Feature: Wednesday, December 5, 2002
‘We were toldnot to worry, that the smoke was just steam.’
Greetings From

Industries around Midlothian ship tonsof chemicals north— via air mail.

By Betty Brink

When Debbie Markwardt left her home just outside Midlothian for work early on the morning of Nov. 21, her husband Cecil Booth was awake but still in bed. “I feel good,” he told her. “Go on to work.” Patches, his favorite Doberman pinscher, was asleep beside him.

When she returned around noon to make their lunch, Patches was curled up in a corner whimpering, and Cecil was sitting on the side of the bed, bent over, his hands on his knees, his head hanging down toward his spread-apart legs. Debbie wasn’t alarmed. That was the position she often found him in these days because it was the only way, he had told her, that he could relieve the constant pain in his back from a recently diagnosed crushed disk. When Cecil didn’t respond to her “how’ya feelin’, hon?” she reached out to shake him a little — and instantly froze. Her husband of 20 years was dead, his body already cold to her touch. “It didn’t look like he even knew it was coming,” the 40-year-old Markwardt said. “He was just sitting there. He hadn’t tried to lie back down or reach for the phone or anything. He was just sitting there, like he always did, sitting on the side of the bed for a while before he got on his scooter to go out to the kitchen.”

Cecil Booth’s sudden death was attributed to complications from Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, a rare form of muscular dystrophy (named for three neurologists who first identified it in 1886). CMT causes progressively severe muscle weakness and gradual atrophy in the feet, legs, hands, and forearms. There is no cure. By the time he died, the 65-year-old Booth’s hands were curled into balls, and he could no longer walk without help. He used a motorized three-wheel chair to get around the house. The disease ended his 10-year Army career when it was first diagnosed by a military doctor in 1965. But for the next 25 years its progress was slow, Markwardt said. Booth lived a relatively normal and otherwise healthy life, she said, selling insurance and breeding and selling their Dobermans.

Beginning in 1990, however, Booth’s CMT worsened dramatically, and by the middle of that decade his medical troubles also included insulin-dependent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and chronic upper respiratory illnesses.

Oddly enough, even before Booth’s health problems began to escalate, the couple’s prize Dobermans had begun suffering and dying from unusual ailments that ranged from severe skin diseases to cancer. Females were delivering litters of stillborn or grossly deformed pups, and increasing numbers of the dogs failed to breed at all.

Markwardt, grieving and angry, said she doesn’t believe the health problems of her husband and their dogs were a coincidence. It’s also no coincidence she believes, that those problems began the same year they moved onto their 23-acre homestead in Ellis County, directly across the road from the TXI cement plant where hazardous waste is burned as the fuel of choice — and within three miles of three other major pollution sources that call this county home.

Midlothian, a town of 4,500 people, is set amid the gently rolling, cedar-covered hills and open pastures of Ellis County. But its economy and its air are anything but bucolic. Four of North Texas’ largest industrial sources of pollution ring the outskirts, all within about three miles of one another, their smokestacks visible from just about any spot in town. A little farther out, between Midlothian and Waxahachie, sits a fifth major industrial plant, Owens Corning Glass. Beside TXI’s cement plant, the cluster includes two other cement plants, a steel mill, and the glass company, not to mention about 20 smaller manufacturing plants in the county. The industries provide Midlothian with more than 2,300 jobs, more than half of those in the cement plants and steel mill.

The small town and its toxic neighbors are located a few miles south of the mid-point between Fort Worth and Dallas. More importantly, on most days, they are upwind of those two cities.

The four largest Midlothian plants — TXI, North Texas Cement, Holcim Cement, and Chaparral Steel — released 1,400 tons of hazardous toxins into the air in 2000, according to state and federal air quality records. That’s almost twice the total toxins attributed to the 129 dirtiest plants in Fort Worth and Dallas for that year. Owens Corning Glass added 1,627 tons of other less lethal pollutants.

