HOUSTON – It was the evening of Aug. 30 when residents of Brunswick Lakes said a thick, smoky haze took over their neighborhood.
“It actually looked like this neighborhood was on fire,” said Kimberley Bell, who recorded cell phone video of the incident.
Bell and other neighbors drove around the corner to investigate the source.
“I saw a guy in a full hazmat, just blowing the dust,” Bell said.
The man was working on the nearby Campbell Concrete site on Schurmier Road, just across the street from the back of the subdivision.
“The smog or whatever it was that I was breathing in was so heavy on my chest (that) I had to use my inhaler. I used my nasal spray just to try to get it out of my lungs,” said homeowner Victoria Wiltz.
In a statement to KPRC 2, a spokesperson for Lehigh Hanson, the parent company of Campbell Concrete, blamed the incident on a cleaning service.
“Campbell Concrete routinely employs third-party cleaning services to perform street cleaning and sweeping. In this case, the company we hired did not follow our standard protocol for cleaning, and the situation was quickly addressed once we were made aware of it,” said Jeff Sieg, director of corporate communications for Lehigh Hanson.
But residents said that wasn’t the first time they had experienced heavy dust from the plant.
“When the wind blows from the north, it blows all the sediment that they’re supposed to be watering down all across the street into the other neighborhoods back here. And when it rolls from the northeast it blows this way. You can tell it’s something that shouldn’t be there in the air. It’s hard to breathe,” said Jewel Butler.
Other neighbors said the concrete dust regularly accumulates in their homes and on their vehicles.
“We sent the pictures into Harris County to show how much dust accumulated on our truck within a few days because of the company there,” said Marlys Harrison.
Campbell Concrete’s compliance history with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality shows a “satisfactory” classification for the company as a whole and is classified as “high” for the site on Schurmier Road.
But in June and August, Harris County Pollution Control referred several cases against the plant to the Harris County Attorney’s Office, citing air and water violations.
In a statement to KPRC 2, a spokesperson for Harris County Attorney, Christian Menefee, wrote:
“Our office is aware of potential violations regarding Campbell Concrete. We are working to develop a plan to address these issues and bring the facility into compliance. "
The company’s spokesman said it believes the plant is in “substantial compliance” as it relates to the air permit.
“We are continuing to work with the county to address their concerns, but we believe there are no environmental implications and the issues relate primarily to the interpretation of technical matters. The Campbell Concrete plant in Pearland has a long-standing history of being a safe and responsible operator and is committed to being a good neighbor. We welcome the opportunity to answer any questions or address any concerns from area residents,” Sieg said.
Just a week before the Aug. 30 incident, residents got a public notice from the TCEQ alerting them that Campbell Concrete’s air permit was up for renewal. After the incident, homeowners galvanized their efforts, writing the state in hopes that their concerns are heard.
The public comment period closed on Sept. 7. TCEQ said all public comments will be taken into consideration before a final decision is made on the application for renewal.