TX PEER
Navigation Bar

Bush Presides Over
Hazardous Waste Barbecue

This week Texas PEER examines how Governor Bush's appointees to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) produced seriously flawed industry risk assessment studies at taxpayer expense, and then voted to approve state permits to operate a dangerous hazardous waste incinerator that benefited his campaign contributors.

Texas Industries (TXI) has been producing cement since 1960 in the town of Midlothian located 30 miles southwest of Dallas, Texas. Since the 1980's, TXI has become one of the nation's largest hazardous waste combustion facilities accepting off-site or commercial hazardous waste for use as fuel.

A Pay Toilet for Industry

In the early 1990's TXI began to seek renewal of state and federal permits to operate its Midlothian cement kiln, and to expand the volume of hazardous waste that it could burn as fuel from 100,000 tons to 270,000 per year. This facility had operated under an interim permit granted in 1987.

Prior to January 1995, the TNRCC had been aggressively reviewing TXI's risk assessment proposals. In 1994 it had sent at least two notice of deficiency letters to TXI stating that the draft risk assessment documents submitted by TXI lacked technical information or were flawed and would require more work. (1)

In January, two months after George Bush was elected Governor, the TNRCC reversed its policy on performing risk assessments for private industry. Large industrial operations like refineries and chemical companies were leading campaign contributors of Governor Bush. It was important for them that TXI be given a permit because many of them were utilizing TXI's four cement kilns as a cheap way to process and dispose of their hazardous wastes.

The risk assessment studies are the most critical piece of analysis used to decide whether to approve or deny permits. By directing TNRCC staff to assume and complete the risk assessment process for TXI, Governor Bush radically reversed the traditional roles that regulating agencies play, namely to protect the public from toxic pollution and other health hazards. Now the agency was the public partner of industry, and was compromised from working to protect the public's interest.

The Fox Guards the Henhouse

In May of 1995, Governor Bush's first appointment to the TNRCC board of directors was Ralph Marquez, a 30 year employee of Monsanto.

Prior to his appointment, Marquez was employed in 1994 as a consultant to Texas Industries where, among his other duties, he helped organize citizen tours of the Midlothian facility in order to gain public support for the alleged safety of toxic waste incineration. Marquez also worked for the Texas Chemical Council where he was vice president for environmental affairs. His appointment was critical for industry because many of their members were sending hazardous waste to TXI for cheap disposal, and he could oversee the permitting process at the agency.

Protecting the Polluters

In November of 1995, the TNRCC presented their completed TXI risk assessment at a public hearing: "The Screening Risk Analysis for Texas Industries Facility in Midlothian, Texas" and its companion study "Other Materials Related to the Texas Industries Facility, including the Critical Evaluation of the Potential Impact of Emissions From Midlothian Industries: A Summary Report."

The TNRCC concluded that the increase in hazardous waste burning from 100,000 to 270,000 tons per year (including large volumes of waste from Gulf Coast refineries and chemical plants) posed no hazard to public health in Midlothian or downwind in the Dallas/ Ft. Worth metroplex.

On Earth Day (April 22, 1996) Dallas and Midlothian area citizens formally requested that Commissioner Marquez recuse himself from voting on TXI's permit. He indicated publicly that he would not vote on any TXI-Midlothian issues because of his conflict of interest. However, in March of 1999, Commissioner Ralph Marquez reversed himself and voted with the two other Bush appointees to approve TXI's permit.

Sound Science- Texas Style

Downwinders-at-Risk a local citizens group and the American Lung Association, alarmed by the dubious conclusions in the TNRCC risk assessment reports commissioned a study to review the TNRCC reports. The evaluation by two independent public health scientists from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, concluded that the TNRCC had in fact excluded certain critical factors from review and that what was reviewed by the agency was seriously flawed. (2)

The TNRCC-TXI study was significantly flawed as a scientific document in underestimating risks associated with the transportation, storage, handling, and incineration of the hazardous waste in addition to concerns about bioaccumulation of toxics, accidental releases, etc. In all 29 major errors, omissions, and other public health concerns were identified.

In the Executive Summary of his report released in May of 1996, Dr. Stuart Batterman from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, summarized the flaws in the TNRCC analysis.

