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Nature & Environment

Joppa Air Quality Already Stinks

Downwinders at Risk will present its findings to the City Council Wednesday.

This morning the DMN published a story about some shenanigans that have gone on for years in the tiny Dallas neighborhood called Joppa (pronounced Joppee). Short version: a decade ago, Councilman Dwaine Caraway helped funnel about $70,000 to a buddy’s nonprofit in exchange for support on the Council for a new asphalt plant in Joppa. It’s not at all clear where that money went. The matter is germane today because the Council is set to vote on a zoning change that would bring two cement batching plants to Joppa — and Caraway and his buddy are once again in on the thing, supporting the plants.

But those cement batching plants throw a bunch of dust and crud into the air, and the environmental group Downwinders at Risk says the air in Joppa is already pretty lousy. Here’s the lead of the press release the group issued this morning:

Joppa residents are already breathing unsafe levels of Particulate Matter (PM) pollution even before the fate of two new proposed concrete batch plants is decided at this week’s Dallas City Council meeting.

That was the conclusion from the first-ever air monitoring in the community, taking place over a recent weekend. Local clean air group Downwinders at Risk sent volunteers to Joppa armed with recently purchased sophisticated handheld portable PM sensors. The group’s summary of the first round of testing was sent to District 7 Dallas City council member Kevin Felder last Friday morning.

Joppa is in Felder’s district, not Caraway’s, which makes the thing an even bigger head-scratcher. Expect some heated exchanges Wednesday at the horseshoe. Here’s the rest of the Downwinders’ release:

According to the report, monitors in Joppa recorded levels of PM pollution that were 30-50% higher than the single official Dallas County EPA PM monitor. This was true even on a Sunday afternoon.

Levels of measured PM pollution were so high in Joppa that if the group’s results were extrapolated over the course of a full year, these daily levels would add up to a violation of the EPA’s annual PM pollution standard. That is, if the group’s findings are indicative of daily exposure, Joppa could already be exceeding the EPA standard.

City council members will vote this Wednesday on new zoning requests that would allow two new concrete batch plants to operate in the tiny former freedman’s town already surrounded by heavy industry. It’s expected to be a close vote with current Joppa council representative Felder opposing the permits, and former Joppa council Dwaine Caraway supporting them – in exchange for a yet publically unspecified deal with the neighborhood.

Downwinders’ last-minute contribution to the controversy is believed to be the first time citizen air monitoring has been used to provide information before a regulatory or permitting decision. The group recently bought two PM sensors from a New Zealand laboratory and expects to buy more to allow DFW residents to know more about the air they’re actually breathing. Their use by volunteers is overseen by Dr. Tate Barrett, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of North Texas specializing in PM.

Downwinders’ Director Jim Schermbeck said that “Because there’s been no monitoring in Joppa until now, it’s possible the area has been in routine ‘non-attainment’ of the annual EPA PM standard.”

It takes three years of annual averages above the standard, recorded at an officially designated EPA monitor, to classify an area as non-attainment and qualify for new federal new controls. However, Dallas’ only official EPA PM monitor is nine miles north of Joppa, near Stemmons Freeway and Mockingbird.

That fact prompted the group to include a recommendation along with the monitoring results to Council Member Felder: move the EPA monitor to Joppa or pay for a second one to be located there.

“Study after study has shown how People of Color generally, and African-Americans specifically, are disproportionately exposed to, and harmed by, PM pollution” said Schermbeck. “While Dallas’ one and only EPA-designated PM monitor could be accurately recording PM levels north of the Trinity River, it’s not reflecting the reality of residents in Joppa, West Dallas, Cadillac Heights, or Cedar Crest.”

He also criticized city staff for approving the zoning changes without knowing what the air quality in Joppa is like now. “The City approves or disapproves of zoning changes like the ones being sought by the batch plants in Joppa without knowing what environmental burdens residents are already carrying. Even though they have the ability and capacity to do real time monitoring of neighborhoods where new industry wants to expand or locate, City Hall never does.”

Downwinders has joined with local universities in pursuing the establishment of a local air quality monitoring network that would place inexpensive year-round PM monitors throughout Dallas and North Texas with real time information accessible to the public by a simple phone app. “This situation is a perfect example of why such a network is needed” said Schermbeck.

Results from the latest round of Joppa testing by Downwiders will be presented to the City Council on Wednesday by its PM Committee member Misti O’Quinn.

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