Experts have known for more than a decade that pollution plumes from the Midlothian plants — with their hefty doses of ozone-producing ingredients, dangerous toxins, and heavy metals — have been drifting over Fort Worth and most of North Texas. They were first tracked by SMU professor Dr. George Crawford and, in more recent years, by the state environmental agency, newly renamed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Air pollution in Fort Worth and Dallas is bad enough that both have been designated “non-attainment areas” by EPA, meaning they face the loss of big chunks of federal transportation dollars if they continue to violate the smog standards of the Clean Air Act. And yet Ellis County, which exceeds ozone levels as often as its neighbors to the north and whose plants are the major industrial contributors to the dirty air in Fort Worth and Dallas, is exempt from sanctions under current federal and state clean air guidelines. Ellis County, in other words, has no financial incentive to clean up the dirty air that it is sending north, and Fort Worth and Dallas have no influence on the plants that are major contributors to those cities’ problems.

A local nonprofit group called Downwinders at Risk has been trying for more than a decade to get the state or federal governments to force the Ellis County plants to clean up their act. It’s been a tough fight, with few victories. Thus far, the state has refused to declare Ellis County an air pollution non-attainment area, despite the fact that the state environmental agency’s own monitors show it has violated EPA ozone standards for the past four years.

The Ellis County industries have gotten their share of breaks from state regulators. Texas’ most recent smog-reduction plan, for instance, calls for an 80 percent reduction in smokestack emissions of nitrogen oxides from power plants. But a similar requirement, for cement plants to cut their nitrogen oxide emissions by 30 percent, was removed — specifically, according to a TCEQ lawyer, to avoid making TXI too unhappy. And a state environmental official admitted, in e-mail, that the agency could expect to get raked over the coals for allowing Holcim to build a new cement plant without requiring that it use the “best available” pollution-reducing technology, as required by the Texas Clean Air Act. When Holcim got a permit from the state agency to double its capacity at the Midlothian plant, it promised a 30 percent reduction in its smokestack emissions — but state records show they’re not keeping that promise.

TXI officials say no health problems have ever been shown to have been caused by the cement plant’s emissions. However, public health scientist Dr. Stuart Batterman of the University of Michigan, led a study of TXI’s operation in 1996, which was commissioned by the American Lung Association and Downwinders. He testified that TXI has significantly underestimated the risks associated with “transportation, storage, handling, and incineration of hazardous wastes” by using flawed data and withholding information from the state. He also said the company has failed to calculate the effects of its plant’s emissions on farm-grown food and animals in the area and has not considered certain types of cancers known to be caused by some of the same toxins as those emitted by the plant.

Dr. Marvin Legator, a toxicologist with the University of Texas at Galveston, did an on-site health study in Ellis County that same year and found three times the amount of respiratory illnesses in Midlothian as in Waxahachie, the county seat a few miles away. Moreover, the Texas Cancer Data Center shows the rate of cancer deaths in the small county over the past several years to be consistently higher than neighboring Tarrant’s.

TXI’s most recent addition to the smokestack flavor in Ellis County will be that of burning tires — a new “fuel” that the company, interestingly enough, says will make its emissions cleaner — a prediction that state and local environmentalists take exception to. North Texas Cement, they point out, already burns tires, and that plant’s emissions in 1999 accounted for 192 tons of dangerous toxins that included chromium, dioxin, and mercury — ingredients that Dr. Neil Carman, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and a former incinerator inspector for the state, says come directly from the burning of tires. Carmen, who has frequently testified against the burning of tires in cement kilns as a health risk, said that the older plants’ air pollution control devices are not designed to remove all dioxins or heavy metal vapors like mercury and other toxic gases released from the burning of tires.

The scale of the emissions from Ellis County is “epic,” said Jim Schermbeck, a Fort Worth native who helped found Downwinders before he moved to West Texas. During ozone season, he pointed out, winds are predominantly from the south and southeast, bringing the ozone-causing pollutants directly to the Metroplex.

“It’s one thing to talk about the local fight around the plant” [that many people think is just a Midlothian problem], he said. “It’s quite another to understand that the pollution from these plants is tripping monitors and causing ozone violations in North Fort Worth and Eagle Mountain Lake. And again, if the ozone is wafting across Tarrant County ... so is a lot of the toxic stuff.”

In 2000, according to the EPA, TXI/Midlothian Cement emitted about 637 tons of poisons into the air, in the manufacturing process of a product that’s almost as common as dirt.

TXI is the largest maker of Portland cement in the state, producing close to 5 million tons a year. The fuel that helped the company reach that economically healthy perch is the toxic leftovers from other industries: hazardous wastes.

