Frisco Shut Down its Exide Plant, but It May Keep the Waste as a "Community Asset"

Categories: Environment

Scott King
An old Exide battery
While other upscale suburbs are known for having clean air and being far from dirty factories, Frisco went against the grain. The affluent north Texas suburb last year had the distinct honor of being one of only 21 areas in the United States that failed federal air quality standards for lead, thanks to the Exide battery recycling smelter in town.

After lots of violations from the state and heavy campaigning by grassroots environmental group Downwinders at Risk, Exide finally shut the smelter down last year. But while the smelter is closed, all of the toxic, contaminated soil left behind from the plant might be staying in the Frisco for good, in a permanent toxic waste dump. The landfill would be upstream from Frisco's planned Grand Park and above groundwater that flows into the Stewart Creek.

"This type of metal waste can be fairly straight forwardly contained and made into a community asset, rather than being a fenced off hazardous waste landfill," Frisco's Austin-based environmental attorney Kerry Russell tells Unfair Park.

Russell made similar comments to The Dallas Morning News earlier this week, drawing criticism from Downwinders at Risk, which accuses Frisco officials of leaving the public out of the decision-making process.

"That's the first time they ever said out loud, 'Yes, we prefer the landfill option to hauling it away,'" Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck tells Unfair Park. "The city is on the wrong track, they're making a terrible decision, they're clearly in over their heads."

In a conference-call phone interview with Unfair Park, Frisco officials insist they haven't made a decision about clean-up yet, and that they have no power to decide where the waste will go. But they do have a chance to ask Exide to pay for the clean-up in bankruptcy court. And Downwinders points out that Frisco has so far only asked Exide for $20 million --enough to keep the waste in a toxic dump in Frisco but far from the $100 million or so needed to haul the waste away.

"I believe that Kerry, as the city's environmental lawyer, is going to recommend the on-site option but I don't know that for certain," Frisco's City Attorney Richard Abernathy tells Unfair Park. He adds that Frisco still has plenty of time to adjust how much money it wants to demand from Exide in court.

So is it smart to store that toxic waste in Frisco, a suburb with a creek that feeds into Lake Lewisville, parks and lots of homes? At least one expert we spoke with says no. "That doesn't strike me as being a terribly a good idea," says Dr. Bob Criss, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, speaking generally. Criss isn't familiar with the Exide plant specifically, but he has been studying landfills in Missouri. His research led him to the conclusion that hazardous waste landfills and residential areas don't mix. He recently found that Missouri's Westlake Landfill could contaminate the groundwater that feeds into the Mississippi River.

"There are geologically sensible places to put certain kinds of things, and distance from people and potential problems is an important one," he says. A licensed hazardous waste facility, out in an isolated area in the desert somewhere, is the kind of "geologically sensible" place that Frisco's local environmentalists would like to see the Exide waste go.

That preference is backed by a fair amount of research linking health problems to living in close proximity to a landfill. A 2002 study that found that women who live within two miles of a hazardous waste landfill have a 40 percent greater risk of having a baby with a chromosomal birth defect.

Another recent study (published in May) linked shortened lives in India to proximity to landfills.

Abernathy, the Frisco City Attorney, brushes off those studies. "Are you aware that in Texas, there are a number of landfills upon which significant construction has been built in urban areas?" he said. "It's not in India, it's in Texas, and they've done it successfully."

And Russell, Frisco's environment attorney, says that the contaminated soil left over from Exide is different, and impossible compare to other types of landfills. "You can't really just talk about landfills because that's a very different subject matter, as to the type of environmental concerns with the landfill ... this is a very different type of situation," he says. But he couldn't cite any environmental impact report commissioned by Frisco that might back that claim up. "No, there's no study on this, because this whole process is ongoing in the regulatory process," he says.

One of the major concerns of locals is that the Frisco waste contains lead, a vicious neurotoxin. "It is a nasty, nasty chemical, very poisonous, very toxic at low levels," explains Criss, the Wash U researcher.

But Schermbeck, from the Downwinders group, is no longer focusing so much on the public health aspect of the whole controversy. Instead, he says, he's now searching for an economist to study the effects that toxic waste dumps could have on home prices.

"The City Council might not care that much about public health, but they might care about destroying property values," he says.

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My Voice Nation Help

This is what separates us from them, though. We don't come to this website to have our minds changed, we already agree with what is being said and have since stumbled upon the website in our travels and in return frequent the webpage. The other audience doesn't have an opinion. Not yet, anyway. Maybe they haven't come into contact with marijuana and haven't had to cross that bridge.

Schultzy @


Let the Frisco council and all its lawyers etc build their houses and schools on the site. If it's so safe for the hoi polloi, it's safe for them too.


