Tuesday night a group of Frisco citizens plan to demand the city council use a zoning tactic to close the Exide lead battery plant. The confrontation comes as Exide scrambles to meet government mandates to clean up toxic levels of lead. Shelley Kofler reports lead contamination was the last thing residents expected to find in this upscale community.
Last year Meghan Green had a toddler and was eight months pregnant when she and her husband joined other affluent families moving to Frisco.
Green: We sought Frisco out. We wanted a community that was family oriented, had exemplary school districts. Frisco was a no brainer.
At the time Meghan didn't know a lead battery recycling plant sits on some 200 acres in the middle of Frisco, one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Exide Technologies has been there since 1964, its smokestacks just visible above the treetops.
But then Green attended a homeowner meeting and heard about the state's blood testing of Frisco children. This August health officials checking for lead poisoning reported no levels of concern, but Green herself was worried. Lead can affect a child's physical and mental development.
Green: I got on the computer and I googled and couldn't believe what I found. There's a lead smelter emitting, averaging two tons of lead a year. And it's not just the lead it's cadmium and all sorts of arsenic.
Green learned state and federal regulatory agencies have recently cited Exide for lead contamination in the soil and water on the plant site and in nearby Stewart Creek. The federal EPA declared the air in a part of Frisco unhealthy to breathe because it contains too much lead to meet new clean air requirements.
Exide Spokesperson Susan Jaramillo says her company will do what it takes to clean up the air and pollution.
Jaramillo: I'm confident that we can meet and exceed the requirements that are put on us.
But Green says that's not enough.
Green: Any lead production that can be stopped today is a benefit to my children. Absolutely, I want Exide gone.
That's the goal of Frisco Unleaded, a new citizens' group Meghan Green has joined. Shiby Matthew is one of the group leaders.
Matthew: There is no safe levels of lead.
Four times in the past year blood tests have found elevated levels of lead that no one can explain in both of Matthew's children.
Matthew: The reason I think it might be Exide is the wind and if you watch them on any day the smoke that comes out of their stacks and the direction it flows.
Matthew and Frisco Unleaded is demanding the City of Frisco use a zoning tactic known as amortization that shut down two of Dallas' lead battery plants in the 1980's.
If the City of Frisco decides Exide's activities do not conform to current zoning requirements, the city could initiate the complicated process and set a date in the future for the plant to stop operating.
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso says the city is considering the amortization process and some other options he wouldn't talk about.
Maso: Amortization is a process available to municipalities in Texas. It's not a simple process and not a guaranteed process. There are tools available to make sure they are the cleanest operating plant, and there are tools available if they're not that they become one. I'm not at liberty to elaborate on all of them.
It may or may not be one of those tools, but the city has so far refused to approve Exide's plans for upgrading its plant. Exide says it must make the improvements to meet EPA clean air requirements for staying in business. Exide's Susan Jaramillo says her company has informed Frisco it's prepared to go to court.
Jaramillo: We have legal rights to make our improvements. And if we need to we will recover damages from the city for any losses.
Frisco Unleaded member Meagan Green says her group is just as committed to pressuring city officials to get rid of the lead plant one way or another.
Green: In 2011 Frisco is no longer rural. It is not the place anymore for a lead smelter.