Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Worthless Land and Life Held Cheap in South Dallas


CitySquare's work with Unify South Dallas, to find some workable resolution to the barrier posed by heavy industrial and metal recycling business along the Lamar Street corridor, gains momentum with new revelations about the health hazards these businesses represent.

According to a report by Dallas Morning News editorial board writer, Tod Robberson,  significant levels of toxic ground contaminants have been found on the property of Gold Metal Recyclers.

"It turns out that the poison arsenic is present throughout the soil and ground water at the Gold Metal site on South Lamar. So are heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, antimony and aluminum. Petroleum hydrocarbons including benzene, ethyl benzene, toluene and xylenes also are present at levels exceeding what is permissible for potable water. The arsenic level if nearly five time higher than publicly permissible levels for ground water. The level of these toxins is so high, Gold Metal is voluntarily requesting a special designation that allows the city to ban anyone from drilling for well water on or around the site. That's probably a good thing. Last night, this information was released as part of a required step in that special-designation process.
This is a big issue for a few reasons. First, the city is close to purchasing a swath of Gold Metal and adjacent property to build a ramp connecting I-45 with U.S. 175, eliminating "Dead Man's Curve." That means construction, and churning up the ground and exposing all of the toxins buried down below, out of sight. There's a big question about who -- the city or the land's current owners -- will have to pay for a cleanup. And believe me, it'll be expensive. Second, since these toxins are in the ground water, they are slowly -- very slowly -- migrating toward the Trinity River about 600 to 700 feet away. Studies are underway to determine whether a cleanup will be necessary regardless of what happens with the freeway ramp."

"Neil Goldberg, who runs Gold Metal with his brother Kenny, insists that these toxins were present in the soil long before Gold Metal opened for business on the site in 1976. He insists current operations have nothing, or almost nothing, to do with the contaminated soil and groundwater beneath the protective concrete and asphalt covering that Gold Metal has paved the site with..."

Again, this is just one of the recycling businesses located directly across the street from a residential neighborhood in South Dallas - a neighborhood that has children, churches and elderly residents. It's a neighborhood that desperately wants to redevelop and one which seeks to overcome the blight and neglect that is the result of decades of incompatible business usage: a proliferation of liquor related businesses, absentee owned and abandoned houses and businesses, homes in need of minor repair and lack of opportunity for more wholesome economic investment.

Negative reaction to Unify South Dallas' work on this area has always suggested that the rights of business owners trumped the rights of residents in the area to have a neighborhood that promoted health and vitality. Now it appears that the same businesses whose rights have been viewed as nearly inviolate are contributing to  long term detriment of the neighborhood and the very ground upon which they all are located. Business can't 'win' at the expense of everyone else.

A few months ago, Gold Metal unveiled an ambitious redevelopment plan for the entire area that included not only housing, but new business opportunities as well. 


Now that it has been revealed that they have, at the very least, contributed to making that same ground worthless, what do those plans mean?

Neal Goldberg's protestations that Gold Metal has nothing to do with the ground contamination rings hollow. But even if it is almost true - the facts are their operations - the cause of many potential hazards and health detriments, neither contribute to health of the area or the environment. And those declarations of 'innocence' also don't take into account that society has changed both in its understanding of these contaminants and the risks they pose to communities...

"...We know much more today about public health dangers. We've changed our ways. Today, we have heavy industrial sites still operating across Lamar from residential neighborhoods. And whatever toxins they continue to churn up and sprinkle into people's soil, groundwater or lungs may be known or may not be known. But despite lots and lots of complaining by residents about the fact that heavy industrial sites are operating across the street from their homes, the answer from industry is still the same: Tough. Our operations are staying right where they are."

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