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Toxic burden

Update: 2017-04-151
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At a time when environmental protections are under more threats than ever, Reveal visits minority communities facing toxic burdens.


Head over to revealnews.org for more of our reporting.


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from the Center for investigative reporting in PR next this is revealed now let's take a new book toxic environments week places where poisonous chemicals are so deadly they can devastate town to visit a few places like that this hour one thing they all have in common the people in these towns are overwhelmingly black brown and pour racists attitudes sheep winged creature conditions that polluting industries take advantage of the government neglects will start in Columbus Mississippi Arthur Parker lives just down the street from the field where factories to be he's had trouble with his back yard no crazy on that in the Dow with class am aware that he says many of the people on the street have been sick one neighbor Dan Hey Mr. Malone he cast and the dad made about four years ago the only straight ahead past the Parkers notice oily substance in the soil of their backyard and they weren't the only ones Sharon Lerner investigative reporter with the online news site The intercept with the Columbus to learn more about what was in the dirt Reverend Steve Jamison is the pastor of the Marin at the Faith Center Church not far from Arthur Parker's house in nineteen ninety nine Reverend Jamison began digging to secure the foundation to expand the church he came across a little gooey beads that bubbled up in the soil we realize that we could not get rid of this black jelly like substance between the what we saw it Reverend Jamison didn't know what the jelly looking staff was that there is a factory about a quarter mile down the road that belong to a company called Kerr McGee was a giant energy in chemical company is perhaps best known for operating a nuclear facility where Karen's silk was poisoned by plutonium Reverend Jamison had never seen the movie that Karen sock would and he didn't know what the plant made he called the factory and they sent a manager over who told him that whatever was in the dirt wasn't dangerous a few weeks later Kerr McGee Center cleanup crew to Reverend Jamison say when they came over the hill with back hoes and about fifty workers all dress and has me thinking that you just told me that this was not a bear probably would hurt me what you mean where has Mrs. that point am I stopped them and I'll owe you get involved in having us to her my keys lawyers got involved too and the company in the past or battled for years over what turned out to be Korea so crys sodas that are a mixture of more than two hundred chemical compounds the company had used for decades to coat railroad ties and a lot of it has seeped into the soil the EPA classifies Korea's there is a probable human carcinogen is also associated with a range of health problems including kidney and liver troubles and chemical burns while the court battle dragged on the spot where the pastor had remained open on the church property in two thousand and seven the city covered over with concrete after it was covered Koenig insisted that there is no Korea said on the property but Reverend Jamison wasn't convinced he had all the core of this process and said You're all we have been there probably is no crystal ball I kept in a serious isn't it great Reverend Jamison felt if he could look under the concrete he could prove there was still Korea so that in the soil so I said we have to have somebody else to make sure we can do this so he went from twenty of Jackson my name is Tina White and fifty eight years all time low shot African American lady the Tenney wait on the small environmental testing lab in Jackson she'd been performing in analyzing test some water and soil for dozens of years and can make sense of the reports that Kerr McGee was presenting in court she knew what numbers and what things look for so she could read the reports she's almost missed you this number will you put it best when he listened to their city told Reverend Jamison not to move the concrete on his property Tenney said he should to prove the Korea Seoul is there a backhoe that gets to live that the buttress up a huge pile of black shiny Atari Korea's sin write their own Reverend James since property where everybody told him it was be be be be be the the Denny's work with the Reverend Jamison ultimately lead the Environmental Protection Agency to declare ninety acres around Kerr McGee is Plan Colombia as a Superfund site the victory also inspired ten Ian Reverend Jamison did travel around the deep south helping other people struggling with environmental contamination it started the Coalition of Communities for Environmental Justice in two thousand and nine we coined the phrase Mississippi still but we went and looked we saw her was so little springs we saw in ada the government have been made aware of all this situation but was doing nothing about Tenney found the situation in Hattiesburg particularly heartbreaking that's where Kerr McGee operated their Gulf states create the plan I went to community meeting in Hattiesburg Mississippi in these women talked about losing their babies they talked about miscarriages they talked about stillborn babies they talked about losing babies in their first year of life this was their reality it was increasingly clear to tell me that there was another element to the problem she researched environmental cleanups around the stage and she says the better off wider communities tended to be treated differently there was a Chris old side in Wiggins Mississippi they got cleaned up in a year but they can't clean up Columbus or Hattiesburg in two decades in two thousand and nine she wrote a series of blunt angry letters to the head of the EPA in Washington Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality and the state attorney general making the case is the poor black communities were treated unjustly the Heather Sanchez is a graduate student who in two thousand and eight was writing her master's these is about the Coalition the Reverend Jamison and Teddy form you can forget the first time eat any white just tell she knew her stuff Heather is such that any explain the Korea Seoul problem to the Hattiesburg City Council she left the room speechless you know