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of the plant’s huge compound. Many trucks carried liquid waste mostly from the Gulf Coast petrochemical complex, the most polluted area in Texas. But waste is also being shipped in increasingly from other states as far away as New Jersey. These “waste generators” contract to incinerators or kilns when burning is necessary. Kilns are the best deal, undercutting the prices of their competitors, the incinerators, by as much as fourfifths. Once inside TXI’ s compound, the tanker trucks are directed to a special unloading area, where their contents are analyzed. Some chemicals, such as PCPs, cannot be burned in kilns and must go to incinerators. The wastes which pass muster head for the 450foot-long revolving cylindrical kiln in which the controversial combustion takes place at temperatures between 2,600 and 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant manager Ken Reed, a 30-year TXI veteran, was, like Jones, unyielding in the defense of waste-burning. “If you can’t recycle safely, you shouldn’t be doing it,” Reed asserted. “If you’re a renegade, you shouldn’t be in operation.” He did not consider himself in that category. “Look, I know people are concerned and have the right to know,” he said. “And I think this is resolved in most people’s minds in the community. But there’s been some here who accuse us of turning off the precipitator [an emission cleansing device] at night.” He laughs without humor at what he considers paranoia the accusation from local residents and environmental opponents that the company would sneak excess or illegal releases in the dark. “My mother lives here. So do I. We’re not about to make a profit for TXI at the expense of the community or our employees.” Of all the battles between the kilns and their foes, nothing has produced more disagreement than the interpretation of a January 1992-April 1992 TACB study of air quality in Midlothian. Essentially, the study, which predated the convening of the task force, said it found no levels of heavy metals or volatile organic compounds above permissible levels. Armed with the report, toxicologist Kathryn Kelly of Seattle, who like Kleppinger, also served on the task force, coauthored a subsequent study by her own consulting firm. The study claimed that the TACB report was proof the Texas plants created “no adverse health effects.” The state immediately protested Kelly’s report. “We do not feel comfortable with the tone of your review nor do we agree with the conclusions you have drawn,” TACB staffer JoAnn Wiersema wrote back to Kelly, whose clients have included the national Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition. Wiersema demanded Kelly remove any appearance that the TACB data which made no health assessments at all supported Kelly’s inter pretation. “Since the conclusions expressed in this draft review do not accurately represent our position, we do not want this Agency to appear to agree in any way with these conclusions,” Wiersema wrote. The strongest objection to the use of the TACB study to defend waste burning in Midlothian came from the group that has most fiercely contested the practice Texans United. A grass-roots activist group that expanded from Houston to Dallas in 1989, Texans United has, along with Midlothianbased Citizens Aware and United for a Safe local residents, figuratively kept alive the flame of opposition. Jim Schermbeck, the Texans United field director whose red hair and beard have become familiar sights to industry counterparts and state agency policymakers, says the study was a “whitewash” that “doesn’t settle the health issue one way or another. “What you think about that study is a matter of whether or not you believe a small amount is harmful over a long period,” insists Schermbeck, whose small office in the Oak Cliff area of South Dallas is chockablock full of maps, wind charts, scientific reports, public documents and agency memos. “And the report didn’t even look at how some. of these substances combine with each other over time. “Look, they found 15 to 20 different chemicals at any one time just not any single one in concentration. Exposure to toxins isn’t linear. As far as the ESL levels [Effects Screening Levels, a safe-health indicator], they’re based on arbitrary and outdated science in the first place. Some of the health assessments on which the levels are based came from the chemical companies themselves back in the ’50s.” That, says Schermbeck, gets to the nittygritty. “What really scares Austin is the explosiveness of this health issue,” he says. “It’s the hardest thing for the people to prove, but it’s the most dangerous issue of all to the agencies in Austin. That’s why they like to say they don’t have enough analysis or data to draw conclusions about health. And the key to it all are these health-safety figures. If they’re not valid, what do you do about regulating what comes out of those stacks? This question lies at the very heart of how we regulate industry in the state of Texas.” Kleppinger’ s assessment is similar. “The cement guys say there are no demonstrable effects,” he says. “But look, we’re not talking dead bodies. We’re looking at chronic problems that take 10 to 20 years to develop. If 10,000 people are exposed in Midlothian from direct inhalation, and if the risk was only one in 10,000, that’s 10 excess deaths in 70 years. You just can’t pick that out.” Kleppinger also buttresses Schermbeck’s complaint that industry is hiding behind numbers that may have about as much validity as early theories about exposure to atomic radiation. “Science has no technology to determine if a kiln or any incinerator is negatively impacting public health,” says Kleppinger. “Some chemical by-products of burning are toxic below detection levels. But it only takes a molecule or two of dioxins or furans to affect hormones. The statistical tools for determining whether there is an impact are extremely bad. Scientists have reached opposite conclusions in this matter. “The problem,” says Kleppinger, “is these cement guys really believe their own propaganda. They think they have a God-given right to burn hazardous waste. Their fallacy is saying they have the right to burn as long as you can’t prove danger. That’s absolutely, fundamentally wrong. The burden of proof should be on those who get the benefit, not on the community.” In fact, it’s mostly been the other way around. When Gifford-Hill and TXI began burning waste in 1986 and 1987 respectively, they did so through so-called interim status permits issued after only one limited-access public hearing. Gifford-Hill even wrote to the Texas Water Commission lution, informing the agency that it wouldn’t need permits for unloading incoming truck and rail shipments of liquid hazardous waste, since no storage would be involved. Until the TACB task force convened a formal public hearing in December 1992, the seven-year history of burning and transporting millions of tons of waste through the Midlothian area was all but devoid of public input. The task force made Texas the first state in the nation to stop and take a closer, more comprehensive look at what making cement had become. Austin’s attention was initially grabbed in February 1991, when newly elected Governor Ann Richards issued a six-month moratorium on all new permits to burn hazardous wastes. But the ban expired, and the two plants that already had “interim” permits North Texas and TXI were allowed to resume burning. At the moment, that’s down to one. Following a fire and inability to fully pass state emissions “test burns,” North Texas temporarily reverted to coal and gas last year. The third Midlothian kiln, BoxCrow, wasn’t able to get an “interim” permit, but it is one of several kilns in the state applying for one. BoxCrow also wants to renew a lapsed temporary permit to burn used tires a “recycling” process at least as dirty as coal burning and, as with hazardous waste, fraught with unknown environmental liabilities. p ublic pressure mounted to extend the moratorium, or to stop waste burning altogether. In July 1992, Governor THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 *,1,4 v ..,