West Dallas: Pick your poison
By TONY BROWN FAIRE
The Dallas Examiner
The citizens of West Dallas have battled for years to get justice after being exposed to dangerous levels of lead released over a period of 50 years by the RSR lead smelter. However, lead may not have been the only deadly chemical released by the smelter and other companies located in West Dallas, as reported in the Case Study of the West Dallas, Texas Soil Cleanup and Remedial Program by Michael L Medias, P.E. Professor Joe G Moore Jr., George J Putinicki, PE., Marie R. Silver, Soil Cleanup and Remedial Program. According to this study, the following were found in the soil samples taken one mile from the RSR smelter site (See Elements found at Trinity River bed at http://www.dallasexaminer.com)
“The area originally chosen for the replacement soil site was located within the Trinity River Levee System on the flood plain of the Trinity River that runs through the middle of the city of Dallas,” states Case Study of the West Dallas, Texas Soil Cleanup and Remedial Program. The site they wanted to retrieve clean up soil from was only one mile from the RSR lead smelter. According to the study, all of the hazardous chemicals found at the lead smelter where in the proposed replacement soil. In this report, the level of Cadmium was deemed too high by the Texas Department of Health and could not be used. This soil, filled with dangerous pollutants, was in proximity of the Trinity River. This would put citizens in contact with all of the hazardous chemicals listed. These tests were taken after RSR smelter had been closed and even after its closing, the levels found in the soil near the river were extremely high.
Despite the numerous hazardous chemicals found in the river, the main lawsuit against RSR was for lead poisoning despite the fact that the citizens of West Dallas Citizens were also exposed to the other harmful and possibly deadly pollutants.
This would also mean that other factories may have contributed to the health problems of the citizens located in West Dallas. Yet, the main test by the city of Dallas was for lead and not the other deadly pollutants.
Many West Dallas citizens believe they have cancers and other problems related to lead poison when in fact there are other chemicals that could make people sick. Among them is Helen Hunt who lived in West Dallas and has cancer and severe bronchitis had believed, until recently, it was caused by lead and now wants to know what really may have caused her illnesses. Lena Hayes also believed that lead caused her problems which are diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, tumors, and cyst in her kidneys, and wants to know the truth.
The following is a chronological list of events until the shutdown of the RSR smelter according to the Institute of Environmental Sciences 1985 proceedings manual:
• 1934 Murphy Metals begins operation in West Dallas
• 1952 City of Dallas annexes area now called west Dallas
• 1955-1965 Amelia Earhart School, Child Care Dallas, Public Housing, and Boys Club open
• 1968 City enacts local lead ordinance
• 1971 RSR acquires Murphy Metals and continues operation
• 1970-1973 RSR and Dixie Metals violate city lead ordinance
• 1974 City files lawsuit against RSR for exceeding emissions.
• 1975 RSR builds its tallest smoke stack. The city settles lawsuit: companies pay fines and agree to install pollution abatement equipment
• 1976 City amends local lead ordinance
• September through October 1981 City of Dallas conducts a blood-lead screening program on a non-scientific basis (no data collated or controls initiated) and over 12000 people participated.
• June 1983 Dallas Alliance Task Force publishes its Final Report and finds that the City, along with the EPA, did not act quickly enough and that a Dallas Environmental Health Commission should be appointed.
• February 1984 RSR shuts down most of its major operations
For over 50 years, the smelter operated in West Dallas exposing the community to many different contaminants and only lead poison drew the most attention. However , according to the document titled RSR Corporation Superfund Site Operable Unit 5 Subarea 1 Ready for Reuse Determination by the EPA, “Arsenic contributed most to the cancer and the non-cancer risk…” Yet, in soil samplings, many other potentially damaging chemicals were found after the site it had been closed and was being cleaned up, once it had been determined a superfund site.
During the operation of the RSR smelter, many people worked at the smelter and were exposed to lead and other chemicals. One of them is 91 year old Jeffie Wilson of Dallas who worked at the RSR smelter for 30 years. Never having lived in West Dallas, his exposure came from working in the smelter. He has medical reports that state he was exposed to lead on several occasions while employed at the smelter. He also has had a history of chronic stomach pains, nervousness and other symptoms over the years and feels he has not been taken care of after all of his years of exposure while working at the RSR smelter.
However, he is only one of many who feel that they have not been taken care of by the people who were supposed to keep them safe. Hunt lived in George Loving housing complex from 1963 until 1987. The property line was only 50 feet from the RSR smelter and was in constant exposure to the RSR smelter, according to Ronald Robinson, author of West Dallas Versus the Lead Smelter. When reviewing her lease, section 7b states, “Management agrees that it will maintain the buildings and common area of the grounds of the Project in decent, safe and sanitary condition in accordance with local housing codes and HUD regulations. In 1974, the city of Dallas filed a lawsuit against the RSR smelter for exceeding its emissions. The city of Dallas did not protect its citizens knowing the dangers of the emissions.
“City officials were informed as early as 1972 that lead was finding its way into the bloodstreams of children who lived in two mostly African American and Latino neighborhoods.” stated Robinson.
Hunt feels the city’s lack of action was racially motivated. “They moved White people out and left us there.” She said. According to Hunt, the public housing in which the Whites lived was evacuated, leaving Blacks living in the segregated public housing developments behind.