because her presentation let me at least to believe that it was very clear what happened in the community known industry came in and they polluted they didn't clean up the pennies activism didn't pay well sometimes they didn't pay it all they met in a church so they would pass the plate around from time to time and they would all give what they could to Tenney and that's how she would work ten a m Reverend Jamison listen to people's complaints explain technical terms and told residents about similar situations in other towns instead of just one community talking about their problems they came together is like here we are three communities live in different parts of the state all facing the same types of problems and I think when they showed up a number like that and they had the science and the data to back it up people who listen the Reverend Jamison began to worry that any might be getting too much attention the end of that passion that a huge fight is on Big boy's best thing was that she was always overstate the Reverend Jamison is clearly worried that anyone get herself into trouble but even he was surprised about what happened next was the summer of two thousand and nine and the EPA special investigators showed up attendees lab he wanted to talk about some test she'd been hired to do the investigator visited a second time and the agency eventually accused her of making up the test results when Reverend Jamison heard about this he felt the explanation was simple thing she said she is putting pressure on this but the charges against any turned out to be anything but simple penny they're here call it some of the workload and the EPA with the Department of Justice charged Tenney with fabricating test results and lying to federal investigators in two thousand and thirteen ten He was convicted and sentenced to forty months in federal prison we talked about our case and fifteen minute phone conversation spread out over several months she explained that it all hinged on work she'd done for one company Borg Warner which makes car parts state regulations require the company to test its wastewater for metals and they'd hired Tenney to do the testing companies said Tenney hadn't supplied all the data she was supposed to and reported her to the EPA or travel where you causing EPA do you think wow our car going over it was for two years ago in Washington D C and I come to think about what happened in Columbus when the Southeast region was already aware of and have been aware of some years and what they could tell me about it later was no climax was just one of those places that fail to crack an accident and that was a pretty crap she'd been going after the EPA but now they were coming after her ass for Warner for an interview several times and they declined but at the trial several of their employees testified that the reports Tenney turned into the company called DM ours are based on fabricated data Denny denied this they couldn't back up her claim she says the hard drive where she stored the data had crashed the car grabbed the book of your heart that this is something I can even search the detainees lawyers argued that the tests had no consequences and later tests showed no excess metals in the water the prosecutors didn't dispute that fact so it was unclear why she landed in court let alone prison I call the EPA many times in the hope that I might get someone to address these questions on tape and never did but I did speak to Doug Parker he's a former EPA official who is in charge of the agency's criminal division during tt anyways investigation and prosecution he was familiar with the case but didn't know all the details he told me the EPA ranks its criminal investigations for example if a case involving death or serious bodily injury was automatically at the top so asteroid ten his case was prosecuted of involve no environmental harm when I reminded Dad that anyone sends to more than three years he acknowledged that her punishment was unusually harsh is a significant sentence is not one that I would expect for that but he said that any wasn't the only person who'd been charged with falsifying de Amar is and that it's crucial that lab owners be held to a high standard he don't have that level of honesty natural pouring the whole environmental compliance structure can potentially crumble the average sentence of people convicted by the government of criminal environmental offenses is eighteen months in prison Tenney got forty band remember Kerr McGee the company that included Reverend J misses church Eric turns out his was one of thousands of sites across the country at him polluted with Korea and other hazardous materials so what happened to them gets a little complicated Kerr McGee tried to avoid responsibility for the pollution by spinning off a new company and making that company responsible for the rest of Kerr McGee is now profitable and was bought by yet another company called Anadarko still with me and our goat did end up having to pay five billion dollars to clean up the polluted sites that sounds like a lot of money but it was just a fraction of what the community's calculated they needed executives meanwhile millions and one K's hundreds of millions of dollars in the deal but none of them faced any criminal charges so ask Doug Parker White any white served time when the chemical company executives walk free it is hard when it's laid out like that to reconcile that Kerr McGee no longer exists so it can respond to this story during their legal battle with Reverend Jamison the company issued a statement that said our environmental performance has been nationally recognized for environmental responsibility and our plants operate safely and have not harmed anyone the the I thought of one other person who might be able to explain might any landed him President Robert Wilson was the Borg Warner environmental health and safety manager would hire ten need to do those tests back in two thousand even though his name came up more than a hundred times during the trial neither the prosecution nor the defense called him to the stand I wondered why Robert now lives in the Grange Georgia I ride to the trial and they took me off to a small room or sit for three different days Robert told me that prosecutors interviewed him about the case and told them that they might want him to testify but he waited in the little room at the courthouse and was never called to the stand he was allowed to watch the end of the trial from the