HOW DALLAS GOT RID OF ITS LEAD SMELTERS
Below is collection of stories from the Dallas Morning News from 1984 to 1990 that chronicle how citizens of Oak Cliff and West Dallas and the City of Dallas worked together to successfully close Dallas’ three lead smelters, which significantly damaged neighborhoods with lead contamination and poisoning.
We also think you will be interested in the reading about the history of the ASARCO lead smelter and its impact on the El Paso community.
Dixie smelter’s closing to end long fight Many in Oak Cliff rejoicing
Publication Date: December 30, 1990 Page: 31A Section: NEWS Edition: HOME FINAL
At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Jorge Guerrero will
pull the switch that ends a bitter community fight against the last
lead-smelting plant in Dallas.
Mr. Guerrero, who worked his way through the ranks to become acting
plant manager of Dixie Metals Co., will shut down the furnace that he
once operated as his first job 14 years ago.
The plant’s 65 employees, including Mr. Guerrero, will be looking
for other work.
“There will be no champagne, only tears,’ he said.
But Alice Brewer, a resident who fought more than a decade for
city and plant officials to close the east Oak Cliff smelter, will
toast the occasion.
She said the Dixie shutdown means that the neighborhood –
including her six children — never again will be poisoned by lead
emitted from the plant.
“When it closes up Monday night, I think that will be a milestone
in the people’s fight for justice,’ she said. “It wasn’t easy, but we
The Dixie Metals plant, 3030 McGowan St. at Sargent Road, is one
of three Dallas smelters that once recycled lead from used car
batteries and other scrap sources.
The NL Industries smelter across the street from Dixie closed in
1979, and the RSR Corp. smelter in West Dallas stopped operating in
1984. All three succumbed during controversial battles about the health
effects of lead on children living in their neighborhoods.
The Dixie smelter is in the mostly low-income Hispanic community
known as Cadillac Heights. The plant started up in 1948 when there was
little scientific knowledge that lead could cause learning
disabilities, brain damage and other central nervous system problems,
especially in very young children.
As evidence grew about the dangers of lead poisoning, in 1968 the
city of Dallas approved an ordinance limiting average monthly emissions
to 5 micrograms (millionths of a gram) of lead per cubic meter of air.
But critics such as Ms. Brewer criticized the city as reluctant to take
aggressive action against violators.
The Texas Air Control Board found monthly readings of up to 599
micrograms of lead near Dixie in 1970, and city inspectors found that
its emissions averaged 52 micrograms from 1970 to 1973, the worst in
the city. Yet the smelter continued to operate.
In 1972, Dallas health department researchers discovered that the
level of lead in blood samples from children near Dixie was 36 percent
greater than that in other parts of Dallas. After being sued by the
city in 1974, the company agreed to install additional pollution
It spent $1.4 million during the latter 1970s to clean up
emissions, but the anti-pollution measures did not operate properly
until 1979, according to a 1983 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Yet despite strengthened regulations that allowed only 1.5
micrograms of lead in air samples, the report found no blood-lead
toxicity or violations of federal air standards near Dixie.
The next year, however, the city’s Board of Adjustments refused to
issue a special zoning permit for the smelter, saying that the business
was not compatible with a residential neighborhood. The board ruled on
Oct. 30, 1984, that Dixie could operate five more years to recoup its
financial investment but would have to close its doors permanently on
Dec. 31, 1990.
This year, the company offered to donate $1 million to the
impoverished neighborhood if the plant were allowed to remain open. But
in August, the City Council refused the offer.
Even on Friday, Mr. Guerrero continued to assert that the plant
operates safely and should not close.
“We comply with all the regulations, and Dallas has one of the
toughest standards,’ he said. “Our company has done everything within
their power to keep it open, but we’ve had no luck at all.’
He said the plant will operate at full capacity until the last
possible minute. Then the furnace will be turned off.
