School Workers as Well as School Children Exposed to Lead in Texas

Ideas and Issues
Pictured, left to right, Retired Workers Thomas Taylor, Doris Taylor, Kenneth Morgan and William Morgan. Photo Credit Kenneth Stretcher
Pictured, left to right, Retired Workers Thomas Taylor, Doris Taylor, Kenneth Morgan and William Morgan. Photo Credit Kenneth Stretcher

New Orleans    The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) had acquired the old Proctor & Gamble soap manufacturing plant relatively speaking for a song. A big, hulking highly visible building on Lamar Street near downtown, the facility became a multi-purpose center for odds and ends of the district large and small. The district is now shuttering the building because they have found lead, mercury, and other heavy metals. In speaking to Channel 5 TV, Dallas ISD spokesman Andre Riley said “the district is not sure what caused the contamination at the 95-year-old building.” We can only imagine!

United Labor Unions Local 100 represents workers from bus drivers to custodians to food service workers throughout Dallas County. They are reading the reports from this building very closely, as well as the reports from Flint, Newark, and around the country where schools have been found to have lead and other chemicals in the water in old buildings. In Texas there is no requirement that schools test the water, so workers are likely to find parents joining them in making demands to assure the water is safe to drink, but our members, both working and retired, are now also worried about whether the conditions and lack of safeguards may have already been damaging to them.

Kenneth Stretcher, Local 100’s longtime organizer in Dallas, met with ten retired DISD workers this week who had worked in the old P&G plant who were vocal on these issues. Though the district has promised that it would provide and pay for blood tests for any workers concerned, there has been no follow-up to implement this promise with current or former workers. Local 100 has also been joining hands with community organizations working in the area of the old plant who are working with the medical school to provide blood tests in the community, and they may step in where the district has been slow to act.

The problems in this building are hardly new. A Texas State Libraries story talking conditions in the building in the 1990s said “the records center was located on the sixth floor of an old Proctor and Gamble soap factory…the conditions were less than favorable for storing records: the floor contained standing water, birds were in flight, and some boxes were held together by mold. Additionally, a variety of wildlife had nested in the containers….” And, they weren’t even thinking about the conditions or their impact on health and safety for the workers.

This will be a big campaign in Dallas, but it also been a wakeup call for Local 100. We are now moving to set up a system to collect soil samples on schools where our members work throughout Houston and Dallas. Obviously, we will join with the community to demand testing of the water quality especially in the older facilities. We are expanding such tests to our health facilities in Louisiana and state facilities in Arkansas where we have members as well. We are reaching out for help to university partners who have state-of-the-art testing equipment.

It was shocking recently to read that OSHA has issued almost no new rules during the seven years of the Obama Administration. Where were they on this lead and heavy metals assault on workers in public and private?