Houston, TX – The Ivy Court Ballroom in Northeast Houston was filled to capacity on October 22nd as residents gathered not for a celebration, but a fight – a fight for the community’s right to clean air. Taking part in the public participation process for an air quality permit through Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), residents expressed their overwhelming concerns about a concrete batch plant’s plans to locate its industrial operation near homes, churches, neighborhood schools, and a treasured community center and public park in Acres Homes, a historically minority area.
Represented by LSLA Environmental Justice Attorney Colin Cox, Acres Homes resident Donnie Campbell is one of those concerned residents who submitted public comments on the permit. Living just 390 yards from the proposed batch plant, Campbell also requested a contested case hearing to challenge the permit, which she says fails to adequately protect her health and the health of fellow community members.
Since March 2018 when the public participation process first began with TCEQ and Soto Ready Mix, hundreds of residents and community advocates including the Mayor of Houston, the City of Houston’s Chief Environmental Science Officer, and state Representatives Jarvis Johnson and John Whitmire have voiced their strong opposition to the batch plant. Although the initial permit was denied by TCEQ due to noncompliance with a required buffer zone, Soto Ready Mix simply reapplied for a new permit in May after purchasing additional land across TC Jester Boulevard from the proposed site.
If approved by TCEQ, Soto Ready Mix would be allowed to operate its concrete batch plant across the street from Highland Park and Highland Community Center, a vital and treasured community center and public park in Acres Homes. In her comments to TCEQ, Campbell stressed the importance of this space to community members, where birthday gatherings and family reunions are regularly held, residents walk their infants in strollers or exercise along tree-lined pathways surrounding the park, and children of all ages attend summer tennis camp and play volleyball, football, baseball, or basketball on the park’s lighted courts. “Children are especially sensitive to the negative health impacts of particulate matter due to their developing lungs,” shared LSLA’s Colin Cox. “This location, which is less than 100 feet from the park, is a highly inappropriate location for a concrete batch plant.”
Campbell knows this from experience. “I know a lady right down the street who uses a walker and is on oxygen – she’s not going to be able to inhale this,” Campbell shared. “Another woman lives near a dirt yard that’s right off Mansfield Road near Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. She can’t even take her child outside anymore! Her little girl has asthma, and the dirt yard has really affected her health. She can’t even go outside to play.”
Concrete batch plants typically produce large amounts of dust including cement dust, road dust and aggregate dust, also known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The particles are very small and as a result, can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and travel into the bloodstream, causing serious health problems. Exposure to PM2.5 can cause respiratory symptoms and increases the risk of asthma attacks, cardiac arrest and premature death. Exposure to PM2.5 can permanently impair lung function, and is also associated with lung, stomach and colon cancer.
According to the City of Houston’s Chief Environmental Science Officer Loren Raun, Ph.D., Acres Homes is already suffering from negative health impacts of PM2.5 exposure. Presenting compelling data at the public meeting, Raun pointed out that Acres Homes suffers six times the rate of ambulance-treated asthma attacks and twice the rate of cardiac arrests compared to the rest of Houston. In addition, particulate matter pollution is compounded when multiple batch plants are located in the same spatial area, with District B (Acres Homes’ district) already home to 12 concrete batch plants.
More than 88 concrete batch plants are currently located in the Houston metropolitan area with a majority of facilities located in predominantly minority communities. Additionally, minority communities are often faced with exposure to multiple environmental threats including illegal dumping, inadequate public infrastructure, fewer municipal services, and exposure to multiple polluters including metal recycling facilities, municipal landfills, and other industrial operations.
Donnie Campbell and other Acres Home community members are awaiting TCEQ’s formal response to their comments and requests for contested case hearing. The agency is required to respond to all public comments in writing before making its final decision on the permit, which is expected sometime after the first of the year.
Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.
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