Bill Aims to Protect Communities of Color from Polluting Concrete Facilities
Concrete crushing plants, which recycle concrete from demolished roads and buildings, can emit plumes of fine dust, worsening nearby residents’ asthma and other respiratory illnesses. On Tuesday, a Senate committee considered proposed legislation that aims to protect Texans, particularly communities of color near the facilities, from those health effects.
Concrete crushing facilities are already prohibited from operating within 440 yards of schools, homes and places of worship. Senate Bill 793, sponsored by Senator Borris Miles, a Democrat whose Houston district has six such facilities, would expand that restriction to include outdoor recreational areas such as parks and playgrounds.
“Community members at work and at play are exposed to particulate matter, which exacerbates asthma and increases heart attack and stroke rates because it carries pollutants that travel to the heart and into the bloodstream,” Latrice Babin, an environmental toxicologist at the Harris County Pollution Control Services Department, told lawmakers on the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee.
Concrete recycling plants emit dust containing silica, which can lead to lung cancer and tuberculosis. The emissions are particularly problematic for children, who can be exposed to higher levels of pollutants for their body size. Andrea Morrow, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said that 17 new rock and concrete crushers — of which six are in the Houston area — have received permits to operate in the state since 2016. Six more are pending review, she said.
These plants are also often found near sand and gravel pits, concrete batch plants, and asphalt mixing units, which also release fine particulate matter. As a result, residents are exposed to multiple sources of pollutants that can cumulatively take a toll on their health.
In recent years, concrete batch plants, which produce concrete, have faced significant community opposition. Harris County has 188 concrete plants, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis — the most of any county in the state. Since Houston doesn’t have zoning rules, they can be located near residential areas.
“Often they’re located in communities of color and low-income communities that are already disproportionately affected by other environmental hazards,” Bakeyah Nelson, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Air Alliance Houston, told the Observer. “When you think about placing a concrete crushing facility in close proximity to these communities, that’s an additional environmental burden.”
Nelson said living close to these facilities can have economic impacts, too. When a child has an asthma attack as a result of breathing in dust from a concrete facility, parents may need to take days off work to stay home with the child. That can mean a smaller paycheck at the end of the month.
“There’s a domino effect that takes place when we have things like asthma attacks that are triggered as a result of being exposed to this dust,” said Nelson. “The parent might not have transportation to get the child to a doctor, so it really becomes not just a health issue for these families but an economic issue.”
Rich Szecsy, president of the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association, told lawmakers that the bill is “not necessary” and that “the proposed location prohibitions are an attempt to use the Clean Air Act as a substitute for zoning where there is none.” He said current laws are enough to protect the public.
Miles has also proposed a bill to create a task force to study the health effects of concrete crushing facilities. In the House, Representative Armando Walle, D-Houston, is sponsoring bills to require concrete facilities to install dust control equipment and submit more detailed information to the state environmental agency during permitting.