West Dallas smelter clouds of death
By TONY BROWN FAIRE
The Dallas Examiner
There are many victims in West Dallas who have suffered because of the factories that were allowed to operate unchecked for many years as pollution was spewed into the air, harming and killing local West Dallas residents. According to the results of the 2002 Parkland Lead Study, released on August 31, 2004, “Although West Dallas comprises about 15 percent of the population of Dallas County; the area produces more than 40 percent of the county’s toxic air pollution.”
One of the main contributors of the clouds of death was a company known as RSR, a lead smelting company located in West Dallas. The Agency for Toxic Substance & Disease Registry did a Public Health Assessment that read as follows, “The RSR Corporation National Priority List (NPL) site, also known as West Dallas Lead, includes the facility formerly associated with the RSR Corporation Lead Smelter and the surrounding 13.6 square miles of residential, commercial, and industrial property of West Dallas, Dallas County, Texas that were contaminated with lead from RSR. This contamination resulted from historical air emissions from the RSR lead smelter, the use of battery chips and slag as residential fill, and the disposal of battery chips and slag in landfills and dumps.”
This company knowingly placed harmful material into the yards of West Dallas residents and spewed pollution into the air daily. The fact that this factory area of damage was 13.6 square miles is alarming and causes great concern as to how many people actually got the help needed when the clean up was begun.
However, the RSR smelter was not the only factory putting pollutants into the air of West Dallas. The City of Dallas allowed other factories to operate in the West Dallas area and asbestos and other poisons were released not far from homes and residences of public housing.
According to the Parkland Study, the city of Dallas had been aware of the dangers the factories posed the residents since 1966 and had conducted blood lead contamination tests. Likewise, they were aware that in 1983, residents of West Dallas won the largest out of court settlement ever in a lead pollution case in the country, due to the enormity of the contamination from the RSR lead smelter. Yet, the city allowed people to not only live close to these factories, but allowed Thomas Edison Junior High School to continue operating across the street from the to the smelter. In fact, four additional schools were built in the area and HUD planned the renovation of the area’s public housing with the intent to move 2,000 additional residents into the area, despite the fact that RSR had just settled. Why would the city allow this, knowing the health hazards that existed? Some citizens believe it was racially motivated. In fact, in 1991, the West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice, founded by Luis Sepulveda sued the city of Dallas, the state of Texas, and the Federal EPA for “environmental racism.”
In West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice v. Browner, the Coalition did not ask for damages. Instead they asked for blood screening of residents, medical checkups, and a buffer zone between factories and homes.
Juanita Wallace, president of the Dallas NAACP, also believes racism is the underlying cause that allows the city to continue to ignore complaints that the residents are still getting sick and believes there could be issues of racism as to how the citizens of color where not relocated or properly compensated from the damages the factories caused in the West Dallas area.
In a Nov. 27, 1992 interview with Steve Curwood on the radio program, Life on Earth, Jim Schermbeck, a community organizer for the group Texans United, said “…if you look back at the documents of the time, when they’re starting to build the housing project in West Dallas, you’ll see statements like, you know, there’s a lead smelter over there and we probably shouldn’t put people over there but we’re gonna do it anyway. As they knew more and more about the problems of the lead smelter, they moved White elderly folk out of that West Dallas project and into other locations around the city and left behind primarily African American, some Hispanic residents there.”
The RSR was deemed a Superfund Site in 1993 after operating from 1934 until 1984. When an area that has been contaminated is deemed a Superfund Site a massive cleanup is then scheduled. Between 1991 and 1994 the EPA removed soil in 420 additional areas, including some private residences in West Dallas. However many residents of West Dallas claim no one ever came to clean up their properties.
According to journalist Terry Fitzpatrick, who reported extensively on the issue, “Residents of West Dallas took the problem to court in the mid-1980’s on behalf of 370 lead-poisoned children. They won $20 million dollars from one of the lead smelting companies, and an area within one mile of its plant was supposedly cleaned up. Regulators considered the case closed. But many West Dallas residents did not.”
One such resident is Lena Hayes who has lived in West Dallas since 1948 and has never lived more than 1.5 miles from the RSR lead smelter. Mrs. Hayes son, Nathan D. Hayes died November 23, 1995 at the age of 29 years old.
“Nathan was always sick as a child,” Mrs. Hayes said. A medical summary dated June 1, 1983 by a Dr. Agnes D. Lattimer stated Nathan was admitted to the hospital at 22 months of age because he was suspected of having lead poison. According to the report Nathan showed many of the signs of lead toxicity. However, Mrs. Hayes said that she was not informed of the possibility of lead poison when she took him to the hospital. She stated they only gave her iron pills for Nathan because he was anemic. She states she only found out about the lead poison when she was provided the medical narrative by lawyers from the law office of Baron & Bud when Nathan was 16-years-old, 14 years later. Mrs. Hayes believes Nathan could have gotten lead poisoning from playing in her backyard, which she said contained old battery parts that had been broken up and left in the yard by the RSR lead smelter. The children would sometimes have dirt on their fingers and put them in their mouths, ingesting contaminated soil. However, it is likely they also breathed in the contaminated air. Mrs. Hayes recalls that when her children were babies, she would hang their diapers out the night before, clean and white, but by the next morning, the diapers were gray and dingy from the night air, polluted by the smelter, which would operate throughout the evening.
Nathan was one of the 350 children represented in a lawsuit for lead poisoning handled by Fred Baron of the law office of Baron & Bud. Mrs. Hayes stated that her son received $290 per month for 10 years, totaling $34,800. Nathan died in 1997. Two years later they gave her another $15,000 from Nathans estate. However, when Mrs. Hayes contacted the law office and spoke to Baron about money for the funeral she says he said he could not give her money to bury her son. The total money received by Nathan and Mrs. Hayes was $49,800.
Nathan is not the only victim Mrs. Hayes believes her husband, the late Norman Hayes, also died because of lead contamination. The Hayes’s own a tire shop in West Dallas and her husband dug an area in back of the shop. A few months later, he became ill, dying May 20, 1983. She believes coming into contact with the old battery casings and lead contaminates at the shop caused his demise.
This story of the Hayes family, although sad, is not the only one of its kind in West Dallas. There are many waiting to tell their story and to hopefully one day get justice for themselves and love ones now deceased.
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