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Planetary Casualties: An interview with Adrienne Anderson
Adrienne Anderson is professor of Environmental & Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She served as the Western Director of the National Toxics Campaign, a network of community groups. In 1997 Anderson filed a federal whistleblower case on a plan to mix plutonium waste with sewer sludge, process it into fertilizer, and then use it on U.S. farms. She works with farmers and unions to stop such dangerous practices from taking place around the country.
BARSAMIAN: What are the hidden costs of war?
ANDERSON: During and after the war on Iraq, we heard casualty counts of U.S. troops. Yet, what is missing from those numbers are the hidden the casualties of war at home. These costs do not consider the production facilities where these military weapons were made, the testing of weapons of mass destruction here in the United States, the people whose water is contaminated as a result of depleted uranium testing, whether theyre in Socorro, New Mexico, Concord, Massachusetts, or California. Communities are suffering from elevated cancer rates, especially those near military installations where depleted uranium has been tested, where nuclear weapons have been developed and are leeching offsite, where theres plutonium in well water.
Why don't citizens know about these things?
One example is Socorro, New Mexico. Damacio Lopez is head of a group called the International Depleted Uranium Study Team. He was in his home town of Socorro helping his aging parents recovering from an accident. They were wondering why there were explosions going off in the hillsides above their home. As Lopez looked into it, he was shocked to discover that they were doing weapons testing there, but the parties that were engaging in that were just basically saying dont worry about it. He later obtained documents indicating that they were doing depleted uranium testing and lied to the community.
In Denver, the state of Colorado took acquisition of a piece of land where depleted uranium was tested. The officials wanted to turn it into a subdivision. People dont know whats next to them, affecting their water supplies, devaluing their properties.
Depleted uranium was widely used in 1991 the first Gulf War. According to many sources, there has been an exceptionally high rate of leukemia and lymphoma cancers among Iraqi children. On top of that, half a million U.S. troops that served in the region at that time and about 150,000 today are classified by the Pentagon as disabled. This is all under the rubric of the Gulf War Syndrome. They have joint pain, headaches, fatigue, and other problems.
of U.S. soldiers who served in the Gulf War are being born with
defects. The government continues to deny that there is any risk
from depleted uranium exposures. In my view, were repeating
the same syndrome that we had with government denials about the
risks of Agent Orange and their unwillingness to compensate those
affected. Studies show that up to 43 percent of U.S. troops have
come home with illnesses. Thats a fairly staggering rate and
we sent another quarter of a million troops to Iraq where depleted
uranium was used again.
Do you have any information about what the U.S. is doing in the Andes region? In Colombia, herbicides that are banned in the United States are being used to eradicate the coca crop.
Theres a herbicide called Roundup produced by Monsanto. There are indications that this material is being sprayed by airplane on sensitive populations and rainforest areas. Villages below are suffering high rates of cancer and birth defects, contamination of water supplies, the destruction of ecosystems and entire communities. There are indigenous populations threatened by this and it raises the question of what really is the agenda. Is it to simply alter the production of coca in the area? Its like going after a fly with a nuclear bomb, having far greater and more deleterious effects than what the purported motive is. There are some people that are questioning whether or not the agenda is really to force the indigenous population out of these areas so they can be used for other corporate purposes.
In the early 1990s, Robert Bullard started using the term environmental racism.
People of color, whether theyre in the U.S. or any other part of the globe, are targeted for waste disposal practicespeople in Ecuador, for example. Texaco went into Ecuador and essentially destroyed their rainforest environment. There were elevated cancer rates, birth defect rates, benzene pouring through what were once productive coffee farms, flower orchards, beautiful places with populations that are now at risk and with economic devastation as a result. The citizens ended up trying to sue under international law for this violation of their rights. This happened in Nigeria as well and places all around the world.
Theres an area in Louisiana thats quite notorious, Cancer Alley. Is that an example of environmental racism as well?
There are so many examples across the country. We have cancer alleys in Ponca City, Oklahoma where Conoco was poisoning a low-income, predominantly minority community on the tribal reservation there. In California, we have these types of problems in typically low-income minority communities.
Talk about how a number of uranium mines are on Native American reservations.
Lets look at New Mexico, where the Navajo (Dineh) were brought in to mine uranium in the 1940s and 1950s for governmental purposes. Theyre an impoverished population. The government went in with the notion that this would be an economic development opportunity. The Navajo (Dineh) men that were working in those mines were not given respiratory protection, although the government and its contractors knew that this was very dangerous material. Sure enough, these miners have very high rates of lung cancer. Throughout those areas of New Mexico and Arizona where these mines were operating, the widows have been seeking compensation for their losses. A governmental compensation package was passed, but under the Bush administration, they dont want to pay the money.
