Related News & Information

MIDLOTHIAN, Texas—To hear Sue Pope tell it, tons of toxic pollutants spewing from three nearby cement factories have ruined her immune system, stripped her lung capacity, and probably caused her husband's cancer as well as numerous inexplicable illnesses around town.

Talk to state, local or industry officials here and they'll tell you that decades of studies prove the air around the nation's largest concentration of cement plants is just fine.

Both sides hope a sweeping new federal study will finally answer the question that environmentalists, industry leaders, politicians and scientists have argued about for at least 20 years: Just how toxic is this place?

Cement factory pollution has become an increasing concern around the country, with the Environmental Protection Agency in April proposing new rules to cut emissions at the nation's 99 plants.


According to the most recent EPA statistics, the plants in 2007 emitted about 300 tons of sulfuric acid, nearly 20 tons of benzene, and smaller amounts of mercury, chromium, manganese and other chemicals. Those emissions were within the annual limits allowed on their state emissions permits, but that doesn't comfort some folks in town.

"A lot of people have paid the price," said Pope, a 69-year-old former horse breeder who lives near one plant and leads an environmental watchdog group. "They are responsible for a lot of the pollution and are causing the climate catastrophe."

Pope and her group, Downwinders at Risk, paint a much bleaker picture. They cite "innumerable" people who've contracted strange illnesses, cancer, birth defects, respiratory problems and "gusher" nosebleeds. Pope has chronicled dozens of problems with animals, including some born with short legs and extra paws or have hair loss, cancer and reproductive problems.

Former resident Carrie Walker, 35, said she had strange rashes, bronchitis, pneumonia and a fever that persisted for a couple years. She said nobody could figure out what was wrong and then a doctor finally told her she needed to leave town.

"Considering the fact that prior to living there my lung capacity was excellent and then after two years it was at 55 percent and now it's normal again, I'd say it's pretty certain there's a link," said Walker, who now lives in Dallas. "When I go see my doctors now, the first thing they say is, 'Please tell me you're staying away from Midlothian.'"

Alexandra Allred, whose young son has landed in the emergency room several times with asthma attacks he never had before moving here in 2001, hopes to be leaving soon. She's put her house up for sale, eager to leave a place where half of her daughter's 12-girl soccer team routinely runs to the sideline for their asthma inhalers.

"All the studies say everything's fine, but if you just look at the sky and the smoke you know it's not," she said.

The state health agency says birth defect rates are slightly higher in Ellis County than in the rest of the state, but that it's higher in a large area of North Texas including Dallas and Fort Worth. It's unclear why those figures are higher in that portion of the state, agency spokeswoman Emily Palmer said. State statistics also show a cancer rate that's slightly higher but not statistically significant.

The agency doesn't track respiratory problems, so it's hard to quantify those anecdotes from around town.

In April, the EPA issued sweeping new proposed rules that would require 163 cement kilns nationwide to cut emissions of mercury, along with soot, hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide and hydrochloric acid by 2013.

The rules would require cement plants to cut mercury emissions by up to 93 percent from current levels, with similar reductions for other pollutants. If the rules are adopted, they will be the first mercury emissions standard ever on the cement industry.

"We're very excited. These rules are historic," said Joyce Eden, a yoga teacher who lives half a mile from the Cupertino plant and has criticized it for years.

State health officials advise pregnant women to eat no more than 1 meal of fish from the bay a month due to the mercury contamination.

Cupertino cement plant managers say they may be able to meet the new mercury standards, but the equipment will cost $40 million or more.

Three schools are surrounded by toxic air
A new study finds three Bay Area private schools are close to a toxic steel plant.
BERKELEY, CA (KGO) -- It's not only a dubious distinction, it's potentially dangerous. Three schools in Berkeley subject kids to some of the worst air in the country. Black Pine Circle School, Nia House Learning Center and the Via Center are all private schools located near a toxic site.

Scientists have long known that kids are particularly susceptible to the dangers of bad air. Their bodies are still developing and they breathe more air in proportion to their weight, than adults do. That's why this latest study focused on schools.

Canada is moving to get rid of products with a chemical common in plastic baby bottles, the United States is expressing concern over its safety and some retailers are planning to stop selling these items.
"At this point, the writing is on the wall for bisphenol A. Major retailers and governments all across the country and the world are now recognizing that this chemical is extremely toxic at very low levels of exposure," Michael Schade of the U.S. environmental group Center for Health, Environment and Justice said in a telephone interview.

On Tuesday the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health, issued a draft report expressing concern that BPA could cause neural and behavioral problems in fetuses, infants and children.

Relying on the results of animal studies, it expressed concern about possible links between BPA exposure and early puberty and prostate and breast cancer.

Dr. Anila Jacob of the activist Environmental Working Group said using rodent studies to assess toxicity is a well-established practice given that scientists cannot expose humans to possible toxins in research for ethical reasons.

Canadian Health Minister Tony Clement said on Friday his country intends to become the first to ban the import and sale of some types of plastic baby bottles because they contain BPA. He expressed concern that overexposure at an early age could cause later behavioral and neurological symptoms.

