The Environmental Protection Agency plans to begin cleaning up soil containing high levels of lead and arsenic at Park Crest Elementary School in Garland and neighboring residential areas by the end of August.
Eric Delgado, EPA’s on-site coordinator for the former Globe Union lead-acid battery manufacturing site in Garland, said the agency plans to spend about 10 weeks on clean-up, a year after contamination was first identified. .
“Mitigating and cleaning up this type of contamination is pretty straightforward,” Delgado told neighborhood residents in a meeting Thursday night. “We remove contaminated soil from your property, dispose of it properly, and restore the property with materials that have been pre-screened for environmental contaminants. “
Over 100 people virtually attended the meeting. About 30 other residents came in person to Garland City Hall to listen and ask questions of officials from the EPA, Texas State Department, City of Garland, and Garland ISD.
Delgado said if the agency identifies other properties in the area with contaminated soil, the cleanup process can take more than 10 weeks.
A local group of residents called Clean Up Garland began soil testing in the area in September 2019. Their findings prompted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA to get involved.
In February, the EPA found arsenic levels in soil at 25.3 parts per million in a garden in Park Crest, exceeding its cleaning standard for residential areas by 24 parts per million. In the soil along 2C4 Creek, a tributary of Duck Creek that runs behind the school, the agency found high levels of arsenic and lead exceeding the agency’s cleaning standard of 400 parts per million.
Jessica Price, health educator for the DSHS Health Assessment and Toxicology Program, said children should not spend time in stream 2C4 due to the risk of exposure to contaminants.
“Based on the current data available to us, we have determined that it is safe for children to attend school,” Price said. “That being said, children should always avoid areas where there are high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.”
Delgado explained to residents why the Globe Union site was not on the EPA’s national priority list, which includes more than 1,300 of the most dangerous contaminated sites in the United States. He said of more than 1,000 soil samples taken from the neighborhood, 6% had levels of lead or arsenic that warrant a federal cleanup process.
Jessica Kessinger, team leader of the DSHS Health and Toxicology Assessment Program, said area residents can wipe down their floors, place rugs on both sides of their doors and take off their shoes before they go. come in to try and limit lead contamination in their homes.
In response to a question about the risks posed to children in the area, Delgado said he would not let his child play in the creek. At one point he said it was because of poison ivy, and at another point he said he would have had his child’s blood tested for lead in 2020 if he had. heard of a potential contamination in the neighborhood soil.
“Do you compare poison ivy to lead contamination? A resident asked in the meeting chat.
Delgado paused for a moment, then answered.
“As long as I don’t inhale or eat this dirt, I can go inside, I can take a shower and I can mitigate that risk,” he said, adding that he didn’t ‘wasn’t trying to compare the two or downplay the situation. .
Although the clean-up sites on the Park Crest campus, near 2C4 Creek and on residential lawns are not one of the most contaminated sites in the country or on the NPL list, Delgado said it was still not sure.
“The site presents imminent and substantial harm to human health and the environment,” he said. “And we have to take care of it. “
Resident Melissa Massey, who previously taught at Garland ISD, said after the meeting that it was essential for district officials to be transparent with parents.
“We moved here because the schools in Garland were known to be the best. It was affordable, I was able to be a mom and stay home, ”said Massey, a mother of three now grown children. “And then finding out that was so disappointing.”
At the public meeting, resident Mike Harbison pleaded with the city to consider offering some type of free medical testing to residents who grew up living near industrial facilities.
People started to cheer after Harbison shared his story of fears of cancer and other medical issues among his family and friends who grew up in the neighborhood.
“How many non-Hodgkin lymphoma can you have in a family?” Harbison said. “Friends of mine grew up with leukemia, bone disease, heart disease, prostate cancer. I mean, 25 with prostate cancer?
He also said his wife, who grew up on Patricia Lane near Park Crest, had a 10-pound tumor when she was 30.
“They took it and showed it to medical students because it was bigger than a baby,” he said. “Thank goodness it was benign.”
This tumor was just one of his wife’s medical problems, he said.
“We’re talking thing after thing,” Harbison said.
Delgado said more than 30 properties did not respond to EPA communications while the agency carried out soil tests.
“We really, sort of have limited data,” Delgado said, referring to the residences.
Delgado asked residents to tell their neighbors to sign up for sampling or sanitation if they hadn’t already given their consent. More data will help the EPA assess the extent of contamination at unsampled neighborhood properties, Delgado said.
But residents say this cleanup plan near Park Crest is only the tip of the iceberg.
Since manufacturing for WWII took off, Garland has grown into a town that depends on industry for its tax base, Garland residents and Mayor Scott LeMay said.
And the city has no plans to change that because it wouldn’t be economically feasible for the city or its residents, LeMay said.
Living in neighborhoods relatively close to industrial sites worries residents. They fear that pollution from nearby factories has contributed to their poor health. In the neighborhood that powers Park Crest, some residents live less than a mile from an industrial site or factory.
But DSHS released a to study in 2018, stating that the number of different types of cancer cases in the region was not significantly different from what one would expect based on its size. The agency monitored demographic factors.
Residents want more data.
Last week, Clean Up Garland brought in a professor specializing in soil toxicology to take dozens of soil samples from sites of interest around the city, group leader Don Phillips said at the meeting. from Thursday. Garland ISD will also pay an engineering consulting firm to perform soil testing at Sam Houston Middle School, which is directly across from Park Crest.
Jerry Yearout, who has lived in Garland since graduating from high school in 1963, said he wanted someone to take responsibility for the contamination in the neighborhood.
“You all have to take the bull by the horn,” Yearout said. “All I want to see is the town of Garland stand up and take ownership of this problem, and fix the damn thing.”