Robinson says, “In general, people of color and the poor are disparately affected by industrial toxins, dirty air and drinking water, and the proximity of noxious facilities such as municipal landfills, incinerators, toxic wastes dumps, and lead smelters.”
For years, Blacks have known they experienced suffering based on their exposure to lead. But According to the Trinity River soil samples, government officials knew the Citizens of West Dallas had a lot more to worry about than lead. Based on the table of the pollutants that were found in the soil, the people only needed to name their poison.
Elements found in Trinity River bed:
• Arsenic – According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) “Arsenic is known to cause cancer in humans.” “Acute poisoning may cause renal failure.”
• Barium – According to ATSDR, “has been found to potentially cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness when people are exposed to it at levels above the EPA drinking water standards for relatively short periods of time. Some people who eat or drink amounts of barium above background levels found in food and water for a short period may experience vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, difficulties in breathing, increased or decreased blood pressure, numbness around the face, and muscle weakness.”
• Cadmium –ATSDR states you can be exposed to cadmium by “Living near industrial facilities which release cadmium into the air.”
HealthLine.com states, “When a person has exposure to cadmium in low doses, over a long period of time, symptoms may include loss of sense of smell, cough, shortness of breath, weight loss and tooth staining. Chronic cadmium exposure may cause damage to the liver and kidneys.”
• Chromium-ATSDR states that “The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the EPA have determined that chromium(VI) compounds are known human carcinogens.”
• Copper- According to Lenntech.com, “Long-term exposure to copper can cause irritation of the nose, mouth and eyes and it causes headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea. Intentionally high uptakes of copper may cause liver and kidney damage and even death. Whether copper is carcinogenic has not been determined yet.”
• Lead- The Mayo Clinic stated, “Initially, lead poisoning can be hard to detect – even people who seem healthy can have high blood levels of lead. Signs and symptoms usually don’t appear until dangerous amounts have accumulated. Although lead can affect almost every part of your body, it usually targets the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells (hemoglobin) first. In time, it attacks your nervous system. “
• Manganese- ATSDR states, “Studies in children have suggested that extremely high levels of manganese exposure may produce undesirable effects on brain development, including changes in behavior and decreases in the ability to learn and remember.”
• Mercury- Lenntech states, “Mercury has a number of effects on humans, that can all of them be simplified into the following main effects:
- Disruption of the nervous system
- Damage to brain functions
- DNA damage and chromosomal damage
- Allergic reactions, resulting in skin rashes, tiredness and headaches
- Negative reproductive effects, such as sperm damage, birth defects and miscarriages
Damaged brain functions can cause degradation of learning abilities, personality changes, tremors, vision changes, deafness, muscle incoordination and memory loss. Chromosomal damage is known to cause mongolism.”
• Nickel- The California Air Resources Board and the Department of Health Services stated in a report called, Initial Statement Of Reasons For Rulemaking Proposed Identification Of Nickel As A Toxic Air Contaminant, stated, “Three types of adverse health impacts can occur as a result of exposure to nickel: cancer, acute health effects, and chronic non-cancer health effects. Acute health effects generally result from short term exposure to high concentrations of pollutants. Chronic non-cancer health effects may result from long-term exposure to relatively low concentrations of pollutants.
The major route of exposure to nickel is inhalation and the staff of the DHS finds the overall evidence for development of respiratory cancer in humans due to inhaled nickel compounds is strong. This is based on epidemiological studies, carcinogenicity studies in animals, and information on the mechanism of toxic action by nickel compounds. Nickel and nickel compounds are localized in the smallest particles (i.e., those less than 2.5 microns), a size which penetrates deepest into the human pulmonary tract. The OHS was unable to determine if nickel is carcinogenic when ingested.
Acute and chronic non-cancer effects have been observed after exposure to elevated levels of nickel. Acute health effects include irritation and allergic sensitization. Chronic non-cancer effects from exposure to nickel include asthma and other respiratory effects. Acute and chronic non-cancer effects are not expected to occur at statewide ambient population-weighted exposure levels (7.3 nanogram per cubic meter)
• Selenium – The EPA says that selenium “is a naturally occurring substance that is toxic at high concentrations but is also a nutritionally essential element. Hydrogen selenide is the most acutely toxic selenium compound. Acute (short-term) exposure to elemental selenium, hydrogen selenide, and selenium dioxide by inhalation results primarily in respiratory effects, such as irritation of the mucous membranes, pulmonary edema, severe bronchitis, and bronchial pneumonia. Epidemiological studies of humans chronically (long-term) exposed to high levels of selenium in food and water have reported discoloration of the skin, pathological deformation and loss of nails, loss of hair, excessive tooth decay and discoloration, lack of mental alertness, and listlessness.”
• Zinc – ATSDR says, “Zinc is an essential element in our diet. Too little zinc can cause problems, but too much zinc is also harmful.
Harmful effects generally begin at levels 10-15 times higher than the amount needed for good health. Large doses taken by mouth even for a short time can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Taken longer, it can cause anemia and decrease the levels of your good cholesterol. We do not know if high levels of zinc affect reproduction in humans. Rats that were fed large amounts of zinc became infertile.
Inhaling large amounts of zinc (as dusts or fumes) can cause a specific short-term disease called metal fume fever. We do not know the long-term effects of breathing high levels of zinc.
Putting low levels of zinc acetate and zinc chloride on the skin of rabbits, guinea pigs, and mice caused skin irritation. Skin irritation will probably occur in people.”
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