About Air and Water

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Autism and air quality - transportation planning and health risk implications

by Faith Chatham
Beth Dawson, a resident of Red Oak, penned a letter to the editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light. Her letter is the second one which has come to me this week mentioning the link between autism and air pollution in this region.
I recommend that Mr. Pitts and his colleagues consider fining the coal plants that populate our county for every carcinogen and pollutant they have contaminated our air and water sources with. These fines can be used to fund the increase in special education teachers that the public schools need. It is a well known fact that the mercury produced as a by-product of coal, deposited into our main water source through relaxed regulations and fines, and consumed by U.S., is directly related to the exponential increase in autism we have seen in the Central Texas area. These fines would hopefully also serve to reduce the contaminants released into our water system, freeing up more potable water.If these fines were comparable to the damage these plants have done to our health,they would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
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Environmental writer, Steve Blair sent me an message last week after he attended the NCTCOG's RTC public meeting in Arlington. Steve is one of the most stimulating, intellectual deep thinkers I know. When there is a room of folks discussing policy, invariably Steve will identify a very important element which has totally escaped the rest of us. Last week most of us spoke of toll fees, public access to the planning process and the need for rail to help curtail air pollution in this region. Several speakers at the RTC public meeting stated that pouring more concrete to put more cars on the road will not solve our air quality problems.

Steve Blair listened and took it a step farther. He wrote:
As you know, I tend to think in more holistic terms. Who else might see a relation between the Toll Roads and Autism? And I understand that such a relationship is still years from practical impact (especially since there are two sources of the pollutants which might cause autism -- fixed site and mobile site).

What is particularly frustrating for me personally on these issues is the lag between scientific research and the theory that is likely to evolve. But such a lag has antecedents in many fields, e.g. aerodynamics, physics, optics, architecture, even painting, etc.

Beth Dawson and Steve Blair are looking beneath the immediate delimma and identifying links which current policy needs to address. Even though the science may be less than perfect on linking the problems, the impact is still taking delibating toll on increasing numbers of individuals and their entire familes.

This region is not expected to reach EPA air quality attainment standards by 2010. Current plans for 675 miles of new toll roads in the region, attraction of thousands of visitors to events in the region, and escalation of gas drilling with no environmental restrictions on the emmissions their generators pump into our already polluted air are not moving us closer to reaching satisfactory air quality.

Highway engineers have controlled the transportation dollars and plans in Texas much too long. Witness after witness testified in Austin this spring at Transportation Committee Meetings, presenting evidence of TXDOT being out of control. That agency comes before Sunset Review when the Legislature convenes for the next session. This is an ideal opportunity to rethink transportation in Texas, decide what skill set we need for transportation planners, and truly get serious about creating a workable transportation plan for this state.

Legislators need to stop pandering to the public with offers of three month suspension of the gas tax and use some of the tools the state has to check run-away price gouging energy producers. Instead of shifting funding of vital transportation (and air quality) infrastructure into toll roads, they must get serious about solving this states transportation funding crisis. Tolls are merely a less inflammatory way to say tax. Tolls or taxes, we have to pay for necessary upgrades to existing infrastructure and vitally needed new transportation projects some way. It is important that politicians stop avoiding responsiblity by calling tolls user fees while bragging about lowering taxes.

In the DFW region there are plans to add managed lanes to existing state highways instead of increasing capacity with gas tax and bond money. However, that is a misleading statement. When we examine the funding of many CDA (Private public partnerships) and NTTA toll projects, we discover that enormous amounts of gas tax and other state and federal and county and city tax money are going into these projects. Cintra, if allowed to build SH121 will benefit from over 700 million dollars in Texas tax funding, over $700 million in Federal TEA 21 funding, and $6.2 billlion in federal tax exempt bonds!

We must hold our elected officials accountable for failing to honestly address transportation funding. Toll roads are the most expensive way to build public infrastructure. Private partnerships for toll road construction is the most expensive way to build toll roads. Using surplus toll revenue to fund other transportation projects means that the citizens will pay higher than necessary toll fees to travel on state owned infrastructure.

We must pay for building roads and bridges and other transportation systems and because of rising costs, we'll have to pay more today than we did a decade or so ago. Policy makers must be held accountable for decisions which require taxpayers to pay more than is avoidable for access to public infrastructure. We also need solutions which will move people between work and home without requiring them to drive personal automobiles. We pay too much in loss of health, impaired cognitive ability, and medical costs plus loss of Federal funding through sanctions imposed for failing to meet clean air standards for a delay to be reasonable.

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Travel to other worlds ... UTA Planetarium

Immersive full-dome 3-D Digital planetarium show narrated by Ewan McGregor (Obi wan Kepobi from Star Wars) - Astronaut takes you exporing the worlds of inner and outer space. The movie is projected all around you. You recline in specially constructed chairs which enables you to comfortably view the immersive full-dome planetarium show. Astronaut! (produced from the National Space Centre in England) goes beyond the stereotypical space movie. Experience a rocket launch from inside the body of the astronaut. Float around the international Space Station moving thorugh the microscopic regions of the human body! Discover the beauty and perils as "Chad", the test astronaut experiences everything thrown at him.

Summer Schedule (June 2-August 26):


shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Wed. through Saturdays at 11 a.m.
and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

Cosmic CSI

shows at the UTA Planetarium 3-D Digital Dome.

Wed. through Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Rock Hall of Fame 1 (The Original)

shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Thursday at 8:00 p.m.

Read more (Warning their flat dull website doesn't give much of a glimmer of the multi-dimensional experience you'll have once you enter the dome of the UTA Planetarium!)

Admission: Adults: $5.00

Seniors, Students, Children: $4.00

UTA Faculty, Staff & Alumni (with ID): $3.00

UTA Studens (with ID): $2.00

Groups of 10 or more with reservation: $3.00

Call 817 272-1183 or e-mail planetarium@uta.edu