Thomas Edison Middle School of Dallas Hosts Senate Natural Resources Committee Public Hearing
DALLAS - The Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing, Tuesday, November 28, 2000, in the auditorium of the Thomas Edison Middle School, located at 2940 Singleton in Dallas. The committee has traveled throughout the state to hear from citizens regarding charges assigned by Lt. Governor Rick Perry for study during the interim. The topic for this hearing was the specific area in West Dallas surrounding an abandoned secondary lead smelter, known as the RSR/Murmur Superfund Cleanup Site. West Dallas was the location of various heavy industrial plants for many years, as well as home to a large minority population.
Members of the committee include Senators J.E. 'Buster' Brown of Lake Jackson, serving as chair, Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant. Dallas Senator Royce West joined the committee for the proceedings.
The hearing began with opening remarks by Senator Brown and Senator West. Senator West praised Brown for holding the important hearing, after all other interim hearings were concluded. West recognized a citizen group that has helped him with the area's environmental problems.
Dallas City Councilwoman Barbara Caraway testified representing District 6 in West Dallas. Dr. Roscoe Smith testified representing Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. Dr. Smith told the committee that these constituents had suffered too long from environmental segregation, particularly with the recently revealed information about false testing.
Shallie M. Bay Jr., representing the West Dallas Neighborhood Corporation, used a visual aids to present the environmental history of West Dallas. Bay presented numerous people to testify about the impact of these hazardous materials on their families. Birth defects, chronic illnesess, early and unexplained deaths were among the physical results of the inadvertent exposure. Local business owner, John Cappello, testified about the financial situation of West Dallas including inadequate services, and low property values. Cappello pointed out that they were only four miles from downtown Dallas, one of the wealthiest areas in the country, but the West Dallas property is valued at 25-50% of nearby properties. Mr. Bay concluded his presentation with three requests; the committee to support Senator West's initiative for an environmental health institute, direct the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) to do a complete environmental assessment of the area, and increase support for economic development and rehabilitation of West Dallas.
Jerry Clifford testified representing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Clifford discussed the Superfund Cleanup Program and the re-evaluation of the testing process used in the West Dallas area. Leigh Ing testified, representing TNRCC. Debra Stavinoha testified representing the Texas Department of Health in support of Senator West and the idea of a Texas institute for environmental health.
Thirty-two persons signed up to testify during public testimony. Zimbalis Crawford testified about health issues related to living near the smeltering plant. Crawford spoke of childhood friends who had died of cancer, his father who is so ill he could not attend the hearing, and of his own problems with asthma. Pamela Law testified about her family's health problems including her own trouble with cancer. Ms. Law believes they are all environmentally related. Dorothy Thomas and Mavel Haden testified about the large number of people in their area, Cadillac Heights, that have died of cancer. Roy Williams testified that Dallas has known about this situation for years but ignored it because of the minority and low income populations. Williams reiterated the need for an environmental health institute in the area. Annie Alberts, Chair of Citizens for a Safe Environment, asked the committee to include Cadillac Heights in the area of study due to the former existence of two lead plants in the area. Barbara Thompson testified that it is time for this environmental racism to stop. Linda Bates reiterated Ms. Thompson's testimony. William Earl Hopkins testified passionately about his disappointment in the methods that have been used by TNRCC. Lillian May Madison testified that she had lead contamination and told how it affected her and her family. Ms. Madison read several letters she has received concerning her problems from various government agencies into the record. Johnny Ramsey asked the committee what they could do if they dug down ten feet and it was still contaminated. Rachel McGee told the committee about life when you have been affected by lead contamination, about the endless medicines and the pain. Levy Lithall testified briefly. Mr. Johnson testified as a former employ of RSR. He told the committee of numerous alarming instances relating to working in the plant, including the time he applied for the job when he was advised to state he had only an eighth grade education in order be hired. Brenda Perez tesified briefly. Robert West testified about his experience working at RSR; West chose to move his family away from West Dallas. Daniel Keys, a medical director, testified that the issue of main importance to the West Dallas constituency is acknowledgement of toxic lead contamination.
The committee will submit a report of its findings for consideration by the 77th Legislature which convenes in January of 2001.