courtroom that I'm amazed that the lawyers they sent the Justice Department of Washington DC and all the trouble they went to to prosecute small time little black businesswoman in Jackson Mississippi you don't bring that much firepower if you're going to be stepping on ants somebody wanted to be put away and at other hair it seemed pretty clear why the prosecution might not of one of the jury to hear Robert's take on Tenney he had worked with her for years she was great to work with she was the epitome of professional and her knowledge of the US statutes and environmental law was impeccable Robert was friendly with weight and knew she'd been helping poor communities take on polluters I even tried to warn her that time that you need to watch yourself because these people don't play you have the possibility of causing them multimillion dollars in lawsuits in expenses and ten he'll come after you with a sledgehammer Roberts said he couldn't be one hundred percent sure that any had provided the water testing data because he left the job shortly after the test results would have arrived from an environmental standpoint though he failed the test didn't matter it's almost a no harm no foul thing that's why I still don't understand to this day when they went after Miss Y There was an even great potential for any type of damage to the environment at all any couldn't imagine my antennae wouldn't have performed the tests what is her motivation for risking her whole career reputation hundred and fifty dollar test that makes no sense to me whatsoever in the I tucked in his case to environmental attorney Victor Yana cone to get his opinion yet take on the legal crusade against Asian aren't in the pesticide DDT he also hopes that the Environmental Defense Fund I wanted to know what he thought about the government's decision not to call Robert Wilson to the fan he could have pointed out to the jury the test were not the basis for any compliance or regulatory action yet to come also question my tennis lawyers never mention that she was an activist during the trial of course the attorney should have introduced the fact she was an environmental activist and an environmental advocate for her community was never able to talk to attendees defense attorneys called and emailed them several times to ask if they would speak to me about this case they declined the After more of corresponding and talking to on the phone I finally meant any in person in June of twenty fifteen she was released after serving twenty seven months of a sentence her son Troy and I went to pick her up at the Federal Correctional Institute in Tallahassee the first thing she wanted to do as a free woman was get a real cup of coffee she was in good spirits nothing is happening to me this was really life threatening you know they didn't manage to kill me they couldn't shoot me the she didn't seem cowed by the experience their objective was to shut me up I will not be shut up while she was in prison ten he lost the lab building she owned she also lost the license and she needs to operate it as a convicted felon it'll be tough to find a job but she plans to keep doing exactly what she was doing before I found out that the best thing that I can do is simply tell the story you don't need a license to tell the story honestly believe a need to finish what I started attending our lives in Jackson Mississippi with her son daughter in law grandchild and a dog she recently began advising people and had to deal with contamination on a nearby plant the Share Learn is an investigative reporter with the online news site intercept you can find a link to her story at reveal new start or one county in rural Alabama was the heart of the new chemical in St concerts and the toxic legacy has nearly wiped the community often that I believe in is Miss ow My Lai and sixty seven years though all my life have been living here lives around born raised and the cotton and have been living in is this graduate known for almost that bad you don't just that in here that weekend EPA could mean for minorities next on reveal the the the the Today Show sponsored by tax base the line therapy company for as little as thirty two dollars a week you can work with an experienced licensed and has handpicked just for you on tax base he can send text audio and video messages to your therapist and talk about your life or just work on feeling a little bit happier to sign up or learn more that stocks based on com slash trivia and to show your support for this podcast use code revealed the thirty dollars off your first month that's code reveals tax base to announce last reveal the the the from the Center for investigative reporting in PR folks this is revealed now let's hope the president Trump nominate Scott Pruitt to head the EPA many environmental activists got worried as the attorney general of Oklahoma who spent years suing the EPA over what he sees as regulatory overreach may think his appointment is a part of a plan to eventually dismantle the ages long before Pruitt the EP is record on environmental justice was a mix pack as Lisa Garcia about the agency's record she was a senior advisor on environmental justice at the EPA during the Obama administration she's now lead lawyer earth just so let me ask you this analysis of the DA's Office of Civil Rights found that they had made a formal finding of discrimination and twenty two years for me the big question is Why do we need him I think one of the things about environmental justice is that there's still a need to really focus on communities that have been left behind and have him repeat the same benefits it'll be terrible for the United States to have halted the progress we've made on protecting our environment and really making inroads to protect public health and it would be devastating if this is the EPA that takes as backwards and then just quickly on the civil rights peace so the Office of Environmental Justice and the Office of Civil Rights some kind of have two different mandates one is out of the executive order which is a lot more voluntary and the office's civil rights in my mind is its enforcement office so it is bad news that the EPA has never found the claim that meets the display or discriminatory prime in the law but I do think that throughout the Obama administration and over the ten years you've seen improvements on how they're handling it and we hope that this administration the Trump administration Wall allow that to go for it because I