Months of advocacy by a group of Southside residents have paid off after Texas environmental regulators installed an air quality monitor in an area that’s seen a boom in mining for fracking sand.

Last month, the device installed at the Mission City Soccer Complex at 2600 Red Hill Lane began monitoring the air in the vicinity, which is also home to Southside Independent School District’s Matthey Middle School.

The monitor’s installation by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) came seven months after a meeting with a half-dozen Southside residents and TCEQ officials. State Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio) organized the face-to-face session at Palo Alto College in response to the proliferation of frack sand mines and other industrial sites in South Bexar County.

“I’m just so glad we were able to get the location there,” Pacheco told the Rivard Report Wednesday. “You’ve got hundreds of children attending school there, and there’s clouds of dust.”

At the September meeting, Pacheco and others blasted the TCEQ for not cracking down harder on sand companies that spread “very fine, fine dust” like talcum powder around South Side neighborhoods. Pacheco and residents have been concerned that the dust from all the sand mines will eventually add up to breathing problems, especially in children’s lungs.

“It has a cement smell,” Pacheco said then. “I’ve done cement work around the house. I can actually taste a cement smell in my mouth and nostrils.”

The new monitor collects data on weather conditions and fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, said Brian McGovern, a TCEQ spokesman, in an email. Data collection began on May 20, he said.

“The data can be used to evaluate the overall air quality impacts of sand mining activity in the area,” McGovern said. The data can be used to determine if the air meets federal standards meant to protect the general public’s health.

Jessica Hardy, organizer of grassroots group Not Just Dust-Bruce Road, told the Rivard Report in a November interview that her group and a sister chapter in Atascosa County around five years ago began banding together to advocate for better protections against sand mines.

“We’re not against the sand mines,” Hardy said. “We’re for them operating in a neighborhood-friendly way, to have further setbacks, and to operate more cleanly for the environment.”

At the meeting, TCEQ field operations director Susan Jablonski told the residents that sand mines, quarries, and other similar sites known as aggregate production operations are drawing more scrutiny from the Texas Legislature.

“It’s an issue all around Central Texas,” Jablonski said. “And they either have existed and neighborhoods are moving close to them, or in this scenario, they’re where neighborhoods are.”

Payments to build the monitoring site came from Bexar County, which included $18,000 in its 2019-2020 budget to build fencing and supply power, according to Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez, who pushed for the funding during County budget talks.

Pacheco on Wednesday said he hopes residents see that speaking up on such issues can yield results.

“I think it’s important to them to see that when they call their elected officials and we advocate for them and they advocate for themselves also, that positive change can happen,” Pacheco said.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.