Global Community Monitor's project: Pacific Steel Casting air pollution; want factory relocation:
Pacific Steel Casting is showering West Berkeley's skies with toxic metal traces that can cause cancer and neurological problems, according to a group of activists who have been monitoring air around the plant since May.
Global Community Monitor, a non-profit environmental justice group based in San Francisco, started monitoring the air with a $25,000 grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The group released preliminary data Tuesday from 12 air monitoring sites around Pacific Steel Casting, which has been making steel parts such as fire hydrants, truck parts and bridge pieces in Berkeley since 1934. It found levels of manganese and nickel much higher than those deemed safe by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The group plans to continue monitoring through December, said director Denny Larson.

``We knew there was a long list of complaints from the plant, but we didn't know if people were being exposed to toxic levels of pollution, and now we have the data,'' said Peter Guerrero, a consultant working with Larson. ``The state of California and the city should look at an industrial relocation plan for them. Just because they have been here for decades doesn't excuse their behavior.''

The group said it found concentrations of manganese, which can cause neurological problems similar to Parkinson's disease, and nickel, which can cause cancer, in the air at five sites near the plant.

Those levels were found in the air as far as six blocks from the plant at Second and Gilman streets.

Larson said the group tested the air for metal traces Pacific Steel has admitted it releases in its steel-making process. In a report to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Pacific Steel said it released 529 pounds of manganese and 19 pounds of nickel into the air during a one-year period in 2005 and 2006.

Pacific Steel factory resistance:
Pacific Steel spokeswoman Elizabeth Jewel said closing the plant and moving out of Berkeley is a ``completely unrealistic'' option. ``That would be a huge loss for the city of Berkeley,'' Jewel said. ``Where would they like us to go?''

``This is a group of concerned citizens who are not scientists, with no scientific training, who are coming to conclusions that can't be supported,'' Jewel said. ``They don't follow any standard scientific methodology. They don't publish their methodology or how they came to those numbers, there's no peer review and there's no way to say definitively that the source is Pacific Steel.''

BELMONT, Calif., Oct. 10, 2007
Belmont City Council voted last night to approve one of the most toughest smoking bans in the USA.
Prohibitions on smoking in parks and other public places will take effect in 30 days. The ordinance's most hotly contested elements -- which ban smoking inside apartments and condominiums -- won't be enforced for another 14 months.

Smoking ban to get rid of second hand smoke exposure and save lives in Belmont:
Belmont is set to make history by becoming the first city in the nation to ban smoking on its streets and almost everywhere else.
The Belmont City Council voted unanimously last night to pursue a strict law that will prohibit smoking anywhere in the city except for single-family detached residences. Smoking on the street, in a park and even in one’s car will become illegal and police would have the option of handing out tickets if they catch someone.
“We have a tremendous opportunity here. We need to pass as stringent a law as we can, I would like to make it illegal,” said Councilman Dave Warden. “What if every city did this, image how many lives would be saved? If we can do one little thing here at this level it will matter.”

Armed with growing evidence that second-hand smoke causes negative health effects, the council chose to pursue the strictest law possible and deal with any legal challenges later. Last month, the council said it wanted to pursue a law similar to ones passed in Dublin and the Southern California city of Calabasas. It took up the cause after a citizen at a senior living facility requested smoke be declared a public nuisance, allowing him to sue neighbors who smoke.

The council was concerned about people smoking in multi-unit residences.

“I would just like to say ‘no smoking’ and see what happens and if they do smoke, [someone] has the right to have the police come and give them a ticket,” said Councilwoman Coralin Feierbach.

“You can’t walk down the street with a beer, but you can have a cigarette,” Warden said. “You shouldn’t be allowed to do that. I just think it shouldn’t be allowed anywhere except in someone’s house. If you want to do that, that’s fine.”

Push for smoking ban in Belmont...
But when members of the City Council consider approving the revised ordinance Sept. 11, they will still be voting on a novel idea: Restricting smoking in some private homes.

According to a summary of the ordinance released this week, the new measure would prohibit smoking in individual units and yard areas of multi-unit residences that share a ceiling or floor with another unit.

The ordinance would also ban smoking in indoor or outdoor workplaces; public places such as sports fields, parks or malls; common areas of multi-family residences; and within 20 feet of any place where smoking is not allowed.

Smoking would still be allowed in detached single-family homes and in multifamily units without another tenant above or below.

Mayor Coralin Feierbach acknowledges that banning smoking in a condo or apartment is "uncommon" for smoking ordinances. But a few weeks ago, while she was watching her granddaughter and opened the windows to get some air, Feierbach said she realized the importance of the ordinance.

She thought about what would happen if there were smokers outside and she were in an upstairs unit.

"What if this were a condo? That little baby would be taking in smoke. It didn't crystallize for me until it actually happened," she said.

Resistance from San Mateo County Association of Realtors:
"We understand the city's desire to protect the health and safety of their community," said George Mozingo, director of government affairs for the organization. "Where we do have a concern about is the regulation of a legal activity, in this case smoking, within a private residence." ...As for filing a lawsuit challenging the law, Mozingo said, "That's certainly not on the table. At this point, the ordinance hasn't been passed and we're still discussing it with folks."
"The city has garnered support from the local American Lung Association's chapter and some residents. "

Email Webmasters - Contact Us

Copyright © All Rights Reserved