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Joppa, TX – Profile of a Sacrifice Zone

Photo credit: Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News

By Hunter Marion.

Nestled between the slow, muddy waters of the Trinity River and the noisy I-45, sits Joppa, TX. Pronounced “Joppee” by locals, Joppa is a neighborhood located at Dallas proper’s southernmost point. It was founded by freed Black people shortly after the abolition of slavery in the 1870’s. Generations of residents lived relatively isolated from the growing metropolis until the town was annexed by the city of Dallas in 1955.

That annexation saw the gradual introduction of industrialization into the formerly forest-covered community. Pacific-Union built a railway cutting through the middle of the neighborhood. Asphalt plants, gravel mills, and landfills quickly ate up the bountiful, green floodplains of the area commonly called the “Bottoms.” Soon enough, Joppa became surrounded by polluting facilities and the refuse of interstate commerce.

Air pollution is the most prevalent problem affecting folks living in Joppa. Companies like Austin Industries, Martin Marietta, and TAMKO produce high amounts of particulate matter (PM) that consistently clog the lungs of locals. In the spring of 2023, air monitoring sensors in Joppa belonging to SharedAirDFW registered air quality that was double the EPA’s healthy standard of PM pollution!

Local organizations like Downwinders at Risk (a Dallas-based environmental organization and former CHEJ grantee) and Paul Quinn College have also reported that Joppa experiences levels of air pollution exceeding that of the rest of Dallas. Findings even cite that the life expectancy of Joppa residents is 13 years less than those living in the affluent Highland Park neighborhood of central Dallas. In addition to industrial contamination, the area is still recovering from the presence and removal of a giant pile of shingle debris called “Shingle Mountain,” which contributed to long-term water and air contamination in Joppa and the nearby neighborhood, Floral Farms.

To combat this issue, Joppa residents have been steadily gaining media attention and political action through grassroots efforts. For instance, in early 2023 residents sought to block the renewal of Austin Bridge & Road’s 10-year “specific-use” permit and protested the presence of a concrete batch plant that was discovered to be in operation without a permit. Local leaders like Alicia Kendrick have been vocal about the industries harming their homes, families, and friends, especially complaining about the EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) lack of enforcement on air quality standards in the area.

A key development in the fight to protect the neighborhood has been the Joppa Environmental Health Project. This is a community-led three-year environmental health study overseen by a research group from Texas A&M University. The project focuses on the effects of PM exposure upon Joppa’s residents. Community members intend to use the findings from this project as leverage against the city council to wrest control of Joppa over from the polluters. Although companies like Austin Industries have been prioritized by Dallas’s city council in the past, Kendrick and others have hope that continued pressure from organizing and research will prevail. They did not have to wait too long for a victory.

In June 2023, the Austin batch plant officially announced its closure and removal from the community. Excited by the victory of her 14-month battle against the company, Kendrick said that she was “determined to see this through, to use this [win] as a first step in giving Joppa residents a neighborhood where the air is safe to breathe.”

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Toxic Tuesdays

Particulate Matter (PM)

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Particulate Matter (PM)

Particulate matter (PM) is a mixture of chemicals, dust, and liquid droplets that can be emitted into the air from automobiles, power plants, construction sites, smokestacks, and fires. When people breathe contaminated air, this PM gets lodged into people’s lungs and bloodstream. This worsens pre-existing lung diseases and can even cause lung disease, heart disease, and lung cancer. PM is categorized based on the size of particles it contains. PM with particles that are up to 10 micrometers in diameter are designated PM10. PM with particles that are smaller – up to 2.5 micrometers in diameter – are designated PM2.5.

The World Health Organization estimates that over 90% of the worldwide population is exposed to PM above the recommended levels, and that air pollution results in more than seven million premature deaths worldwide each year. As with most pollutants, not all populations are exposed to air pollution like PM equally. In the US, Black, Native American, and Latinx communities bear a disproportionate amount of the health and economic burden from PM. For instance, a recent study estimated that Latinx people experience 63% more exposure to air pollution than they are responsible for creating.

In addition to impacts on the lungs and heart, there is evidence that when pregnant people are exposed to PM, there can be dire impacts on the fetus. Studies have found prenatal air pollution exposure impacts cognitive development in school-aged children. However, little is known about effects earlier in development. A new study has found that prenatal exposure to PM, especially during the last half of pregnancy, is associated with cognitive and motor development impairments at two years of age.

The study recruited 161 Latina mothers and their infants from Southern California. It used each mother’s household address and pregnancy dates to conduct mathematical modeling to estimate their exposure to PM while pregnant. Then, when infants were two years old, the researchers conducted clinical assessments to measure their cognitive and motor abilities. The study found that higher PM10 exposure was associated with lower motor abilities. Using mathematical modeling, they determined that higher exposure to either type of PM during mid/late pregnancy (anywhere from the final 1-5 months before birth) was associated with lower cognitive and motor abilities.

