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Ingram ReadyMix This week, the Texas Toxic Tour takes you to Bulverde Texas, a small town northwest of San Antonio. This is the story of a communities struggle to protect their homes from pollution from a concrete batch mix plant, without the support of the state's environmental agency, the Texas Legislature, and Governor George W. Bush. Be sure to watch this week's video interview featuring Mayor Bob Barton. Ingram ReadyMix, Inc. In February 1995, Ingram ReadyMix, Inc. filed an application with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) for a standard exemption from an air quality permit on a proposed concrete batch plant within the rural hill country community of Bulverde. A batch mix plant, which produces concrete by mixing cement and gravel or sand, can emit a large amount of dust and particulate matter into the air. Mayor Barton remembered that people were concerned about possible health problems from the plant; "It's my understanding that the particulate from the cement plants are not toxic. I'm not a toxicologist, but it seems to me that it's toxic if it makes you sick." After conducting a study, Mayor Barton, a retired scientist, and other people in the community decided the particulates emitted by the plant were a substantial health problem, "they are not just a nuisance, those things are deadly… an accumulation of particulates in the lungs of someone that has pulmonary problems like emphysema or heart disease, it can be deadly." The Bulverde community, concerned about air and water quality as well as safety hazards caused by traffic in and out of the plant, gathered 1,600 signatures on a petition against the issuance of the standard exemption. Bulverde residents requested and were granted a hearing on the standard exemption. As part of their evidence, the residents conducted their own air dispersion modeling, which supported their claim that the plant would not meet particulate emissions standards and thus the criteria for a standard exemption. Mayor Barton said, "TNRCC allows 400 micro grams per cubic meter of air per one-hour interval…in the case of this concrete batch mix plant we fought…(according to the modeling) this plant which the TNRCC allowed would have in excess of 1200 micro grams per cubic meter." While Bulverde citizens had gone to considerable expense and study to prepare their case, Mayor Barton said they weren't sure of stopping the plant. "TNRCC has been granting the standard exemption for 25 years, and they have absolutely no data to support the granting of them," he added, "A competent researcher accessing the records would be astonished to see how little foundation they have for many of these standard exemptions they have in place."Audio & Video Listen to the Ingram ReadyMix pollution story Featured on our interview is Bulverde Mayor Bob Barton. Video: • QuickTime 685 KB • QuickTime Need help with media tools? End The three TNRCC Commissioners listened to the overwhelming evidence of dozens of citizens as well as state and county officials and denied the issuance of a standard exemption. This was the first time citizens had challenged the TNRCC basis for issuing this standard exemption to concrete batch mix plants and won. As a result of the controversy, in 1996 TNRCC began an evaluation of the standard exemption for concrete batch plants, which included a review of results from more than 100 Computer Air Dispersion Modeling scenarios. It found that most plants would exceed the state regulatory standards--as well as criteria for the standard exemption itself-unless dust and particulate matter from roads were excluded from the modeling. TNRCC never released the report to the public, and a final version of the report was never approved by the Commissioners. The following year, Ingram ReadyMix moved just outside the city limits of Bulverde near several schools and applied again for a standard exemption for their concrete batch plant. TNRCC approved the exemption in 1998. Once again, Bulverde residents requested and were granted a hearing on the exemption. In June 1999, Bulverde sent dozens of concerned citizens to the final meeting with the TNRCC Commissioners, who would make a vote on the exemption. The citizens were armed with presentations of data and evidence, including air dispersion modeling which again showed that the plant would pollute more than it was allowed. However, this time around, the new Chairman Robert J. Huston only granted eight minutes of time for the entire delegation of more than 30 citizens. The TNRCC Commissioners then summarily approved the issuance of the standard exemption. What had changed? During the spring of 1999, the cement industry worked the Texas Legislature to make sure Ingram's defeat would not happen again. The industry pushed through a bill that prohibits the use of independent computer air dispersion modeling in hearings involving concrete batch plants. The bill also prohibits TNRCC from requiring a concrete batch plant which qualifies for the exemption from conducting their own air dispersion modeling before beginning construction. Apparently, the cement industry didn't like either their own or independent modeling because it was showing the industry couldn't meet the standards designed to protect human health. During legislative hearings, TNRCC and industry spokespeople relied on the still unapproved TNRCC study, which specifically excluded emissions from roads in its calculations. SB 1298 was signed into law by Governor Bush in the summer of 1999 and Ingram ReadyMix is currently operating in Bulverde. "If the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the Legislature as a whole had not approved this prohibition against using air dispersal modeling, on these concrete batch mix plants, citizens would still have a chance." Mayor Barton said. "When you bring some of the deficiencies of the agency, using their own documents; you still can't get any action, it is disappointing." Barton added, "I think the TNRCC is completely neglecting their duty in that area (protecting rural areas from air pollution), they are abdicating to industry…To me as a scientist, it's been a mockery, it really has been." Join Texas PEER soon for another stop on the Texas Toxic Tour. Sources: Thanks to Texas Center for Policy Studies for help with this story.
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