CONNECT THE DOTS TO EXIDE AND FRISCO: Ghost Factories, Poisoned Places and Toxic Schools
According to the Frisco Unleaded citizen’s group study released last week, Frisco is a community with a significant toxic lead dust legacy that will only grow as long as Exide continues to operate and spew a lead-arsenic-cadmium-dioxin laced cocktail into the heart of the community.
And if you read the excellent, incredibly comprehensive investigative work that has been done by USA TODAY and NPR/The Center for Public Integrity, (and also check out all of the stories on our “Exide’s Negative Impact on Communities” page) that we have pulled together for you below – along with its numerous violations of EPA, OSHA and TCEQ regulations – it is pretty easy to connect the dots that Exide is a leading corporation in an industry with a long track record of poisoning the environment and communities in which they operate, and even decades after closing facilities.
“The Company has been advised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) or state agencies that it is a “Potentially Responsible Party” (“PRP”) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) or similar state laws at 75 federally defined Superfund or state equivalent sites.”
Please take the time to read each of these special reports and think about how the dots are connected to Exide and Frisco and what they could mean for the future of Frisco.
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USA TODAY – “GHOST FACTORIES: POISON IN THE GROUND”
WHAT THE INVESTIGATION FOUND:
An invisible danger in our yards
In hundreds of neighborhoods across the United States, children are living and playing near sites where factories once spewed lead and other toxic metal particles into the air. The factories, which melted lead in a process called smelting, closed long ago but poisonous lead particles can still be found in the soil nearby. Families interviewed were unaware of the dangers posed by their yards – and the government has done little to warn them, a USA TODAY investigation has found.
A government’s failure to protect
Government regulators were warned a decade ago about more than 400 forgotten lead smelting firms that operated in the 1930s to 1960s and may have deposited dangerous levels of lead contamination in nearby soil. Yet the EPA and state officials have left families and children in harm’s way, doing little to assess the danger around many sites, USA TODAY’s 14-month investigation found.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
USA TODAY’s 14-month Ghost Factories investigation began with a question: Did the government heed a warning in a scientific journal — published more than 10 years ago — that people living near forgotten factories could be in danger?
In 2001, William Eckel, an environmental scientist, published the article in the “American Journal of Public Health” warning about potentially contaminated soil around lead smelting factories that had operated in the 1930s through 1960s, before environmental regulation. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970.
Eckel compiled a list of more than 400 lead smelters that appeared in old industry directories but were unknown to federal regulators.
For his journal article, Eckel confirmed that 20 of the sites’ addresses were factories — and not just business offices — using Sanborn fire insurance maps, which describe in detail the uses of individual pieces of property. His article noted that 86 sites were specifically listed in industry directories as “plant” locations. He paid to have soil samples tested from three sites in Baltimore and five in Philadelphia. All but one of the samples exceeded the EPA’s 400 ppm residential hazard level for lead for areas where children play.
The findings, his article said, “should create some sense of urgency for the investigation of the other sites identified here because they may represent a significant source of exposure to lead in their local environments.” The research indicates “a significant fraction” of the forgotten sites will require cleanups – likely at state and federal expense – because most of the companies went out of business long ago, the paper said. (Read Eckel’s journal article; a copy of his list of smelters is published as part of this EPA document)
The USA TODAY investigation set out to determine which sites remain unaddressed and the quality of any assessments the government did do.
Reporters researched all 464 sites on Eckel’s list to determine how many locations were factories, rather than just business offices – and what, if anything, had been done to clean up those hazardous enough to threaten people living nearby.
Journalists spent weeks in the basement of the Library of Congress researching its extensive collection of historical Sanborn maps. The newspaper located and photographed Sanborn maps showing smelting or factories at more than 160 of the sites – including many that regulators never looked for because they lacked exact street addresses on Eckel’s list. The photographs of the Sanborn maps are being published in this interactive with the permission of Environmental Data Resources, which acquired the Sanborn Map Co.’s collection in 1996.
For 19 of the former smelter sites, USA TODAY journalists overlaid historical Sanborn map images onto modern Google satellite imagery, allowing users of the interactive to view how the area looked then and now. Where streets had changed or been eliminated, the journalists used buildings and other landmarks, such as railroad tracks or rivers, to line up images as closely as possible. About 150 other Sanborn maps shown in this interactive are not overlaid onto maps and are presented in the orientation that they were published in the company’s original map books. Users will find that the Sanborn Co. drew a compass on these maps that will contribute to their viewing of these images. In some cases, USA TODAY had to combine map insets or images that spanned multiple pages to produce the overlay image.