"The Screening Analysis and Summary Report are useful starting points for prioritizing future studies and actions aimed at protecting public health and the environment. However, if viewed as technical support documents to justify TNRCC declarations of no substantial risk to public health due to pollution in Midlothian, they must be criticized due to their many serious omissions, inconsistencies, and inadequate or misleading analyses." (3)

"The omission of many hazardous compounds and the selective use of available emission data among other reasons mean that Screening Analysis has not evaluated or has improperly evaluated some of the potentially largest chemical causes of cancer and non-cancer risks. Additionally, the TNRCC estimated but omitted from the Screening Analysis, relatively high risk estimates for on-site TXI property which is being used for agricultural purposes." (4)

Dr. Batterman determined that not only was the TNRCC finding of no significant impact wrong, but that environmental and health impacts on neighboring citizens would occur and that it was impossible to avoid them given the level of industrial activity in the area.

"Based on risk assessment techniques, other environmental impact assessment methodologies, and an assessment of existing environmental monitoring data, we conclude that environmental and health impacts have and are likely to occur in the Midlothian area from industrial activity, including the combustion of hazardous waste at TXI. That TXI , the other cement kilns and steel smelter in Midlothian causes impacts is inescapable." (5)

Perhaps even more alarming was the conclusion that pollution from TXI and other industrial sources in the area were particularly dangerous for children. This conclusion was supported by toxicology expert Dr. Marvin Legator, who conducted a health symptom survey that compared the health problems at Midlothian area residents to a control community in Ellis county. His survey showed that citizens in Midlothian had three times the rate of respiratory illness from air pollution.

"For example, concentrations of arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium and lead in soil show patterns associated with the major sources, and soil levels appear increasing. Further, there is a high likelihood that the environmental and health impacts are significant, as demonstrated by exposures and risks that greatly exceed US EPA target exposure levels for a variety of exposure scenarios and source assumptions at a large number of sites. Exceedances of acceptable risk levels for children at all residential locations is especially noteworthy. These risk estimates exclude impacts from other industrial facilities in Midlothian, some of which are expected to have greater impacts than the TXI facility." (6)

Dr. Batterman was also highly critical of the TNRCC's tendency to exaggerate safety claims beyond what the science would support. He concluded his evaluation by questioning whether the TNRCC is seriously committed to protecting public health given their poor history of enforcing existing pollution control laws.

"…the TNRCC must be strongly criticized for its tendency to go far beyond what is scientifically supportable by the existing data in making sweeping generalizations regarding the present and future safety of waste combustion in Midlothian. In any event, statements with little or frail scientific basis show a disregard for the protection of public health, and serve to diminish the TNRCC's credibility with the public." (7)

"Finally, the record is deeply troubling regarding activities by the TNRCC related to inspection and enforcement, and TXI with respect to compliance and responsiveness. For example, the TNRCC has not addressed many concerns raised by its technical staff, has applied different standards to cement kiln and incinerators, has used lax emission requirements, has not anticipated the stricter controls on waste combustion, has not resolved many historical and ongoing problems with air quality violations and nuisance complaints that have persisted for years, has not prohibited or directed other Texas agencies to prohibit agricultural uses or other high risk uses of contaminated areas on TXI property, and has rarely pursued administrative penalties or other remedies for violations." (8)

Governor Bush's TNRCC was committed to helping the regulated community avoid cleaning up their pollution even though evidence that their actions were having a negative impact on the public's health was stacking up.

In August of 1997, The TNRCC dragged its feet and failed to adopt adequate Dallas-Fort Worth area ozone pollution clean plan. In February 1998,The EPA announced that DFW will be reclassified from "moderate" air pollution levels to "serious". In addition to the toxic emissions from TXI and other industries, Midlothian emissions now are the largest source of smog forming ozone pollution in North Texas.

In May, The EPA threatens to impose further restrictions on Dallas- Fort Worth industry and cut off highway funding if TNRCC fails to develop an adequate clean air plan.

Here are some additional links to media articles written about TXI. The Sierra Magazine article covers TXI on the second page of the article, about mid-way down the page.

Stay tuned for next week's chapter in the unfolding story of George W. Bush's assault on the Texas environment.

Sources:

  1. TNRCC Permit files on TXI
  2. American Lung Association of Texas report: Evaluation of The Screening Risk Analysis for the Texas Industries (TXI) Facility in Midlothian, Texas, written by TNRCC. May 1, 1996
  3. American Lung Association of Texas report: Evaluation of The Screening Risk Analysis for the Texas Industries (TXI) Facility in Midlothian, Texas, written by TNRCC. Executive Summary May 1, 1996
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid
  8. Ibid


Bush Home

The Bush Legacy Stories


Home | About | National | PEER PRESSure | Feedback | Search |  

TX PEER · P.O. Box 1522; Austin TX · 78767-1522
Tel: (512) 441-4941 · txpeer@PEER.org 
TX PEER
Go to TXPEERs homepage Click to jump to the top of the page