Federal and state officials plan to interview about 100 Midlothian residents next week as part of an environmental study to see whether a link exists between industrial pollution and human and animal health problems, including birth defects.
Midlothian, southeast of Fort Worth, has 10 cement kilns, one of the largest concentrations in the country and a major source of industrial pollution in North Texas, according to environmental groups. Residents also worry about emissions from a steel plant in this community of about 15,000.
“Midlothian, unless something has changed recently, is the most tested site for health issues in the state of Texas,” said Maurice Osborn, TXI Cement’s manager of communications and government affairs. As long as the study is fair, “we don’t think there will be anything to indicate that the cement plants are a problem.”
The investigation was prompted by a 2005 petition filed by Midlothian resident Sal Mier, who testified before Congress in March that the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry lacked the willingness or commitment to adequately assess whether public health was at risk in his community.
In 2007, the agency and the Texas Department of State Health Services released a report in response to the petition that classified Midlothian as having an “indeterminate public health hazard,” a finding that did little to soften the arguments from industry officials or their critics. The government researchers reported finding high levels of some toxic chemicals in the air, but they concluded that more study was needed to determine the effect on health.
Mier said that he hopes that the new study will help answer questions that people have long asked. His petition was signed by 371 Midlothian residents.
Researchers from the University of North Texas in Denton are calling residents this week to gauge their interest in being interviewed face-to-face next week for 30 to 45 minutes. Federal and state officials will ask residents questions such as whether they have health concerns, what topics they want investigators to answer and how they get their information, said Ricardo Beato, federal health communication specialist. Officials said they want to know the best way to communicate with people, such as through newspapers, fliers or the Web.
Doctors reported seeing increases in office visits from patients complaining of upper respiratory problems.
Ranchers and a dog breeder reported an increase in cattle, horses and dogs having miscarriages and deformed offspring.
A statistically significant cluster of Down syndrome babies was identified in 1995 in northern Ellis County.
The prevalence of birth defects from 1999 through 2003 for Midlothian was 150 percent that of the Texas rate.
Jennifer Lyke, Midlothian team leader for the Agency for Toxic Substances, said officials will listen to residents, examine environmental and health data collected by agencies, collect more data if gaps exist and develop a “public health response plan.”
Meanwhile, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is midway through a yearlong air sampling study.
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