As with any observational study, there are limitations to this study. With a relatively small sample size, it is possible that there are developmental effects of prenatal PM exposure that could not be conclusively determined in this study. The study also used location and timing information to estimate mothers’ PM exposure during pregnancy, but did not directly measure this PM exposure. Furthermore, it is unclear if the cognitive and motor deficits seen here will impact infants as they grow up.

Despite the limitations, the findings of this study are valuable. Importantly, Latinx populations are disproportionately exposed to air pollution like PM, but scientific studies rarely focus on them. Conducting a study of exclusively Latinx mothers and infants is crucial to understanding the consequences of racial inequities in exposure to pollution. While the cognitive and motor effects observed in this study may seem small, they make clear that human exposure to PM is dangerous to health and development, and that these dangers of exposure begin before birth.

Learn about more toxics

Cyanide

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We’re All Vulnerable to Climate Change

Photo credit: AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus

By Leila Waid.

2023 has already brought many climate change-related natural disasters. From the wildfires in Canada that covered the U.S. in particulate pollution, to the record-breaking heat waves gripping many parts of the world, this year has shown how our lives will continue to be impacted. It is important to recognize that the climate change events we are experiencing today are already having a profound impact on our health.

The individuals most impacted by these events are those most vulnerable to death or illness. These include individuals with underlying health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, the elderly, and children under five-years-old. All these groups are at an increased risk of adverse health effects from the extreme heat and air pollution because of their impaired physiology. For example, elderly individuals cannot regulate their body temperature efficiently and face higher risk of heat stress. As for poor air quality associated with wildfire smoke, young children are at high risk because they breathe in more air in proportion to their body. When they breathe in PM 2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter), it creates greater damage to their organs.

Other vulnerable groups that have been affected by this year’s climate change-related events include those who have higher levels of exposure to the natural elements. This category includes individuals who work in occupational fields that require a lot of time spent outside, such as agricultural and construction workers, and those who are house-insecure or unhoused. If individuals are forced to be outside during days of extreme heat or air pollution, they are going to be much more vulnerable in experiencing health effects.

Deaths associated with heat waves are also difficult to measure and are prone to underreporting because they are often not properly categorized. For example, if someone died of a heart attack but the underlying cause was heat stress, it might not officially be contributed to the heat wave on the death certificate. As a result, it is hard to quantify what the societal and public health impacts of the current heat waves are going to be or how many excess deaths they will cause. Most likely, the official number is going to be a drastic underestimate. The same is true for air pollution. The effects felt from Canada’s wildfires could be severe and chronic but not easily measured.

What can you do to address climate-induced heat stress and air pollution in your neighborhood? At the local level, it’s important to advocate for what your community can do to increase adaptation technicities and strengthen community resilience against climate change. Examples of an adaptation technique could be fighting to create more green infrastructure, shaded areas, and cooling stations in urban areas. At the larger state and federal level, it is important to vote for politicians who make addressing climate change as part of their campaign, messaging, and actual policy work.

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Super Pollution Events

During the week of Christmas, Pittsburg, PA experienced an unusual heavy set of particular matter created by a temperature inversion that resulted in the trapping of pollution closer to the Earth’s surface. A temperature inversion is created when a mass of warmer air sits on top of and trapping of a mass of colder air, therefore preventing polluted air from rising. The event continued for six consecutive days in Pittsburgh. Rising temperatures in the winter could mean that similar “Super Pollution Events” involving dangerous levels of particulate matter in the air might become more common. Read More.

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U.S. Air Quality Broken Down by Region

The National Bureau of Economic Research released a report this month investigating the recent increase in air pollution by region in the United States. After a decade of improving air quality with a decrease in the presence of particulate air matter by 25%, the United States has experienced an increase pollution between 2016 and 2018. The largest increases have stemmed out of the Midwest and West. The report speculates that pollution increases are the result of higher economic activity, lower environmental regulatory enforcement, and wildfires. Read More.

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Former pollution advisory group will continue to meet as normal

Next month, the former particulate matter advisory group will meet publicly to continue their work studying the effects of air pollution on human health, despite having been fired by the Trump administration a year ago. The group will convene at the same location it met last year to discuss the 21 million Americans that are subjected to adverse health effects from air pollution and pollution from fossil fuels. This is not the first time a group has reassembled to discuss environmental concerns despite dismissal from Trump’s EPA. Scientists and environmental experts are continuing to meet to fight for the health and safety of Americans suffering as a result of industrial pollution. Read More.