It is the cheapest of all possible fuels. TXI pays nothing for it — in fact, the company makes money in the process. Waste-generating industries — from large chemical and oil refineries to mom-and-pop dry cleaners — pay the cement company to take the stuff off their hands, as they would a licensed hazardous waste-burning facility. Problem is, TXI is not a licensed waste burning facility, yet it’s allowed by the state and the feds to act as one — minus the more stringent air-control regulations imposed by the EPA and the Texas Clean Air Act on pure waste-burners. Opponents argue that this easing of the rules is not only economically unfair to hazardous waste disposal companies, it allows hundreds of thousands of pounds of unnecessary pollutants to foul North Texas’ already overburdened air and soil. Company representatives say that the company emits no more pollution than its permit allows and that if there are health problems in the area, TXI is not the cause.

“As a company, we’re in compliance with all of our permits,” said TXI communications manager Maurice Osborne, who served as mayor of Midlothian for 12 years.

In a telephone interview from his Dallas office, Osborne said that Midlothian is “the most tested site” in the history of the state. Scientists from EPA, the state health department, and the former Texas Natural Resources and Conservation Commission have tested the soil and air over the years, he said, and determined there are “no health risks” from the cement plant’s hazardous waste-burning.

“TXI’s permit [to burn hazardous wastes] dates back 15 years,” he said, “and no one yet has found any proof that it’s a dangerous technology.”

TXI built its sprawling complex of low buildings and tall smokestacks 42 years ago, on a 3,000-plus-acre site just about a mile southwest of Midlothian. The complex, owned by Dallas-based Texas Industries, includes more than the huge cement plant. Also located there is Chaparral Steel, which dumped almost 19 tons of toxins, mostly heavy metals, into the air in 2000, according to the EPA.

TXI has been burning hazardous waste for fuel there since 1987 — and in newspeak that would have made George Orwell smile, the company explains on its website — under the heading “Recycling” — why it made that decision.

“What if ‘wastes’ are not wastes at all, but are ... raw materials useable by other industries?” the web document asks. That would simply be another form of recycling, the web page says. It was not only a financially sound decision at the time, but an environmentally sound one as well, the site says. “TXI now focuses ... time and energy on recycling and environmental technologies” as it “recycles” petrochemical refinery wastes, tires, concrete, “and other diatomaceous material, just to name a few,” into fuel.

Naming the additional “few” of the waste materials burned, however, would take several more pages, since the plant is now the largest burner of hazardous waste in Texas, including plants licensed by the state for the sole purpose of disposing of hazardous waste.

The plant takes in petrochemical wastes from refineries and mixed wastes — organics, flammables, and inorganic solids such as heavy metals — from “hazardous waste blenders,” companies that pick up wastes from a variety of sources, mixing them into a toxic stew to be hauled off for disposal. The waste products come into the plant by rail and in a steady stream of trucks and are stored in huge containers before they are put into the kilns. And TXI has just been given the green light to add old tires to the nasty mix — another source of free fuel.

There’s no argument that burning the waste for fuel is a financially sound practice for TXI. But the company’s assertion that hazardous waste recycling is also environmentally sound has been under fire from local residents and environmentalists across the state for years.

One of TXI’s five huge furnaces is coal-fired. The other four are fired 24/7 by more than 100,000 tons of mixed hazardous wastes a year, producing an airborne alphabet-soup of dangerous chemicals and heavy metals: arsenic, benzene, butadiene, barium, chromium, dioxin, lead, mercury, nickel, phenol, sulfuric acid, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylenes, and zinc.

Many of the chemicals are known carcinogens. Others have been linked to liver disease, autoimmune deficiency diseases, reproductive disorders, and birth defects in humans and animals.

In a five-county area of North Texas, including Dallas and Tarrant, state agency data also show TXI to be also the largest single-source industrial emitter — 11,754 tons per year — of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter, especially soot. North Texas Cement is next with 8,915 tons; Holcim is in third place at 8,242 tons. These are the seriously bad-for-humans pollutants that EPA says the cities must clean up or face the loss of millions in federal transportation dollars. Yet Tarrant and Dallas County plants together account for only 30,000 tons of these pollutants, while Ellis County’s totals, including Chaparral and Owen Corning, amount to 35,000 tons.

For a dozen years, long-time Ellis County residents and horse breeders Sue and Ralph Pope and a handful of their neighbors have been fighting the burning of hazardous waste at TXI, blaming its toxic emissions for contributing to the health problems of the area’s animals and humans. But when Debbie Markwardt first met Sue Pope in 1990, she dismissed her as an alarmist.