Two-thirds of the crew will lose their jobs at the first second of
the New Year. The rest will be employed for two or three months
cleaning up the plant and removing equipment.
“It’s kind of disappointing that you work yourself from the bottom
to the top, and now the whole thing is collapsing,’ said Mr. Guerrero,
31. “For a lot of us, it will be very sad to leave because we’ve been
working here a long time and we feel like a second family.’
Quality-control supervisor James McNeal, 47, said Dixie gave him
his first job out of college 27 years ago.
“I love this job,’ he said. “Everything in the plant, I know how to
do it. One time or another, I’ve done that job. It’s hard to pick up
after you’re in one place and you’re established.’
He wonders whether companies will value his 27 years of experience
or will prefer younger applicants fresh out of school.
“I know I’m losing a job, but I’m not worried, really, because I
trust in God to take it from there,’ he said. “I believe God will make
a way for me.’
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Diane Ragsdale, who represents Cadillac
Heights, said she is happy about the plant shutdown.
“People should not have to be victims of an environment that is
hazardous in nature,’ she said. “It’s a victory for those who believe
in a good quality of life for all.’
Because the fight to close the plant has been a “long, protracted
struggle,’ Ms. Ragsdale said she will not believe that the plant is
closed until she confirms it herself on Tuesday.
“I have to wait for the stroke of midnight,’ she said. “I’m hoping
that Cinderella turns into a big pumpkin.’
Ms. Brewer said she feels sorry for those workers being displaced
at a time of economic recession but said the lead contamination ruined
the lives of some neighborhood children.
“I’m very excited and thrilled about the closing, but I can’t put
my opinions into words because of the devastation that it created
during the years that it polluted the community,’ she said. “I know
I’ve done the right thing, but it probably was not in time to save
STATE HIGH COURT UPHOLDS DALLAS ORDER TO CLOSE SMELTER
Publication Date: June 25, 1987 Page: 30A Section: NEWS Edition: HOME FINAL
The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a city of Dallas decision
to force the closing of the Dixie Metals smelting plant by December
1990, removing another obstacle in a three-year effort to shut down
Dallas’ last smelting operation.
The high court ruled that there were no reversible errors in a
lower court decision to support a 1984 Dallas Board of Adjustment order
against the company. That year the board gave the East Oak Cliff plant
six years to recoup its investment and close its doors.
The justices did not elaborate on their ruling.
A lawyer representing Dixie Metals said the company had not yet
decided whether to appeal. The company has argued that it should be
allowed at least until the year 2000 to wind down the lead-smelting
works to realize a reasonable profit before being forced to abandon the
City officials hailed the court’s action Wednesday, saying it
affirmed their efforts to negotiate a fair plan that incorporates the
economic interests of the company and the environmental concerns of
“The court’s ruling will contribute to continued, heightened
awareness of environmental hazards and our responsibility to protect
citizens,’ said City Council member Lori Palmer, who has worked to
regulate heavy industry. “It helps send a signal to industries that we
expect them to abide by specific standards.’
The Dixie plant has operated without a city license since 1972,
when the city adopted new zoning ordinances for heavy industry. The
question facing city officials, community leaders and company
representatives since then was not whether the plant should close, but
Several neighborhood groups have pressed for an immediate shutdown
of the plant, saying they believe it causes air and noise pollution.
City officials forged a compromise between those groups and the company
after conducting an economic analysis to determine a fair profit for
The ruling helps justify the city’s reliance on the process to
determine the amount of time necessary for a company to realize a fair
return on its investment while ceasing operation, said Donald R.
Postell, an assistant city attorney who submitted the city’s brief.
Postell said the ruling will help expedite the procedure for
reaching compromises in cases that pit the city’s “non-conforming’
industries — those that do not meet city ordinances — against
Community leaders who had lobbied for an earlier closing said they
were disappointed with the court ruling.