Lets look at Nevada, where the Western Shoshone reside. Under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley, the U.S. government gave the land to the Native Americans and it was essentially most of the state of Nevada. Yet, that was the area designated for testing nuclear weapons. Nuclear tests have continued on into more recent decades. We have contaminated water supplies. The government to this day is trying to force those people off their land.
Lets look at the Goshute tribe in Northwestern Utah. Theyre surrounded by the Dugway Proving Grounds where we are currently developing and testing chemical weapons of mass destruction. Theyve got a hazardous waste incinerator to the north. Theyve got all kinds of other military-related activities. In the 1960s the government was spraying toxic chemical weapons across their areas, killed 6,000 sheep, and they buried the carcasses on Goshute land. Then they targeted them for the temporary storage of nuclear fuel rods. The consortium of utilities that has tried to ram that deal through actually had the nerve to say that the Native Americans would be the best caretakers for nuclear waste given their history as environmentalists.
In terms of environmental racism, it seems at times that the government is an equal opportunity polluter, where largely white communities are affected. For example, 8 miles from Boulder and 16 miles from Denver is the notorious Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant.
Colorado, at Rocky Flats, the desire was for access to high technology
labor pools, which would have included the nearby University of
Colorado, and also access to water. Rocky Flats produces nuclear
weapons and pumps plutonium-contaminated waste into creeks that
were feeding public water supplies. At the other end of the county,
the Martin Marietta facility, which was producing Titan missiles
and testing fuels, was pouring toxic waste into a public water supply
that in the 1970s and 1980s was serving predominantly middle-income
white subdivisions in and around Littleton.
A horrific wave of infant defects, cancers, and other problems followed. There are significant similar cases in California with Aerojet and other military contractors. Suburban communities are being built in these subdivisions outside of urban populations. Their water supplies are being contaminated by rocket fuel cancer-causing propellants that contaminate water supply after water supply, forcing shutdowns of well water all throughout Southern California and the Sacramento area. Lockheed Martin contaminated Burbanks water supply. You have to wonder with all the people coming down with Parkinsons disease and all sorts of neurological problems, whats the association with that? Are studies being done? No, theyre not. In California, Lockheed Martin was actually paying people to eat their pollution, giving them $1,000 if they would eat perchlorates, a solid rocket fuel contaminant that was contaminating public water supplies throughout California.
The Martin Marietta plant in Littleton is now Lockheed Martin. It was featured in Michael Moores award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine. Littleton is the same town as Columbine High School.
The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky is another place where theres plutonium in municipal wells serving members of the public. You mentioned Columbine. It certainly is a curiosity that the two worst high school shootings in the United States both occurred in communities directly neighboring a Lockheed Martin installation. From my research, I think it is critical to examine the fact that the Columbine community is actually a bedroom community for Lockheed Martin workers. Many of the children that were killed in the high school at the time, their parents work at Lockheed Martin. But unexamined is the fact that children in that community, by the time they were juniors and seniors at Columbine High School, had been drinking contaminated water from the Lockheed Martin facility. From my research and in coordination with scientists around the country, the types of contaminants that Lockheed Martin was routinely dumping into the public water supply, in the Columbine Valley area, are chemicals that are known to cause aggression, neurological disorders, depression, cancers, birth defects, leukemia, and other types of problems. When I attempted to get this question examined through comprehensive health assessments, Lockheed Martin put an end to that and has contributed to threats to my position at the university, even raising it as a questionable topic for study.
What you just revealed, about the contamination in the Littleton area, possibly caused by Lockheed Martin, is stunning. Has there been any kind of media attention to this? Have there been any federal investigations?
raised concerns that there should be studies done of the affect
on populations that received contaminated water from the Lockheed
Martin plant. I was organizing one of the neighborhoods, a community
called Friendly Hills. In 1984-86 there was a mysterious cluster
of children that were dying from unknown causes in this middle-income,
predominantly white community. At that time, state officials and
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed to have no idea
what could possibly be affecting the area. Sixteen children had
died and we urged the federal government to launch an investigation.
At that time, the government concluded that there was nothing wrong.
We conducted an independent investigation and were astonished to find that for 30 years Martin Marietta had been contaminating that regions water supply, as well as a source of water just below their plant southwest of Denver. Documents showed this was being done with the full knowledge of the Denver Water Board, as well as the state of Colorado, and also, in later years, the EPA. They shut down the public water supply in 1985 and since that time the number of babies born with fetal defects has plummeted.
Theres still concern about cancers there so I had been urging, with residents in the Friendly Hills community, that health assessments be done by the Centers for Disease Control. Martin Marietta did everything they could to prevent the federal government from conducting those studies. In fact, the federal government gave Colorado thousands of dollars to conduct a health assessment thats required under Superfund Law. Martin Marietta had the nerve to tell the State Health Department that they didnt want them to conduct the assessment, because it could hurt them in a civil action suit that had been brought by a number of residents whose babies had died and whose children had contracted cancers and other problems.
