Dallas, Texas – In a metropolis perpetually ensnared in hazardous air quality advisories, accompanied by an extensive chronicle of environmental inequities, residents of Dallas are pressing for transparency regarding the city’s strategies for implementing informed ecological policies.
Dallas air quality improvement starts with air quality data
One focal point of city’s strategy, as underscored by city officials, centers on the collection of robust air quality data. This ethos of data-centric decision-making was foregrounded at a recently convened “Air Sensor Summit,” a symposium featuring a multi-sectoral array of stakeholders—including governmental bodies, civic entities, and environmental advocacy organizations—seeking to deliberate on the establishment of community-based air sensor networks, as well as cataloging extant initiatives in this critical sphere.
However, several environmental organizations have expressed reservations, citing persistent inaction and stating that they have yet to witness the promised collaborative endeavors take form. They draw attention to neighborhoods such as Joppa, located in southern Dallas and encircled by a phalanx of industrial behemoths, where the ramifications of environmental racism palpably persist. Residents of such areas have decried the municipality’s lackadaisical pace in addressing their qualms.
Only one Environmental Protection Agency device collects Dallas air quality data in the Uptown district
Amid this backdrop of skepticism, there emerges another issue concerning the utility of collected air quality data. Although the city has installed a network of sensors designed to serve as invaluable reservoirs of information for academic researchers, only a single device, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and situated in the affluent Uptown district, has the capacity to generate legally actionable data. This sole sensor stands conspicuously distanced from the primarily low-income and minority communities most beleaguered by airborne contaminants, thereby exacerbating existing disparities.
Kevin Overton, the former Air Quality Initiatives coordinator, asserted in a statement issued on September 8th that one of the summit’s central objectives was to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the diverse array of groups engaged in air quality monitoring throughout the urban landscape. He emphasized the indispensability of sustained collaboration and unfettered information sharing in the collective pursuit of these exigent goals.
Contradicting this narrative, however, are several organizations that claim not only to have been accumulating this type of critical data for years but also to have proactively extended overtures for partnership to the city authorities.
Alicia Kendrick, a resident of the beleaguered Joppa neighborhood and chairperson of the Joppa Environmental Health Project, was among the sparse number of inhabitants from pollution-afflicted areas who attended the early morning summit. She lamented that the discourse fell short of addressing an array of questions that loom large from the vantage point of community members directly impacted by this pressing public health crisis.
“After you get all this data…then what? What happens after that?” Kendrick asked.
City authorities told Alicia Kendrick that their main focuses are disseminating information to affected communities and ensuring that policymakers have access to relevant data for zoning or permitting decisions. However, Kendrick criticized the summit’s structure, arguing that those most impacted by pollution and poor air quality were notably absent from the discussion.
“It’s a level of obliviousness that I’m uncomfortable with,” Kendrick said.
During the intense summit, participants cast aspersions on the veracity and applicability of data amassed from extant air quality sensors. Government authorities delineate these sensors into two distinct categories: regulatory and non-regulatory. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exclusively employs the former, which are both prohibitively costly and sporadically deployed.
Significantly, the EPA maintains a singular regulatory monitor situated in Dallas’s upscale Uptown district, conspicuously distant from frontline communities perilously ensconced near hotbeds of voluminous pollution. Data harvested from these high-fidelity monitors constitute the bedrock upon which environmental regulatory bodies predicate their enforcement activities.
Contrastingly, the sensors the municipal government aims to propagate—alongside a plethora of community-based sensor networks—are classified as non-regulatory. Consequently, data culled from these devices lack the judicial gravitas for enforcement undertakings. Nonprofit luminaries posed incisive questions, probing whether financial resources were being misallocated for sensor deployment if the resultant data could not serve as an evidentiary basis for potential cessation of activities by egregious polluters.
Jim Schermbeck, the director of the advocacy group Downwinders at Risk, contends that notwithstanding their non-regulatory status, data garnered from these monitors remain of paramount importance.
Dallas air quality is currently monitored with only 24 air-monitoring sensors
According to disclosures made during an early September convocation of the city’s nascent Parks, Trails, and the Environment Committee, Dallas currently boasts an arsenal of 24 air-monitoring sensors. A mere quintet of these has been operational since February, strategically located in areas of critical concern. These encompass points immediately opposite the GAF roofing factory in West Dallas—a locus residents vehemently accuse of serial air pollution—and South Central Park in Joppa, a predominantly minority enclave in southern Dallas besieged by heavy industrial activity, as well as proximity to the Mill Creek Batch Plant.
While city officials acknowledge that the remaining monitors exist in varying phases of operational readiness, they expressed an aspirational goal to render them fully functional in an undefined near-future timeline, declining to commit to any specific date.
“Two of the priorities in gathering this data, is to make sure we provide this information to you as you make policy decisions,” Director of the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability Carlos Evans said. “For example, whether to approve the operation of a batch plant.”
Evans states that another key focus is to disseminate the collected data to the communities where the sensors are installed.
According to city officials, they utilized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Environmental Justice” screen, a nationwide tool designed to assess inequality in various communities, to identify suitable locations for additional monitor installations.
Evans adds that his department is working to obtain more localized data.