Reporters also researched old phone books and city directories, archival photograph collections, old business directories, property records and corporation filings. They filed more than 140 federal, state and local public records requests with environmental, health and other government agencies to determine what, if any, assessments had been done of the sites and the risks they posed to people nearby. Hundreds of these documents are available for review in this interactive.
The USA TODAY investigation ultimately found evidence of smelting, foundry work, metal melting or lead manufacturing activity at more than 230 sites that were on the 2001 list of forgotten factories.
Eckel commended USA TODAY for advancing his research. “It was kind of humbling to see that someone had taken seriously enough to put that kind of effort into following up,” said Eckel, who is now an EPA employee working on pesticide issues, but has not been involved in the agency’s smelter work. “It kind of confirmed, validated my hope that the common person would find it all relevant.”
To examine how much lead was around some of these old smelting sites, USA TODAY tested soil in 21 smelter neighborhoods in 13 states, a mix of locations that varied from the urban cores of big cities to a small Midwestern town.
Reporters were trained by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a leading scientific instrument company, to use $41,000 handheld devices called XRF analyzers. USA TODAY rented the devices from the company. The reporters used the analyzers to test more than 800 samples of surface soil – the top layer that children’s hands are most likely to touch. The devices shoot X-rays into the soil causing the elements that are present to give off a unique fluorescence – like a flash – that is measured. After 80 seconds, the devices used by USA TODAY displayed how much lead and other elements are in the sample. (XRF stands for X-ray fluorescence.)
The XRF analyzer is a widely accepted method of testing soil. To further confirm the validity of the XRF readings, reporters collected nearly 200 soil samples and shipped them to a lab run by soil sampling expert Howard Mielke at Tulane University for a different type of chemical analysis, with the expense covered by USA TODAY.
The XRF and lab tests measured the lead content of soil, but are not capable of determining the lead’s source. The lead found in USA TODAY’s tests is likely from a mixture of sources including factory emissions, exhaust from vehicles that once burned leaded gasoline and dust from lead-based paint. Regardless of the source, lead is poison in the body.
The results of USA TODAY’s soil sampling are presented in this interactive. For more information about the methodology of USA TODAY’s soil sampling project, go to the soil testing methodology tab.
The USA TODAY soil testing locations shown on maps in this interactive represent the hundred-block or general vicinity where soil sampling occurred and not the precise location where any samples were taken.
Each of the more than 230 former smelting sites in this interactive is plotted with an icon on a Google map so users can see roughly where the smelters were located. The plotted locations are based on address or other location information in government records; Eckel’s smelter list, which was distributed to regulators by the Environmental Protection Agency; industry directories, telephone books, Sanborn maps and other reference sources. USA TODAY geocoded the markers based on location information from these sources and tried to be as precise as possible, but there is some margin for error.
USA TODAY also shot photographs and video for this interactive. Although many of the photographs and videos are of specific people or locations, the newspaper also shot images generally in the neighborhoods near old smelting sites; these images aren’t meant to represent specific properties.
NPR AND THE CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY
“POISONED PLACES: TOXIC AIR, NEGLECTED COMMUNITIES”
ABOUT THE REPORT
Two decades ago, Democrats and Republicans together sought to protect Americans from nearly 200 dangerous chemicals in the air they breathe. That goal remains unfulfilled. Today, hundreds of communities are still exposed to the pollutants, which can cause cancer, birth defects and other serious health issues. A secret government ‘watch list’ underscores how much government knows about the threat – and how little it has done to address it.
The series “Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities” was reported by NPR’s Elizabeth Shogren, Howard Berkes and Sandra Bartlett, together with Jim Morris, Chris Hamby, Ronnie Greene, Emma Schwartz and Kristen Lombardi from the Center for Public Integrity. Data analysis for this series was by Robert Benincasa of NPR and Elizabeth Lucas of CPI. Researchers Barbara Van Woerkom of NPR and Devorah Adler of CPI also contributed to this investigation.
Additional stories have also been done in partnership with NPR member stations and the Investigative News Network.
USA TODAY – “THE SMOKESTACK EFFECT: TOXIC AIR AND AMERICA’S SCHOOLS”
If you don’t know by now, according this USA TODAY investigative report, Frisco High School ranked among the highest in ranking of surveyed U.S. schools exposed to lead and other toxic chemicals. There were 37 Frisco schools cited in the USA TODAY report.
ABOUT THE REPORT
USA TODAY used an EPA model to track the path of industrial pollution and mapped the locations of almost 128,000 schools to determine the levels of toxic chemicals outside. The potential problems that emerged were widespread, insidious and largely unaddressed.
FRISCO, PLANO SCHOOLS AND EXIDE TODAY
You also may want to check out Frisco Unleaded’s Legacy of Lead map to see where Frisco and Plano schools are located in relation to the group’s lead deposition study. Download a copy below:
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