By DONNA WRIGHT and DUANE MARSTELLER
Herald Staff Writers
Tallevast leaders, saying efforts to clean up toxic waste beneath their community are not addressing residents’ health and relocation concerns, are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to intervene.
FOCUS, a residents’ advocacy group, asked the EPA last week to establish a multi-agency, alternative-dispute-resolution process to handle those and other issues not raised in several lawsuits over the contamination.
“Our health is failing us in numbers too great to ignore, yet our public health agencies and regulatory agencies have taken no action to address this issue even though they are aware that we ingested and inhaled chemicals for years, and science acknowledges a range of diseases will occur with exposure to these chemicals,” an early draft of the letter said.
FOCUS sent the letter to the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, created to identify and address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income communities.
FOCUS also sent the letter to more than 200 federal, state and local government leaders, civil rights advocates, black leaders, presidential candidates and media outlets. Among them: Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and former presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.
In the process, FOCUS is seeking a neutral moderator who would assist responsible parties – including the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy – in identifying and sharing the cost of addressing community needs stemming from a 200-acre plume of underground contamination in Tallevast.
The plume traces back to a former beryllium plant that made parts for nuclear weapons and reactors under U.S. government contracts. Lockheed Martin Corp. discovered the pollution when it owned the plant in 2000, and is responsible for investigating its extent and cleaning it up – a process the defense giant says could take up to 100 years.
Although Lockheed has set up a free health program for residents, FOCUS says no one has stepped forward to relocate them or address cancers, illnesses and deaths it contends are caused by the contamination.
“What has happened in Tallevast is representative of what has happened in other communities of color,” said Connie Tucker of the Southern Organizing Community for Economic and Social Justice and the African American Environmental Justice Action Network in Atlanta, who has been advising Tallevast residents.
“If this had happened in a white community, you would have had a different response.”
Court decisions often don’t address or leave unresolved the most critical issues facing a contaminated community, she said. The dispute resolution process could address those issues and won’t interfere with ongoing clean-up and litigation, Tucker said.
“To expect this community to live in the middle of a clean-up process for up to 100 years is not only unjust but inhumane,” she said.
Gail Rymer, a Lockheed spokeswoman, said Monday the company had not seen a copy of the letter nor was aware of FOCUS’ request.
The letter was addressed to an official of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice in Atlanta, who did not return a telephone call Monday. herald wathco Group says residents’ health and relocation concerns not being addressed