Containment methods work well and don't create all the airborne dust that digging and hauling do.  Don't let them create an airborne crisis by digging and hauling dirt.  It sucks, but it's the better of the 2 outcomes.

holmantx topcommenter

That site is nothing compared to the DALLAS Naval Air Station, which the city of Dallas owns.  What is the current situation with THAT one?  I know we've tried to sell it several times but no one will touch it since the EPA will make them clean it up.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Amy, please don't overlook the fact that the Exide plant was in compliance with the EPA regulations until the EPA lowered the allowable limits for lead emissions.  The City of Frisco then denied building permits to Exide there by preventing Exide from installing the equipment needed to be in compliance with the new lead emission limits.

Additionally, in the beginning, the City of Frisco actively solicited Exide to move to the current location.

Right now, I am sure that the debate is centering around how much the City of Frisco is willing to pay to remediate and close the site.


Next time don't build your house around an existing toxic landfill.


I think we should work to have  the Parts per million regulations fine tuned that what is seen as a Hazard today isn't a HAZARD anymore !

Problem solved ! 

Where is my check ?


the cost of dirty dirt aint cheap


@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul As a matter of fact we now know Exide was an outlaw smelter, continually breaking the law for decades and accumulating vast quantities of illegal hazardous waste on site. Look at their other facilities in the US right now and you see the same pattern of behavior. Other than that, great company!

The EPA lowered the lead limit for health reasons. Exide refused to put in the state of the art pollution controls citizens wanted. Knowing what we know now about how things were operating there, the smelter's closing is one of the biggest victories for public health in North Texas.

The money doesn't have to come from the city. The State has a battery fee imposed specifically to address problems at Exide collecting over $14 million a year, but it goes to the General Fund instead of Frisco for a clean-up. A single piece of state legislation could change that.

BTW the original facility was a zinc plant, not a lead smelter, so no. Frisco didn't recruit, although they certainly tuned a blind eye to its problems for a very long time.


@justsaying01 It'd be great if realtors were required to disclose the location of toxic facilities like lead smelters, but they don't. The smelter was originally located in the "black section" of Frisco, literally, on the other side of the tracks and in the middle of town. It was a bad idea to let the situation fester, but many, if not most residents of Frisco had no idea this kind of facility was doing business there.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@schermbeck @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  

Shermbeck, discussing items with you is like arguing with a brick wall.

Please go and review the public record.  Exide did apply to the City of Frisco for a building permit for facilities to meet the new emission standards.  The City of Frisco denied those permits.

Just because Exide did not want to install what the "public" wanted is hardly reason to deny the building permits.  Exide would have been responsible if air monitoring showed that the emission limits were being exceeded after the modifications, Exide would still have had the burden to install control measures to come into compliance with the emission standards.

Finally, the accumulation of wastes at the facility were not necessarily done illegally.  As hazardous waste rules have changed and evolved since the passage of RCRA and CERCLA, companies do have to have plans to close out waste facilities.

Since RCRA was passed in 1976, there was a massive shift in how hazardous waste was defined and handled.  Prior to the passage of RCRA, there really wasn't such a thing as an "illegal hazardous waste site".  Exide's burying of shredded battery cases on site would have been a standard practice prior to the passage and implementation of RCRA.

One common conundrum in closing hazardous waste sites is that excavating and transporting the hazardous wastes to a licensed facility may release a greater amount of hazardous waste than if the existing facility is capped and interceptor drains installed.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@schermbeck @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  

Shermbeck, are you capable of discussion?  Prior to 1976, there was no such thing as hazardous waste.  As far as your allegations of hazardous waste being stored in a non-hazardous waste landfill, that is the fault of Exide and TCEQ.

As far as excavate and transport versus cap in place, that is a difficult decision to make.

I really need to learn that it appears that you are incapable of discussion.

And I really don't want to discuss the number of Superfund Interim closure plans that I prepared and implemented.


@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @schermbeck

Well, let's see. Don't even have to talk about the Pre-RCRA "confusion," although lead has been a known toxic since about the year 1. Just talk about the 1998 "non-hazardous" waste landfill that's now full tens of thousands of tons of hazardous waste. Illegal hazardous waste. As defined by all those federal laws you cited. 

Exide wanted to install less than state-of-the-art equipment. Equipment that would have allowed a ton or more of lead to be released into the air every year at a time that we know there's no safe level of exposure to it. Quite revealing that your so dismissive of what the citizens who live near this outlaw polluter and their elected officials  "want." Work for industry much? They wanted the best. Exide wanted less than the best - at a time they were already under enforcement for violations dating back decades. Can't blame the city for holding out - and again, it was a crappy, illegal, mobile-home park-like excuse for a lead smelter that's well documented now from both inspections and whistle-blowers. 

And I'd really love for you to show me a risk assessment for Frisco that concludes keeping the waste next to Stewart Creek in a densely populated area that's only going to get denser, upstream of a source of drinking water for millions is less dangerous than sending the waste by truck or rail to an more isolated spot - or did you not read the advice from the independent scientifically-trained third party?

Brick Wall, they name is ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul.

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