Markwardt and her husband had bought their 23-acre spread in Ellis County that year to have space to raise their Dobermans, which then numbered 20, she said. “We wanted plenty of room so that the dogs wouldn’t disturb our neighbors.” The first thing they noticed about the sprawling compound of buildings across the road, she said, was the smell. “It was chemical, and it changed. Sometimes it smelled like sulphur; other times it was sharp and made your eyes water.” They also noticed the huge plumes of white smoke coming from the stacks, often at night. “We went over and asked the plant manager about it,” she said, “and we were told not to worry, that the smoke was just steam. Nothing but steam, and the smells were just part of the production process ... wouldn’t hurt us.

“So, when I met Sue and she told me that she raised horses and that they were having fertility problems, they couldn’t breed, and she believed it was the plant [TXI], I blew her off.”

In less than a year, Markwardt and Booth were having their own animal problems. First, there were the severe skin diseases, and then cancers began to show up in four-year-old dogs. Pups’ teeth rotted out; other dogs didn’t grow. Some developed malignant knots on their legs. The females began to miscarry or deliver whole litters of stillborn pups; others had pups with deformed genitals or no feet. “We had to put down so many of the dogs,” she said, “because there was nothing the vets could do for them.”

Within a few years, Cecil’s own health problems had become much more severe.

By then Markwardt had joined Downwinders, which had been organized by Sue Pope and Schermbeck in 1991. The year before, the Popes discovered that the cement plant, which had provided good jobs for Midlothian and the area for 30 years, had been burning hazardous waste as a fuel for three years without the community’s knowledge or input.

“I was stunned,” Pope said recently, in a telephone interview from her home. Pope discovered that hazardous wastes were being burned when she was invited to a meeting of a few neighbors who had uncovered that information after they and their children began having inexplicable health problems. One schoolteacher was alarmed because so many children in her classes had headaches and nosebleeds, Pope said. “Someone got the plant’s permits, and there it was.” The group, mostly women, began a long crusade to stop the practice, a quest that led them to publicize the pollution produced by other major plants in the area — North Texas Cement and Holcim (formerly Holnam) Cement, Chaparral Steel, and Owen Corning Glass, among the worst.

The Downwinders did their homework. The emissions from the plants’ stacks, they believed, were likely the cause of their worsening health problems — which included autoimmune system diseases, fertility problems, increases in cancer, and increases in upper respiratory disorders.

Seven of Pope’s neighbors in the small rural area where she lives are ill with or have already died from brain cancer, she said.

Sue Pope is now 62 and her husband is 70. They had moved onto their property — 70 wooded acres with a creek just outside of Midlothian, near her family’s farm — in 1971 to raise and breed horses. Their place sits downwind, she said, from all three of the cement plants.

By 1991, she said, her previously healthy horses were having multiple problems. They quit breeding; when the mares did get pregnant, they would deliver stillborn or badly deformed foals. Some developed cancer. “We had never had those problems before,” she said. “And the vet couldn’t explain it.” Then she developed lupus and Ralph developed prostate cancer and heart disease. Today they no longer breed the horses, she said. “I just take care of the ones that are left.” She still attends hearings and testifies when needed, she said, “but I’m no longer the point of the spear.”

When she started her crusade, she never thought it would drag on for decades. “I was naïve. I still thought that all we had to do was get the evidence together, go to the state and tell them what was happening, and they would put a stop to it. That’s what they were supposed to do, wasn’t it? Boy, did I get fooled. I didn’t understand the politics of it all.”

Her first lesson in Texas politics came in 1995. That year TXI requested a permit to double the amount of hazardous waste it could burn in its kilns. Then-Gov. George Bush had just appointed Ralph Marquez, a 30-year employee of chemicals giant Monsanto to head the state environmental agency, which until this year was named the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC). In 1994, Marquez had been a paid consultant for Texas Industries, where one of his jobs had been to organize citizen tours of the plant to show them how safe it was.

During the hearing process, which dragged on for several years, Downwinders requested that Marquez recuse himself from voting on TXI’s hazardous waste permit, which he initially agreed to do. At the final hearing in 1999, Marquez reneged, however, and voted with the two other Bush appointees to grant TXI its permit.

