Poor communities combat military pollutants
By Charlene Muhammad
Western Region Correspondent
Updated Apr 21, 2009 – 12:08:30 AM
Activists charge environmental racism, and genocide
‘The government will not address the health affects in communities like ours, whether it’s Black, Native American, Asian, if you live around a federal site, they’re not going to address any health issues but I will say the government is equal opportunity. They pollute the hell out of everybody.’
(FinalCall.com) – Dorothy Bradshaw knows devastation. Her father passed away from cancer in late March. Her grandmother passed away after just six months of being diagnosed with an aggressive, rare form of bladder cancer in 1995 and when her grandfather died of the cancer a year later, she recalled a letter sent by a nearby military distribution site the year before, which said various chemicals may have seeped offsite into the drainage ditches in their community.
She began researching the USA Defense Depot Memphis (DDMT) and her Memphis, Tenn. neighborhood and said she found that in every household there was a history of cancer. In some, at least three to four people had the disease, but the problem was worse than that.
“Our rate here is between 75 percent mortality and morbidity. My next-door neighbor’s daughter was 13 and had uterine cancer. We had a young man here with testicular cancer at 17. Most women at 25 have hysterectomies and if they don’t go and have their children early in our community, normally they can’t have kids because they are always affected by some type of reproductive illness,” Ms. Bradshaw told The Final Call.
The 54-year-old had cancer cells in her uterus at 30 years old; a baseball-sized tumor at 28 and now she has an unidentifiable lung disease and suffers with diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid disease, all which she attributes to exposure to hazardous waste from the DDMT. Stomach, colon and cervical cancer are reported as the highest types there, Ms. Bradshaw said, but that’s only because “prostate cancer rates are so high, they don’t even report it.”
The DDMT is made up of 642 acres in a residential, commercial and industrial area of south central Memphis. Since 1942 it has distributed clothing, food, medical supplies, electronic equipment, petroleum products, and industrial chemicals to all U.S. military services.
It also conducted numerous operations utilizing hazardous substances with contamination resulting from leakage, spillage, disposal of out-of-date materials, and normal application of pesticides, according to the Defense Dept. (DOD) website description of the center.
In 1946, the Army disposed of leaking mustard bombs (a chemical warfare agent) and other waste at Dunn Field, a 60-acre open storage and burial area at the DDMT. The waste included oil, grease, paint thinners, methyl bromide, pesticides and cleaning fluids (chlorinated solvents). Approximately 154,300 people rely on drinking water from public supply wells within four miles of Dunn Field.
Ms. Bradshaw created Defense Depot Memphis Tennessee Concerned Citizens to document their ordeal, provide support, and advocate for accountability and health care for people who now are sick, can’t work and are on disability.
“When you get 50 you’re considered a senior citizen now because most of our seniors are dead. There’s only one person on my street within a block that is 80 years old. There aren’t too many 60 year olds and most of us are in our 50s over here. It’s not that people don’t know what’s going on. They do, but environmental racism kicks in,” Ms. Bradshaw said.
The group joined a coalition of communities and organizations around the U.S. to help push legislation that would require the government to clean up the sites and comply with health and environmental protection laws.
Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA) introduced the “Military Environmental Responsibility Act” (H.R. 672) on August 3, 2007 to eliminate military waivers to key environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
In a March 24 letter to the White House, the coalition said it wants to expose hidden casualties at home that are caused by unregulated military projects that have increased the risks for cancer and exposure to military toxins
“We are united in seeking to protect those most vulnerable from these harmful exposures especially the unborn, babies, youth, elders, disenfranchised communities of race, Indigenous Tribal Nations and peoples, economically disadvantaged communities, military personnel, civilian workers, military garment workers, and families living in the vicinity of military operations and installations throughout the nation,” the letter expressed.
Specifically, H.R. 672 would amend the United States Code to require the Department of Defense and all other defense-related U.S. agencies to comply with Federal and State environmental laws, including those applicable to public health, worker safety, protecting the environment, and the health and safety of the public, particularly children, members of the Armed Forces, civilian workers and people who live in the vicinity of military operations and installations.
Chris Isleib, DoD spokesperson, told The Final Call that the department takes environmental issues very seriously and works with both governmental and non-governmental agencies to ensure maximum protection, remediation and meet EPA requirements.
“No entity in the world, government or private sector, has spent more money-or more effort-than the Defense Department has on environmental cleanup, cleanup research, cleanup assessment, technology to conduct cleanup, cleanup operations, cleanup follow-up monitoring,” Mr. Isleib countered.
The DoD’s current estimate of future costs for environmental restitution is approximately $32 billion for sites with remaining work at active installations and it has some 11,500 sites either in cleanup or tagged for clean up.
Of the DoD’s 31,500 clean up sites, about 20,500 of them have reached their remedial action objectives, Mr. Isleib said.
Laura Olah, executive director, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, who is leading the coalition, said she became involved when the Army announced that groundwater contamination had traveled three miles offsite and within a quarter mile of a municipal well in Prairie du Sac, Michigan. Then, the drinking water supplies of three private homes became contaminated with high levels of the cancer-causing chemical carbon tetrachloride.
Contaminant concentrations in the ground water are more than 50 times the Health Advisory Levels established by the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.
“The government will not address the health affects in communities like ours, whether it’s Black, Native American, Asian; if you live around a federal site, they’re not going to address any health issues but I will say the government is equal opportunity. They pollute the hell out of everybody. They find poor White communities and do the same thing to them also, anybody who’s not able to fight them,” Ms. Bradshaw said.
Gilbert Sanchez of the Tribal Environmental Watch Alliance, has worked on nuclear environmental issues for decades-ever since the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where the atomic bomb was first tested and implemented, was built on his tribe’s ancestral land.
He is a member of the 19 Pueblos, which is a sub-group of the San Ildefonso Tribe and from LANL’s inception in 1945, there has been no regulation of the waste products used by the lab. Today, there are uncontrollable chemical and biological wastes violating his people’s food chain and like residents near the DDMT, they are experiencing high rates of rare cancers.
“My concern has always been the health impact from all of the activities of the past. Not only my relatives but people, young people in the valley, are dying from very young ages of cancer because they or their parents worked up on the hill,” he said.
He has spent years fighting for a baseline study of the current health impacts that the uranium and plutonium used to make the bomb has had on his people. “The Euro-American or Anglo-American scientists knew very well that the dust particles from this uranium and plutonium was going to be dangerous and impact the respiratory system,” Mr. Sanchez said.
In order to cover that up, he charged, the lab freely gave its workers tobacco products-a carton of cigarettes per day, but they couldn’t take the cigarettes out of the mines, refinement factories or plutonium areas.
Now, Mr. Sanchez said, the tribe’s condition is very much like a third world country with very low living standards, a sub par health care system, and they are often used as guinea pigs.
“This is part of the Euro-American genocidal movement. It’s a part of that orchestrated genocidal commission that’s continually going on. It started at the time of discovery and continues today,” he said. He believes that President Barack Obama is sincere about his commitment to abolish the nuclear weapons industry, and he hopes that Pres. Obama can open the books and secrecy cloaked around U.S. military research centers and laboratories.
“We have no need to have massive weapons of destruction that are going to totally annihilate portions of this earth or completely the earth itself. Conventional weaponry and the use of current nuclear weapons is beyond any human’s right mind,” Mr. Sanchez said.