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Sept. 5 Labor Day “Call to End Toxic Racism” Rally in Dickson, Tennessee

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To highlight the nation's continuing toxic dumping problem in African American communities, civil rights, faith based, environmental justice, and health leaders from around the country are planning a rally in Dickson, Tennessee on Labor Day weekend Saturday, September 5. Dickson is located about 35 miles west of Nashville.

Organizers of the rally chose to highlight the struggle of the African American Harry Holt family--the "poster child" for toxic racism. The Holt family's 150-acre farm and wells were poisoned and their wealth stolen by the leaky Dickson County Landfill. Five generations of Holts have called the Eno Road community home.

Although African Americans make up only 4.5 percent of the Dickson County population, all of the permitted solid waste landfills in the county have been sited in the mostly black Eno Road community over the past four decades--creating a toxic nightmare for its residents.

The Eno Road community has been the solid waste "dumping grounds" dating back more than four decades. The black neighborhood was first used as the site of the Dickson "city dump" and subsequent city and county sanitary landfills, construction and demolition landfills, balefills, and processing centers. The site is currently being used as a C&D landfill, garbage transfer station, and recycling center.

EPA records indicate that trichloroethylene or TCE, a "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen," was found in the Holt family's wells as early as 1988, the same year the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued a permit to Dickson County for operation of the facility as a sanitary landfill. In December 1988, TDEC sent letters to the Holts informing the family of the test results and the finding of trichloroethene in their wells. The letter states: "Your water is of good quality for the parameters tested. It is felt that the low levels of methylene or trichloroethene may be due to either lab or sampling error."

In December 1991, the federal EPA sent the Harry Holt family a letter informing him of the tests performed on his well and deemed it safe. The letter states: "Use of your well water should not result in any adverse health effects."

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A 1991 EPA Site Inspection Report completed by Haliburton documents several contaminated waste cleanups (i.e., wastes from on-site industrial dumps, plant contamination, soil containing TCE, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and petroleum hydrocarbons from underground storage tank cleanups, and wastes from a train derailment) from mostly white areas in Dickson County were trucked to the landfill on Eno Road.

The Dickson County Landfill is just 54 feet from the Harry Holt homestead. Only a two-lane road separates the landfill from the Holt property line. Yet, no government tests were performed on the Holts' wells between January 1992 and October 8, 2000, an eight year and nine-month gap in government testing, even though government tests were conducted each year on private wells and springs located within a one and two-mile radius of the landfill. Tests were even performed on duck ponds and the Dickson County Humane Society, a dog pound that's located across the street from the Harry Holt property. It appears that various levels of government--city, county, state, and federal--valued the drinking water of dogs and ducks more than the health of the hard working Holt family landowners.

Government tests were finally conducted on the Harry Holt well on October 9, 2000--where results registered 120 ppb TCE and a second test on October 25, 2000 registered 145 ppb--24 times and 29 times, respectively, higher than the maximum contaminant level (MCL). The Holts were placed on the city water system on October 20, 2000--twelve years after the first government test found TCE in their wells in 1988.

In 2003, the Holt family filed a lawsuit against the City of Dickson, County of Dickson, and Scovill, Inc. (Scovill Inc. is the company that owned the former Scovill-Shrader Automotive manufacturing plant in Dickson). The Holt family is sick and some have died of cancer they believe is connected to the TCE in their drinking water. Harry Holt died of cancer in January 2007. His 47 year old daughter, Sheila Holt Orsted, is battling breast cancer. The family is represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF).

In March 2008, two Holt family members with the assistance of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed another law suit to get the Dickson County Landfill cleaned up under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Both lawsuits are still pending.

African Americans and other people of color, rich and poor, have a right to clean and healthy environments and the benefits of the "green economy" as other Americans. The time for real change is now.

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Robert D. Bullard is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion (more...)

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