“The court upheld the Board of Adjustments, effectively saying (the
company) could go on poisoning neighborhoods for six years. We feel
this is unacceptable,’ said John Fullinwider of the East Oak Cliff
Fullinwider said his organization would continue to search for ways
to close the plant before the 1990 deadline.
CITY EXPECTED TO SHUT DOWN LEAD SMELTER
Publication Date: August 22, 1984 Page: 29a Section: NEWS Edition: HOME FINAL
A Dallas official said Tuesday that he expects the Dallas Board of
Adjustment to close the Murmur Corp. lead smelter in West Dallas and
that the only real question will be how long Murmur can operate the
smelter to recover its investment.
Assistant City Attorney Don Postell said the board has always
terminated a land use that did not conform with zoning requirements –
whenever it was asked to do so.
“Based on their ( board members’) past record, I expect them to
establish a termination date,’ Postell said. “As to what that date
would be, we’ll just have to wait and see what they determine.’
However, he said the city feels “there’s no reason for an extended
period’ before the lead smelter is closed down.
Postell’s boss, City Attorney Analeslie Muncy, asked the board May
24 to set a public hearing and establish a termination date. The board
will hear the request at a special 6:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall on
The plant is considered “legally non-conforming’ because it was in
operation before the area was zoned, and thus is permitted to remain in
operation. However, the Board of Adjustment’s policy is to terminate
the non-conforming use upon request as long as the owner is given
enough time to recover its investment.
Mrs. Muncy asked the board to close the plant on the grounds that a
lead smelter was incompatible with the residential neighborhood in the
The West Dallas smelter has been a source of continuing
controversy, with nearby residents urging the city to do everything it
could to close it. Soil tests near the plant have discovered high
levels of lead and some children who live in the plant’s vicinity have
been found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood.
Health experts have determined that lead can hurt the intellectual
ability of children, particularly those under age 6, although the level
at which the damage occurs has been in some dispute.
RSR Corp. owned the plant, but was forced by the Federal Trade
Commission to sell it. Murmur submitted a $25,000 bid that RSR was
forced to accept and took possession May 23. One day later, the city
asked its Board of Adjustment to close the plant.
City and Murmur officials disagreed Tuesday on whether the city
warned the company in advance at a private meeting in May that the city
would fight the plant’s reopening.
City Council member Paul Fielding, who represents West Dallas, said
Tuesday the company should be allowed to recover only its $25,000
purchase price, and none of the funds that it has invested since taking
control of the plant.
Although Murmur Corp. has invested at least $400,000 in new
equipment to control lead emissions, Fielding said City Manager Charles
Anderson put Murmur officials on notice at the May meeting that the
city would try to close the plant.
“If they spent the money, that’s their fault,’ Fielding said.
“I was very careful to tell them we would seek out and use any
available legal means to prevent their reopening,’ Anderson said. “We
didn’t want them to have any misunderstanding about our intentions
because we felt it was an inappropriate land use and had potentially
adverse effects on the environment and we didn’t feel it was
appropriate on that site.’
However, Homer Kirby, a Murmur Corp. official, said the company
received no warning.
Kirby said he got the same message from Anderson and Mayor Starke
Taylor: “Because of the sensitivity of the issue, we could not expect
any sort of support from the city. But to me that’s a whole lot
different than “we’re going to do everything we can to stop you.’ ‘
Kirby said the company believes the city has no right to close the
smelter if Murmur can prove that the plant is safe and not emitting
lead into the surrounding area.
“If it’s safe, I see no reason for terminating its use. I do
readily agree that it is heavy industry and I do agree that that may
not be compatible with a residental neighborhood,’ Kirby said.
“But heavy industry was there long before the neighborhood was, and
there are at least three dozen heavy industries operating in the West
Dallas area. What are they going to do about that?’
Kirby said the board should consider the fair market value of the
property, which he estimated at $20 million, or the replacement cost,
which he valued at $40 million, if it wants to close the plant after
the plant’s value is recovered.