Environmental Justice group exposes polluted chemical sites at Capitol hearing

More than a 100 residents from across the state filled the hearing room at the [Mississippi] State Capitol as the discussion devoted to airing longstanding grievances over deadly chemical wastes – particularly creosote – left for decades in unsuspecting residential neighborhoods by large manufacturers like Kerr-McGee that have either packed up and gone or changed their names and continue to do business as usual.  By Earnest McBride, Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor

State Representative Greg Holloway, chairman of the House Forestry Committee, called the hearing Monday afternoon to provide several black community organizations a chance to report their problem in trying to get compensation equal to that provided white business under the EPA Superfund program.

Holloway said that he was concerned that no one in state government was giving any serious attention to the complaints from so many different communities. It is his aim to at least get the cases on record and to propose legislation that will put an end to the neglect of taxpaying Mississippians who are suffering and dying as a result of industrial wrongdoing, Holloway said.

Sherri Jones, the Hattiesburg-based organizer for the Coalition of Communities for Environmental Justice, said that several black residents of the Hub city are suffering from the destructive effects of creosote that has remained in their soil and water system since a Kerr-McGee-owned plant opened there in 1942. That plant closed in 1969, but the poisonous creosote remains to this day.

“We came here today to put our legislators on notice of what we believe to have been conspiracies for a number of years that have left our people in harm’s way,” Jones said. “In Columbus we have proven this to be a fact. Rev. (Steve) Jamison spent a lot of money for a professional assessment. Now the government has admitted that they did not do their job. And the chemical pollution is rampant there.”

Jamison, the public relations director for the community coalition, is pastor of the Maranatha Faith Center in Columbus that is on the brink of bankruptcy because of their decision to fight the EPA decision to ignore chemical pollutants remaining in the church soil.

“The land is still contaminated and our church is in bankruptcy because we’re trying to hold on to our lawsuit against Kerr-McGee and Tronox (a former subsidiary of Kerr-McGee) that is still in process. “The good news is this: Our lawsuit was a legal matter that we couldn’t deal with on our own accord. But now we’re dealing with the environmental aspects of the case. After 10 years of wrangling and spending about $35,000 of our own money to do the testing that proves our land was contaminated, the federal government and our own geologist lied and said it was not contaminated.  By spending our own money, we forced the EPA inspectors to conduct their tests. They have now admitted that the pollution is there. We are waiting for them to grant Superfund status to the property. They are now in the preliminary stage of their work. They can either clean it up or move us out and grant compensation as a result.”

Read the rest of the article at the Jackson Advocate Online

Read Raleigh Hoke of the Gulf Restoration Network's take on the meeting.