Downwinders sued. Earlier this year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state had erred in several instances, not the least of which was its argument that citizens didn’t have the right to appeal a state agency decision. The high court called that argument “ludicrous” and sent the case back to a lower court where it’s waiting — again — to be heard.

Schermbeck, now a filmmaker in Lubbock, calls Pope and her troops a band of hardy Texas women who hung in there for years battling the multinationals that pollute the local air.

“We felt vindicated,” Pope said. “But we’re still getting sick and dying.”

Schermbeck, who headed up Downwinders for about a decade, and others think relief may still be far in the future. Last year the group began lobbying TNRCC to get Gov. Rick Perry to ask the EPA to re-designate Ellis County as a non-attainment area.

A letter to the group from then-TNRCC executive director Jeffery A. Saitas on March 19, 2002, squelched that thought. He wrote that while he agreed that Ellis County had indeed exceeded ozone standards for four years, he was not going to recommend that the governor redesignate Ellis County as in non-attainment “at this time.” Because EPA is about to change the standards by which ozone is measured, Saitas said, “it would be more prudent” to wait to see if the county would still be in violation under the new rules. It will be April 2004, however, before EPA announces which counties are in non-attainment under the new standard, which means Ellis County just got some more breathing room, so to speak.

TNRCC, of course, has been feeling the pressure from TXI as well as from environmentalists, through the years. When Texas’ most recent smog-reduction plan, adopted by TNRCC in 1999, required cement plan emissions to be cut by 30 percent, TXI and another cement company sued. (Even that 30 percent was a compromise made by the agency under pressure from cement plants; the original plan called for a 50 percent reduction.)

The companies claimed that the stricter emissions requirements would have meant their obsolete kilns must be replaced, an expense they couldn’t afford. Basically, TXI argued that if the state would let it add 2 million to 5 million tires to its hazardous waste mix, it would install “new technology” that would reduce nitrogen oxides emissions by 30 percent or more — but the company did not want to be held to that standard by law. It could meet it voluntarily, if the state would just kick in some funds to underwrite the technology.

In August, the agency agreed to rewrite the cement kiln rules to let TXI and Cemex — a Mexico-based company with a plant in New Braunfels — off the hook. The agency gave both plants permission to burn tires and funded both plants’ new tire-burning technology to the tune of $2 million each. And the agreement expressly relieves the companies of meeting any designated percentage reductions.

TXI/Midlothian will be only the second plant in the country to mix burning tires with hazardous waste, environmentalist Katy Hubener said. “The agreement will let them burn anywhere from 2 [million] to 5 million tires, in their toxic soup,” said the director of Blue Skies Alliance, a coalition of clean-air groups based in Duncanville that is fighting the burning of hazardous waste in the cement kilns of TXI and working to bring Ellis County and its industries into compliance with the Clean Air Act. “This was totally irresponsible,” she said.

Not only does the tire deal subsidize TXI’s energy costs, Hubener pointed out, but “the state created a pollution loophole for cement companies to walk through. If the law is going to work, it’s got to be mandatory for everyone.”

Kerri Rowland, the TCEQ attorney who negotiated the agreement, said it is a good deal. “I don’t feel like the state gave up very much,” she said. “We’re much more likely to get good compliance out of [the companies], because they didn’t leave the table unhappy.” What the state wants, she said is “compliance.” When companies leave the negotiating table unhappy, she said, “they try to get around the rules more.”

“That kind of thinking is what we’re up against,” Hubener said with a sigh. “TXI has already gotten around the rules. The rules were written for a very sound reason, to clean up the air. But the state caved when TXI sued. It’s the role of the state to enforce the rules, not to negotiate ways around them in order to keep the polluters happy.”

TXI, she said, has also gotten around the rules governing hazardous waste-burners. “All we’re asking is that they be made to comply with the same rules as everyone else, put in all the proper pollution controls, whether they’re burning tires or haz-waste. ... But the state’s way is to walk softly and carry a big inhaler.”

The really unconscionable thing about the whole cement business in Texas, Schermbeck said, is the fact that the technology to clean up these plants is available and being used successfully by 18 plants in Europe and at least one in the U.S. Ironically, two of those plants are owned by Holcim, one of Midlothian’s heaviest polluters.

The technology reduces nitrogen oxides emissions by 80 percent, Schermbeck said, but Holcim withheld that information from the state when it built a new plant in Midlothian. Under the Texas Clean Air Act, any new industrial plants or additions to existing plants must install “state-of-the-art-technology” to reduce toxic emissions.

