West Dallas Neighborhood Seeks Relief From Major Air Polluter
Thursday, May 4, 2023
A West Dallas neighborhood, citing decades of air and noise pollution, wants an asphalt shingle plant to abandon its decades-old location - but foot-dragging and bureaucracy is stalling a timely exit agreement.
In mid-2022, roofing manufacturer GAF announced plans to close its shingles factory - located in a predominantly working-class Latino neighborhood, labeled Dallas' most polluted ZIP code in a study by Paul Quinn College.
Since then, GAF has filed for city rezoning, which if approved, would allow it to stay until 2029.
Janie Cisneros is a leader and organizer with the environmental justice group Singleton United/Unidos.
"It really is about mobilizing people and standing up for what you deserve and standing up for rights," said Cisneros, "but I think it's problematic across the country and there's other neighborhoods that have similar types of fights."
GAF has been labeled West Dallas' biggest source of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter pollution by the state's environmental quality commission.
Residents have complained for decades about toxic smells from the plant - but the company has defended its safety protocols, saying they comply with federal regulations.
Cisneros said 25% of residents in the neighborhood live below the poverty line, and 20% are kids age nine and younger.
She said she fears at the rate things are going, most of them will spend their entire childhood breathing toxic chemicals from the plant.
"I have no doubt that this is going to take seven to 10 years on its own just to clean it up after they've shut their doors," said Cisneros, "and so we're talking about 20 years before this community sees anything other than what's there right now - their tanks and their equipment and everything that's there on that 26-acre property."
In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency found asbestos in the soil near the former W.R. Grace plant in West Dallas.
Cisneros said she believes such incidents are an example of environmental racism, with people of color disproportionally exposed to toxic chemicals and hazardous waste.
"When you talk about West Dallas, it's like, 'Oh, West Dallas, they got hurt really bad with X, Y, and Z,'" said Cisneros. "And so I just find it amazing that some people don't really understand why it is that we're so adamant about shutting down this polluter."
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