We now know that this not only affected Friendly Hills, but also all of those subdivisions that are essentially feeder communities to the Columbine High School area. From my research I can say for certain that they were receiving water contaminated by the Martin Marietta facility. Yet there have been no investigations and when I called in January 1999 for a comprehensive health investigationthis was before the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999 Lockheed Martin wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and told them not to conduct any further assessments.
The correlation between lead and aggression is well known. Why isnt this a fruitful area of inquiry, as it relates to the Littleton community and Columbine? Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters, from my research, was exposed to contaminated water as a baby. Ive notified that familys attorney of my research and theyve opted not to pursue it. Of course, they have a horrific amount of trauma and grief to deal with and I cant fault them for that. The other shooter (Eric Harris) grew up at Superfund sites near the Sandia labs in New Mexico. Every place he has ever lived has been designated as a Superfund site because his father was in the Air Force.
I pulled together a team of independent physicians from around the country, some of the best in the nation, including Richard Clapp, who was head of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry at one time. They agreed to do an epidemiological investigation of the Columbine area based on my research. The State Health Department has refused to give them the vital statistical data that would allow that study to be done.
Some of the western states, where many of these Lockheed Martin facilities are located, also suffer from major problems with water availability. We have a drought in Colorado and in California. Theyre desperate for water. Yet, water supplies are being lost all over the country as a result of contamination from Lockheed Martin alone. Of course, there are other places where these problems are developing from other corporations. The people in charge of that installation when they were illegally, records show, dumping into a public water supply, werent criminally prosecuted. One of the chief managers at the Littleton facility at Martin Marietta at the time has now been appointed by President Bush as one of the top leaders of the U.S. Air Force.
Once an aquifer is contaminated is there any way for it to clean itself?
It depends on the compound. We have an area in eastern Colorado where theres been plutonium found in ground water 200 feet deep, according to Department of Energy certified studies. That of course is irreparable damage. In Colorado, where the plutonium has been found at a Superfund site that wasnt acknowledged before, the EPA winked and is allowing a deal to go through. Theyre pumping it into a public water sewage system to use as fertilizer on farmland in eastern Colorado. It will also be made available to home gardeners without acknowledgement that that material is in the landfill. In many cases some of these military-related contaminants are not even regulated by the federal government.
such compound, hydrazine, is a rocket fuel propellant used in the
Titan missile program. It was the compound at issue in Littleton
as well as when the Columbia exploded. The reason NASA warned people
not to touch fallen shuttle parts was because of the hydrazine fuels.
But these were the same compounds that Martin Marietta was illegally
dumping into the public water supply at issue in Littleton that
Ive researched for 20 years and will probably work on for
another 20 years because of its gravity. So those are compounds
that arent treated by typical municipal water supply systems.
The government doesnt even regulate it because its so
rarely found. But where it is found, in California, the state is
shutting down wells that have the tiniest fractions of the breakdown
products of this rocket fuel propellant. According to Californias
water quality website, 20 drops of this substance dispersed in enough
water to fill the Rose Bowl would contaminate the entire volume
of water. Theyre regulating it in California at the teeny-tiniest
of fractions. In Boulder, theres a source of rocket fuel contamination
from a facility that was operated by Raytheon, formerly Beech Aircraft,
blending these fuels at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The EPA in that
region might say this facility meets all applicable State
and Federal laws and yet people may be surprised to learn
that there are no state or federal laws governing some of the most
toxic chemicals that could put them at risk.
The EPA is the federal regulatory agency that is supposed to monitor these sites. What kind of job has it been doing?
Although there are some very good people in the EPA, clearly in the Littleton case and the Martin Marietta plant, the EPA knew that the water was being poisoned and did absolutely nothing. We were shocked to find that the person who was put in charge of overseeing federal installations like the Martin Marietta complex was actually the person who was previously at that Martin Marietta complex and who was responsible for environmental compliance while these dangerous poisons were rolling down the hill into a public water supply.
We see the revolving door all the time between government agencies like the EPA responsible for protecting us. If you go through and look at their resumes, youll find that they were part of the problem that they were regulating. Under the Bush administration, the revolving door is spinning so fast, we cant keep up with it.
What sources of information would you recommend?
For people who would like to know more about depleted uranium, I recommend a book called Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium by Akira Tashiro. The book by sociologist Robert Bullard, Confronting Environmental Racism is a very easy read. There is also a book called Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. Theyve also come out with one called Weapons of Mass Deception that examines the propaganda used by the Bush administration in this current conflict in Iraq.
David Barsamian is the founder of Alternative Radio (www.alternativeradio.org). He is the author of many books (see www.southendpress.org) .
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