think the civil rights office at the EPA really needs to improve so I would agree with that assessment so I mean those my next question like What exactly what's going on with the environmental justice at the EPA now well unfortunately the EPA is under attack one of the things that we have heard is that the Office of Environmental Justice and the work that they are doing is slated for being caught I'm outraged personally just because those are people working there they've dedicated their lives due to environmental justice to making sure that benefits flow through to some of the most forgotten communities and so it's just a shame on a personal level but I have to say that I think it's the most fiscally irresponsible decision only forty five to sixty people and so you're not getting much savings but you losing an office that has one of the biggest bang for your buck in that they give so much to EPA and so much to running that agency and also so much to communities across the United States and to me it sounds it sounds like a terrible decision and an educated decision have you talk to your former colleagues at the VA I have a little then yes was the feeling like in the building like our how the employees feeling knowing that all these cuts are coming the budget came out even before anyone had really assessed a lot of the programs at the EPA or had talked to staff and so I think that was kind of a morale hit in that the initial budget are the proposed budget kind of was created without talking to folks in without really having Pruitt the administrator be there for that long and really assessing the value of each program and what EPA does in fact I heard that the administrator spoke at a public van with a bunch of state regulators and the states are even upset because if he caught thirty one percent of the budget that's going to flow through huge cuts in the States it sets a huge domino effect them anyway so I think people are EPA are not happy and they're waiting to see what the real budget will be if you could talk to the EPA administrator Scott Pruett what would you say I work for two great administrators so Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy so it's very hard to say what I would say to the administrator Pruitt one is I would say while there is a political aspect to his role that at EPA in particular the role has to be to really try to think of the future of the United States and think of the future of our environment you know politics maybe for the next three years of four years or however long he's going to be there that he really needs to look into the future and think hard about what kind of future he wants for his family or his family's children's families you know I understand that they're going to cut the budget and I understand that there's going to be calm some painful times ahead but I hope that it's not so adversarial as people have painted and maybe he'll get a different perspective and understand that that you know the EPA doesn't have some office of evil mass where they're just trying to undo industry and new jobs and homes and take away people's livelihood so I think you know I'm hoping that a humble him a little better Lisa Garcia was a senior advisor on environmental justice at the EPA doing the Obama administration she's now legally Earth Justice thanks to Ike she's kind to Roger for producing that interview the one of the crucial responsibilities for the EPA is the regulation of dangerous chemicals but even when the agency does ban something that doesn't mean that disappears from the environment some of these chemicals you can trace back to when they first appeared in nineteen twenty nine small factory in Anniston Alabama owned by the Swan chemical company began making PCB PCB the chemicals that were created to withstand extreme heat and pressure they became widely using insulation in nineteen thirty five Swan was bought out by another chemical company called Monsanto today we know as a global agricultural giant size producing herbicides like roundup it's in the forefront of biotechnology but half century ago PC BS with Monsanto's golden ticket the company was sole manufacturer of PC bees in the United States it was lucrative until scientists linked to serious illnesses including cancer the chemical was banned for decades ago but the toxic legacy is still with us today for a look at the damage PCB have caused we sent reporter David Roche of our partner w NPR to the place where it all began on the outskirts of Anniston white steam hisses its way into the sky rising of smoke stacks of the former Monsanto Chemical Facility other chemicals are made there now but for some forty years the factory produced nearly one half billion pounds PCs most of the chemical sold to companies that made electrical equipment building materials as for the waste tons of it Monsanto dumped it into local waterways or buried in landfills this was before there were laws regulating kind of thing I Snow Creek winds through the West Anniston neighborhood is connected to the chemical plant I ditch Curtis Ray sixty seven he's lived in West Anniston all his life years ago he and other kids from the neighborhood would swim in the creek completely unaware what was around a new bag and a reuse them the water to swim and we think you're the only such women and Mary was a member because Korea a pause another lead it local churches even baptize people there at Mount Snow Creek is just a cement lined ditch no fish no rocks or algae not even dare cursed rising around the mostly African American neighborhood it's like by the chemical plant the this used to be the year use of the of the doubt when there are those who issue the weathered boards dangle over windows they look like a slight breeze would rip them right off the telly into our new house that the people and that held the shower E I The Eye The The Eye Curtis as people of West Anniston di ya di all sorts of strange seas but Alabama doesn't track most illnesses so it's hard to verify this he takes me to see your friends Sylvia Curry her house into the bottom of the hill several boarded up homes across the street overgrown with weeds this is to be a beautiful place fouls I came up and fouls they don't grow gardens what no bonus like Curtis Sylvia tells me about rampant illness in people dying all around man hose when he'd that with the rare cancer
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Toxic burden

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