Even worse, he said, the state knew Holcim was withholding the information. Through an open records request on the Holcim permit, Schermbeck found a memo from TNRCC employee Eddie Mack that detailed the state’s prior knowledge of the advanced technology before it granted Holcim a permit that allowed the company to double its capacity.

“We’re going to be raked over the coals for this,” Mack said in the memo. “This may mean that [Holcim] has to install state-of-the-art controls, since the technology they’re using isn’t getting close to their represented emission rates.”

Mack was out of the office and unavailable for comment.

Despite the efforts of the Downwinders and the Blue Skies Alliance, TXI is burning more hazardous waste than when the fight began — not counting the millions of tires that will now be burned each year.

Those tires scare Pope. “There have been no test burns with this technology,” she said. “There’s no way on God’s green earth to know what will be in those emissions.”

Rex Coffman, environmental manager for TXI, said that the technology for the tire burning is “state-of-the-art.”

According to TCEQ documents, the technology involves a pneumatic gun that will shoot tires into the kilns at a rate of four to five tires per minute per kiln. The tires explode and burn in temperatures of up to 3800 degrees.

The process is designed to reduce nitrogen oxides emissions dramatically, Coffman said, “by a secondary combustion process in the kiln that will treat the NOx (nitrogen oxides) before it goes out the stack.” The heat in the kiln will burn the tires quickly and completely. “There will be no uncontrolled burns like you see on tv, with black smoke billowing everywhere.” The manufacturer of the gun claims a nitrogen oxides reduction rate of 50 percent with the tire-shooting technology.

“Guns and kilns, only in Texas,” Hubener said. The worst thing about the agreement, she said, “is that there is no requirement from the state that TXI show it’s actually reducing its emissions by any percentage. ...The installation of the equipment — with its manufacturer’s promise that it could do the job — is all the agreement requires.”

Still, Coffman said it’s a “win-win” for the company and the environment. There are more than 12 million tires the state must dispose of, he said, and that figure is growing. “Something has to be done with them. This is a great idea.”

TXI will not burn tires full-scale until the TCEQ commisioners meet this winter to formally amend the plant’s permit. Hubener said the company has conducted a few burns since August. “Unfortunately, or maybe conveniently,” she said, at the time of the burns, the TCEQ Arlington office’s real-time monitor which picks up emissions as they leave the plants’ stacks, was down.

Osborne, the former Midlothian mayor who now manages communications and government affairs for TXI, said that the new technology for the tire-burning is just a continuation of TXI’s commitment to the environment. He scoffs at accusations that TXI is the cause of health problems or diseases in area residents or their animals. “I’ve told Sue Pope and others to bring me proof, scientific or medical proof, to substantiate such claims and I’ll be the one to lead their cause,” he said. “But no one yet has come forward with any proof that this cement plant is the cause of their health problems.”

Those with respiratory problems should look elsewhere, perhaps to Midlothian’s location along an escarpment covered with cedar trees, Osborne said. “Cedar causes problems for people with allergies, and we have an excess of it around here,” he said. “That’s the more likely cause of any respiratory illnesses here.”

Osborne has lived in the area since 1972, he said, and is “very comfortable living here.” He pointed out that he and his wife reared three children in Midlothian “and we’re all very healthy.”

TXI is in compliance with all of its permits, Osborne said, and is not a major contributor to the ozone problems of Dallas and Fort Worth. Any ozone contributed by Ellis County to those cities’ non-attainment status under the Clean Air Act, he said, comes from the thousands of local residents who commute to the two cities to work. “Maybe we should be doing something to look at that problem here in Midlothian, but you can’t just tell people they can’t drive their cars ... not in Texas, you can’t.”

As for Debbie Markwardt, she plans to stay on her place and take care of the animals she has left — and continue the fight. Booth’s death has made her more determined. “I can’t say that the plant alone caused Cecil’s death,” Markwardt said. “He smoked, and that was bad, but I’ll always believe that all the poisons coming out of those smokestacks contributed to his death. When we moved here, except for his CMT, he was healthy. The stuff they emit damages your immune system. It weakened Cecil’s and shortened his life. No one can make me believe any different.

“Just two nights before he died, TXI released one of the largest emissions in its history. I checked on that as soon as I got home from the funeral, but I really didn’t have to. I was up late that night — and I could smell it.”

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