments and Chambers of Commerce.
In 1999, Downwinders joined with Public Citizen Texas and the SEED (Sustainable
Energy and Economic Development) Coalition to form the Blue Skies Alliance.
Once sustainable funding was established, Blue Skies hired an Executive Director
to work solely on clean air issues in North Texas.
Downwinders lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission
for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to have Ellis County included in the
non-attainment area for ozone pollution. In 2004, Ellis County was officially
designated non-attainment for the new 8-hour ozone standard. It was our research
on plumes, and inventories that led in a major way to nonattainment status for
Downwinders joined with Blue Skies Alliance, Sierra Club, and Public Citizen to
file a lawsuit again the EPA for failing to meet clean air deadlines as required
by the federal Clean Air Act. Filing suit in October 2004 under the title of
"Blue Skies v. EPA," the groups cited the widely acknowledged eight-year failure
of the DFW region to submit an EPA-approved clean-up plan for its dirty air,
which is annually ranked among the nation's worst. Although technically aimed at
EPA, the court case was intended to bring all levels of government to the
negotiating table to reach consensus on an accelerated clean air plan that would
actually work. After months of negotiations, environmental and public health
groups reached an historic accord with local, state and federal government to
end the first lawsuit ever filed over dirty air in Dallas Ft. Worth.
Downwinders at Risk spent two years in negotiations with Holcim Cement and the
EPA over a permit application that would increase production and emissions at
their Midlothian plant. An agreement was reached in 2005. Holcim agreed to
install and test new pollution control technology, provide $2.25 million dollars
for other projects aimed at reducing ozone forming emissions in the DFW area,
provide monitoring for particulate matter for three years, provide up to
$120,000 over five years for an independent scientist to review compliance and
operations at Holcim, and to reduce the limits of ozone-forming emissions
previously requested by Holcim.