News 12 investigates: A small community’s fight for cleaner air in Gunter

A group in Gunter, Texas, is pushing to change concrete batch plant regulations to consider the proximity to other plants on permit applications.
Published: Dec. 27, 2022 at 6:16 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GUNTER, Texas (KXII) - Deirdre Diamond was looking for space to breathe.

“Me and my husband came to Gunter to build a home,” said Diamond.

She moved her family north of DFW to a town with no more than 2,500 people.

“This is where we wanted to raise our family,” said Diamond. “We came out here for a better quality of life.”

Now “quality of life” is what she’s fighting to keep.

“I feel very naïve,” said Diamond. “If I had known that we were going to have twelve batch plants, I would have never moved to Gunter.”

According to Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining, Gunter is home to 11 permitted concrete batch plants.

Batch plants mix various ingredients to make concrete.

“My goal is to make Gunter safe,” said Diamond. “I’m not trying to shut down concrete production. That has never been a goal of mine.”

Now, this mom of six finds herself leading the charge and building up a digital army on Facebook called Gunter Clean Air.

“I believe there is a way to balance concrete production and community health and wellness,” said Diamond.

But balance, according to Physics Professor David Larry at the University of Texas at Dallas, starts with knowledge.

“This information can hopefully help us first be informed and then make appropriate decisions that can have a measurable impact,” said Larry.

UTD donated several air monitors to Gunter Clean Air.

The mother ship monitor on Wall Street and seven others track pollutants in the air pretty much in real time.

“Forewarned is forearmed,” said Larry.

For one month, News 12 tracked the air monitor located along Wall Street in Gunter, the closest one to the near dozen plants.

The monitor records particulate matter in the air, small and inhalable particles and liquid droplets like dust or smoke.

Category yellow is the lowest level of PMs recorded.

Experts said anything beyond it, like orange and even up to maroon, is evidence of potential air pollution.

For the 25 days the monitor recorded data between October and November 2022, more than 60 percent of the time, PM levels fell in the orange category.

Twenty five percent of the month, numbers peaked even higher at red and purple.

It almost always dropped back down to yellow once a day.

“The more our total exposure is, the more it’s affecting each of us,” said Larry. “It’s not just older people, kids. It affects all of us, so that’s why this is public.”

But Larry said while this data is useful in showing trends, because of the wind, it also may include pollutants emitted from sources other than batch plants.

That’s where Senior Air Quality Scientist at Air Resource Specialists Howard Gebhart comes in.

“I’m interested in just the concrete batch plants, so there are no emissions in the model other than the concrete batch plants,” said Gebhart.

His model shows what the batch plants permit allows: a worst-case scenario situation.

“It’s not just that it exceeded the standard,” said Gebhart. “It’s the margin of exceedance that causes the greatest concern for me.”

His report shows pollutants from the plants may exceed the national standard by a maximum of ten times, and it’s not illegal.

In Texas, every plant submits a permit.

He said what the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality doesn’t ask is how close one plant is to another.

“It really operates as one plant because they are all next to one another, and so there’s kind of a loophole in the rules, so to speak,” said Gebhart.

The laws, Diamond said, feels suffocating.

“People can’t be naïve and think it can’t happen to them,” said Diamond. “The laws are very weak. The protective measures are very weak.”

And that’s what she hopes to change- putting more space between the plants for more room for the rest of Gunter to breathe.

“If they can look at our story and look at how much we have fought, and we have advocated for our own community and look at the fact that nothing is being done, they should be concerned, and they should know that we need legislative change,” said Diamond.