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High Levels of Lead Discovered in Soil at Shingle Mountain Site

Neighbors are calling on Dallas to conduct further testing and to examine children who lived near the toxic waste dump.
Joseph Haubert

Residents of the southern Dallas neighborhood where the six-story industrial dump known as Shingle Mountain once stood are calling on the city to pay for further pollutant testing after an environmental survey found high levels of lead in the soil at the site.

In June, as part of a lawsuit against the company that formerly operated the site, the city took over the 4.3 acres of land where 100,000 tons of roofing materials had piled up. Shingle Mountain, a towering danger to public health and a monument to the years of terrible public policy that put environmental hazards like this in neglected neighborhoods, had been cleaned up. Neighbors and activists called for a park to be put in its place. City Council members patted themselves on the back for taking long overdue steps to “right a wrong,” although at the time the city declined to reveal the contents of an environmental assessment it had commissioned of the site.

“They made that press release [about acquiring the property],” says Marsha Jackson, who lives next to the site and has spent years pushing City Hall to take action. “So why didn’t they make the press release that the property was full of lead?”

The environmental assessment, quietly published online this summer, only recently came to the attention of Jackson, who co-chairs the neighborhood association Neighbors United/Vecinos Unidos. According to the report, conducted by the firm Modern Geosciences, soil samples taken at the former site of Shingle Mountain showed amounts of lead “above expected background levels.” Other screened-for pollutants were not detected in the soil or groundwater samples above “residential criteria.”

Four soil samples showed between 1,220 and 1,450 parts per million of lead–more than three times the 400 ppm residential cleanup standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency. There is “no safe level of lead exposure in children,” who can suffer from serious developmental issues caused by exposure, according to the CDC. The discovery of lead contamination near a West Dallas smelter in the 1980s accompanied the smelter’s closure and years of Superfund cleanup. Contamination was still present decades later.

“We have children here,” says Jackson, who said the city had been silent about the results of the environmental assessment and its discovery of high lead levels in the soil. “This is our neighborhood. This is our community. Anything that happens over here they should let us know.”

Evelyn Mayo, a paralegal and fellow at Paul Quinn College’s Urban Research Initiative, said she and the neighborhood association requested a briefing from the city after the report’s release in June but “got nothing.” The city did not respond to questions about the lead levels described in the environmental assessment by early Monday afternoon, but I’ll update this post if I hear back.

Update (08/03/21): On Tuesday afternoon the city sent over a letter, dated July 2, from City Manager T.C. Broadnax. It’s addressed to Neighbors United and other community groups involved in the fight against Shingle Mountain. “Lead soil concentrations will allow commercial/industrial land use with TCEQ concurrence, but will require further action to allow residential land use,” Broadnax writes. He continues:

Groundwater samples support that arsenic and lead from the soil has not affected the groundwater.

Until the property ownership is transferred to the City, no other environmental remediation will be initiated. By taking ownership the City can control the site use and ensure the remediation is completed. Additional testing may be necessary to develop comprehensive bid specifications for soil related remediation. Funding for any future cleanup will have to be allocated. The City will ensure the site meets TCEQ clean-up standards.

I encourage you to be involved with the City’s planning efforts regarding the ultimate site use.

Jackson wants Dallas to pay for an environmental assessment of those residents’ properties near the site. That includes all the homes on Choate Street, where she lives. Children who lived near the dump should be given medical attention. And residents should receive “blood lead tests,” she says. “They need to pay as much attention to the people as the property.”

Since the fanfare that accompanied the city’s acquisition of the former Shingle Mountain site, Jackson says the only attention she and others in the Floral Farms neighborhood have received has been from code enforcement officers targeting misplaced trash bins and residents’ dogs. (Dallas’ code enforcement changed its overall enforcement strategy this year, which has also drawn attention in other neighborhoods.) A department that spent years ignoring the giant mountain of toxic waste in her neighborhood is now fixated on “petty stuff,” she says, like leaving the trash bin out for too long. “They want to push us off our own property.”

Meanwhile, industrial activity continues right next door. Speaking on the phone Monday, Jackson’s voice was raw and rattling, the result of air pollution in the neighborhood, she says. The park activists would like to see where Shingle Mountain once stood seems a long ways off.

Further cleanup at the site needs to begin, Jackson says. Dallas still has to right its wrong. “Not next week,” she says. “Not tomorrow. Right now.”

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