In an unforeseeable and unfortunate event, Grand Prairie suffered through an all-consuming blaze this past August 19th.
Poly-America, the plastics factory, endured an industrial fire overnight, which spread toxic smoke for many hours. This company is best known to national consumers as the maker of the heavy-duty Husky brand trash bags. Various Texan fire departments, including stations from Grand Prairie, Dallas, Duncanville, Cedar Hill, and Irving, helped contain the fire.
Although the fire has been dealt with and no casualty was reported, the implications of this type of event on the environment and the health of the residents are unfathomable.
The size of the fire and the amount of smoke it produced derived from has many concerned regarding the air quality in the surrounding area. Texas Representatives Jessica González and Chris Turner are looking closely into the situation as they demand answers from the state environmental agency, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
“This is not the first time that the neighborhoods surrounding the Poly-America plant have been impacted by on-site incidents,” said Representatives González and Turner in a joint statement. “We will be pursuing answers about this incident and what actions have and will be taken by the company, as well as the state and federal agencies charged with oversight to ensure that our constituents remain safe.”
Grand Prairie is a city in Dallas county whose Hispanic/Latinx communities comprise nearly half of its population. The town relies on the manufacturing industry, among other sectors, to support its economy. Poly-America is a particularly important company in this city as it provides plenty of manufacturing jobs.
Jim Schermbeck, who worked on the particulate pollution issues for years as director of Downwinders at Risk, told Fort Worth Star-Telegram that any exposure to smoke riddled with particles of burning plastic is dangerous.
Many residents surrounding the area were warned to stay inside, especially if they suffered from respiratory conditions. However, Schermbeck is urging people to think of future consequences the inhalation of this type of smoke can have on people’s health.
“What we know from the last 20 years is that it’s a neurotoxin,” Schermbeck said. “It’s capable of affecting every organ in the body. … Even if you don’t have immediate effects, if you’re not coughing your lungs out, if you don’t have a heart attack right away, this stuff affects you at the levels that it was at in the atmosphere while it was happening.”
Representatives González and Turner are submitting the following questions to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to further understand the everlasting effects this fire may have:
- What is the status of the TCEQ response? Will additional information regarding levels of chemicals released and the cause of the fire be released to the community?
- How long will air quality and fire water monitoring be conducted by TCEQ regulators or the responsible party? How can TCEQ or the public gain access to private monitoring results?
- Will this incident require one-time reporting of excess pollutants to TCEQ or EPA for instantaneous or 24-hour values?
- Studies indicate that high particulate matter, like that found in the smoke plume from this fire, is associated with both respiratory and cardiovascular incidents. Will TCEQ or other government entities provide additional information to the public regarding how to report concerns and what information is helpful to regulators? (i.e., residents finding particulate matter fall out, chemical film, odor, health impacts, etc.)
- Have there been other violations or preventable accidents at this facility?
- To reduce future risk of negative community impact at this and similar facilities, are additional capacity or storage measures needed?
Environmental activists also echo the sentiments around the representatives’ questions and concerns.
The issue lies in the amount of particulate matter pollution or tiny pieces of solid particles trapped in the air, that residents were exposed to during the fire. The repercussions this might have on residents’ health and the environment are undeniable, and the city of Grand Prairie and its residents deserve to have complete and thorough-researched information.