Steve Menchaca crouched in front of his driveway and let the fine sand sift through his fingers.
The stuff accumulating in Menchaca’s yard, covering his car and hot tub, and coating his sidewalk, is more like dust than beach sand, he said.
“Sometimes I’m sitting on my patio and you can see clouds of it rolling in,” Menchaca said. “The trucks kick it up when they come in and out of the driveway right across the street. It gets all over the place and you never know when they will come. Sometimes they come 20 trucks at a time. I don’t think anyone would like it.”
In 2008, a company that distributes sand to oil and gas drillers took over the plant across the street from Menchaca’s house in the 4000 block of Fontaine Street in north Fort Worth. Since then, the homeowners have had problems with sand covering their property, Menchaca said. The plant was previously used by a grain distribution and storage business, he said.
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The original distribution company, TexSand Distributors, was later purchased by Maalt Transport.
Jimmy Castillo, plant manager at Maalt Transport, said blowers that clean the trucks before they are dispatched are in constant use and a street sweeper is employed once a week.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Castillo said. “We want to make sure we take care of the neighborhood. It costs about $600 every time that street sweeper comes through and we are the only company that I’m aware of that uses one of them.”
Menchaca filed his first complaint with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2008, when the plant was owned by TexSand, according to a Star-Telegram article in November 2009.
No nuisance violations were confirmed, but the plant’s owner acknowledged that “we are aware of the problem and are fixing it.”
After Menchaca complained again to the TCEQ in March 2011, investigators concluded that while Maalt was not emitting sand or dust at a nuisance level, the company was in violation of several rules, according to TCEQ records.
A notice of violation was issued for a failure to immediately clean up an accumulation of sand, and the company appears to have dealt with the problem, according to a TCEQ official.
Fort Worth inspectors found a number of violations while responding to a March 2011 complaint, according to an email from the city. The listed violations included a failure to immediately clean spills and sand accumulations, a failure to maintain daily road maintenance records for dust control and a failure to maintain all of the abatement system’s repair records, the email said.
The city inspected the plant again in August 2011 and found that all the violations had been addressed, the city said. City inspectors made nine plant visits in 2011 and noted that sand was going into the street. The plant remedied that and other violations and the investigation was closed, the city said.
The last complaint about the plant was recorded in January 2012 and a violation notice was issued. The plant developed a compliance plan that addressed the violations. City inspectors made eight unannounced plant visits in 2012 but have not received any further complaints, the email from the city said.
Menchaca said he is weary of arguing with company officials but cannot stop fighting. He said he moved into his house in 1976 when he was 23 and has been working to improve its value ever since. Menchaca and his wife raised three daughters there, and their grandchildren often visit.
“As you can see I’ve got a nice little house here,” Menchaca said. “I’ve put a lot of money into it and I’ve got it fixed up real pretty. But I can’t enjoy it.”
Concerned about health
Menchaca also expressed concerns about the health effects of breathing in the sand. He said he is most concerned about developing silicosis, which can be caused by intense exposure to silica dust, a component in sand.
Environmental exposures of silicosis tend to be less common than occupational exposures, which can come in jobs such as sandblasting and mining, experts say.
But residential cases are not unheard of, said Robert Cohen, director of the black lung clinic at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. Fine silica dust is also a known cancer-causing agent, Cohen said.
“If people have visible dust on their kitchen countertops and they are wiping it off their cars in the morning, then there is likely to be some exposure,” Cohen said. “I would say that is the basis for some concern.”
Sally Burns, Menchaca’s next-door neighbor, lives with a 27-year-old asthmatic granddaughter who rarely goes outside, Burns said.
“When the wind is blowing she can’t come outside because she can’t breathe,” Burns said. “She has to sit inside with the window closed all day.”
Menchaca said he does not want to be a nag, cost people their jobs or be a bad guy. He just wants to live in peace.
“I don’t understand,” Menchaca said. “If you throw a piece of paper out of your car and a cop sees it, you get a ticket for littering. Why can’t they do anything about a company that’s dumping a ton of sand on the street? I just want them to keep their sand to themselves.”