related chemicals are being released from the property at issue, being blown through the air into the surrounding area, which area contains homes, elementary schools, and a school bus depots’ The Texas Department of Health launched a study of the neighborhood residents and school district employees in the area. But the blood samples showed they were exposed only to “a mild to moderate degree of environmental contamination” and “there does not seem to be any demonstrable elevation of their serum pesticide levels or any substantial evidence that there have been any adverse health effects which can be epidemiologically linked to their exposure to the Plant Site,” according to a copy of a 1981 interoffice report. One caveat the report mentioned was that “much still remains unknown about the long-term effect of pesticides on man and on the environment:’ The “potential” for harm was not ruled out. The author of the report, Richard Beauchamp, senior medical toxicologist for the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the Observer that he stood by his conclusions. The federal case ended in 1983 with a consent decree approving a court-ordered cleanup paid for by Helena and Tex-Ag. Crews dug up contaminated dirt from neighboring yards and from the plant site and buried it on the property. Then the repository was topped with caliche and an asphalt cap. Dusek, the landowner, was directed to maintain the cap. According to the decree, the companies were protected against further civil litigation “except for actions for injunctive relief relating to disposal or migration of contaminants from the Dusek site which EPA did not know about and which it could not have reasonably known about.” Looking back, Dallas-based Samuel Coleman, director of “Typically you wouldn’t put a landfill in the middle of a neighborhood.” the EPA Superfund program for Texas and several other states, said in an interview that the cleanup method was not a good choice. “Typically you wouldn’t put a landfill in the middle of a neighborhood,” he said. “Unfortunately, what happened in the ’80s, the common wisdom was that pesticides and other things deteriorated over a fairly short period of time. … So typically, as had been done for many years, the way you disposed of chemicals was you buried it in the ground. And the thought was that they would naturally deteriorate. Well, we now know that they do not.” As time went on, the asphalt cap fell into disrepair, as did the old storage warehouse a half mile away in an overgrown field. By 1987, so much pesticide had seeped through wooden floors of the warehouse that it became one of the first 10 sites on Texas’ new Superfund registry, where it remains today. Ironically, attempts to clean up the mess, often done without consulting the community, helped spur legal action. Residents complained that cleanup crews showed up unannounced in full body protective suits. No-trespassing signs warned residents to stay out of an area where people commonly hung out and sat on an old loading dock, or crossed on foot to get groceries at HEB. 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 29, 2007
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