By Sona Chaudhary, Dallas Free Press
West Dallas shingle manufacturer GAF has been operating in West Dallas since 1946, but the company has been facing increasing pressure from residents concerned about the plant’s impact on neighborhood air quality and their health. Now, GAF is negotiating their exit strategy, but they haven’t kept residents informed.
Last summer, GAF announced they would voluntarily cease operations at the plant and leave by July 29, 2029. Masterplan, a company hired by GAF to push its rezoning plan through the City of Dallas process, kicked off a series of public meetings starting in November 2022. The meetings were anticipated to run through May 2023 with the goal of bringing a community-informed plan for future uses of GAF’s 26-acre site to Dallas’ City Plan Commission then City Council. This plan would be enforced by changing the land’s zoning so that it would disallow certain uses by the future property owner.
Masterplan announced a series of six community meetings. The second took place at the end of January to talk about the GAF plant’s emissions.
Since then, all future meeting dates were removed from Masterplan’s site and are listed as “TBD.”
“There will be additional meetings at later dates, but those dates aren’t set as of now, and there is no date for this case to go to the City Plan Commission,” says West Dallas Plan Commissioner Deborah Carpenter, referring to GAF’s rezoning application. “The plan at this point is for me to get with the applicant’s zoning representatives [Masterplan] and work on Specific Use Permit conditions [disallowing certain uses of the property] that can be brought back to the community.”
In previous meetings, residents have been vocal about wanting GAF to leave sooner than 2029. They also want reassurance that the future use of GAF’s property will be something desirable for current neighbors.
But while GAF has canceled public meetings for the time being, they have been meeting privately with several organizations and community members in West Dallas. West Dallas 1, a coalition of West Dallas neighborhood associations, has been part of these more exclusive conversations and is hosting its own public meetings with the goal of informing neighbors and amplifying more residents’ voices.
West Dallas 1 launches community education series
West Dallas 1 kicked off its Community Education Series on April 17 with a public meeting about environmental justice topics in West Dallas, focusing on air quality and the new paradigm around negotiating with GAF.
“For full transparency, one of the reasons we’re having this education series is because I think y’all would want to know what’s going on step by step,” West Dallas 1 president Raul Reyes told the group of 20 or so gathered.
Reyes shared that various community groups were working on proposals for the future of the GAF site, and that West Dallas 1 wanted to be proactive about fielding community input before creating its own proposal. Their aim is to speak on behalf of West Dallas neighbors and not just their organization, he said.
Reyes says West Dallas 1’s goals are to follow up on the timeline GAF has given for its exit, work toward GAF reducing actual emissions as much as possible for as long as they continue to operate in West Dallas, and make explicit GAF’s responsibility to remediating their land.
Wendi Hammond, an attorney with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, gave a presentation at the meeting clarifying some of the concerns with GAF.
GAF’s exit timeline is the same – for now
GAF has told West Dallas 1 that there are no changes to the exit timeline they shared in November.
According to this timeline, GAF should have completed their search for a new site and started infrastructure improvements, design and engineering processes, as well as obtained permits to use that land. GAF told West Dallas 1 that they had a site but wouldn’t disclose where, and did not share what phases of site preparation they had completed.
Their timeline also said shingle production would start at the new facility in 2027, at which point they would start to reduce production at the West Dallas facility until ceasing completely in 2029. Hammond said Legal Aid of Northwest Texas is investigating if GAF truly needs two years to stop using the old plant, or if that can happen sooner.
GAF’s emissions volume may still be an issue
GAF is one of West Dallas’ biggest sources of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter pollution, both of which can harm people’s lungs. It used to be classified by EPA as a major source for air pollution, which meant it needed a Title V federal operating permit.
In 2022, GAF hired a third party to sample gas streams from different parts of their facility, which found a significant reduction in emissions volume. They were then reclassified as a minor source of air pollution and replaced their Title V permit — overseen by the EPA —with a state permit — overseen by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. This comes with fewer reporting requirements.
Hammond noted that between now and 2029, it’s possible that national air quality standards could change. For example, if the threshold for particulate matter is revised and lowered, then GAF might be classified as a major source of pollution again. That might require GAF to reapply for a Title V operating permit and undergo a public hearing process, which could impact their exit timeline.
Additionally, GAF said it had stopped using one of its manufacturing lines in 2017, removing a significant contributor to the plant’s emissions volume.
However, according to GAF’s self-reported emissions estimates, the facility emitted more particulate matter in 2020 and 2021 than 2016, even though they were no longer using one production line. Legal Aid of Northwest Texas has been analyzing GAF’s emissions data and investigating why these increases happened.
“It looks like their air emissions reduction is only on paper,” Hammond said at the West Dallas 1 meeting.
Residents want to know GAF will remediate its land
Land needs to meet certain standards for certain uses. GAF has verbally agreed to investigate and remediate any contamination found on its property so that commercial buildings and residential homes can be constructed there.
West Dallas 1 and other community groups want to negotiate a more explicit remediation plan to ensure the land can be used for something that benefits the community after GAF leaves.
“When we amortized the RSR plant, the only thing I’ve seen there is a 7-Eleven at the corner of Westmoreland and Singleton. That’s all we got. Because they were amortized, they left; EPA came and did their clean up,” said Reyes, referring to the RSR Corporation Superfund site that had been contaminated with lead. “Other than that, I don’t think there’s anything else you can build on that land.”
Brandon Mogan, the president of environmental advisory group Tora Consulting, led GAF’s last public meeting on the topic of emissions. He addressed GAF’s commitment to remediation:
“Pursuant to the [rezoning proposal], GAF will begin a remedial investigation before final shutdown so that we can be prepared to undertake any necessary cleanup shortly after shutdown. The first steps will likely be decommissioning and demolition of some or all of the site structures.
“A remediation plan will be developed depending upon the findings of the remedial investigation and the site will be remediated to the standards that will allow for future mixed use development.”
West Dallas community groups plan to meet again with GAF later this month.
While GAF may not revive its public meeting series, neighbors can subscribe to West Dallas 1’s newsletter or watch their website to stay informed about GAF’s exit from West Dallas. The next meeting in West Dallas 1’s Community Education Series will be on May 15 from 6 pm – 8 pm at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center.