TOXIC TOUR OF TEXAS
1988-1992
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BARBARA & GLENN ERWIN
Texas City

      THE LINK WE FOUND in forming Environment 2000 that we have not had in the past is the ability to incorporate organized labor in with the environmental groups. We had so much in common, and so much of the same goals, that we needed some vehicle to interact and network. The membership of organized labor usually does not tend to perceive itself as ones who would join the existing environmental groups.
      Environmental groups have tended to come together to fight something, and then they disband. So a lot of times they carry negative names, as well as negative connotations. People have felt they have been at odds with everybody...with parts of the community, as well as whoever they were fighting against. That’s not always the case, but it’s the perceived idea that you go in with. The people we want to bring in are those that have not traditionally been in environmental groups, as well as members of the minority communities.
      For awhile there were no effective environmental groups here, because people, for the longest time thought, “That’s money you smell.” Yes, money for the doctors and the undertakers, but it does not have to be that way. People were conditioned here that if you wanted the job, you had to take the pollution with it. And it is no more that way. People want to do something. They think they can do recycling, but never before have they thought they could do something that could change their air or their water; it was something they had no control over. Environment 2000 was organized to educate the community on their rights.
      A lot of the environmental groups would have no consideration as far as the jobs of the plant workers. If a plant is a polluter, why, their goal would be to just shut it down. Our goal would be to clean it up. We both have the objective of having a cleaner environment, but our methods would be different. Through this group we would like to get our message to the environmental groups that we have a concern for jobs. I think we can make a lot of gains by working within the structure and forming the alliance between the environmentalists and the labor groups.
      I attended a meeting with local residents and there was such a sense of frustration to do something about the situation here, and there was no vehicle in this town to do it. People who live and work here know that they are having problems, and there was nowhere to go to address that. With Environment 2000, we can show them that we can do positive things, and we can do it on a local level.
      And that’s how we want to keep it, is local. That way there is not the perception that outsiders are coming in, which the media often uses against them. Being associated with a national group carries the outsider name, and that can be a problem when you are talking to the press, industry, business leaders, or community people.
      The first thing I said in organizing this group is that I do not want to be against anything. I want to do something entirely different. If we have something we want to see changed, we will present an alternative to it. If there is a viable alternative, we ought to push to have it, but we have to be educated enough to know to look for it.
      People basically resist change. We want the new, but we want to remain the same; that’s the dichotomy in people. People resist change unless they see there can be a difference. We have long term goals, and we are focusing on short term goals, too, and when people see the positiveness in that it can be done, the momentum builds.
      Glenn ran for mayor and we were talking to people, and I guess the number one issue they were talking about was they wanted a cleaner environment. They realized they did not want to make the choice of jobs or bad environment anymore, and they were not happy with what was not being done. Everybody knows that Texas City blew up in `47, and we’ve had a couple of minor explosions. Minor, not that people weren’t killed, but they were related to industry; they stayed within the plant boundaries with units blowing up. And everybody had this false security that it wasn’t going to happen to them, or in this town. But I think Bhopal helped with that awareness, because people began to think this could really happen here, and then the hydrofluoric acid spill brought to mind that it really can happen here.
      People were very frustrated that the sirens did not go off for 30 minutes after the spill. Alot of people were really hurt and are still having side effects, and although it is difficult to prove there is a direct relation, people know they are having problems, and they wanted to see something done. Then after the elections, the city government did not move towards the area of doing anything, so we decided maybe this environmental group would help.
      We have established the Action Center for Toxics. We have brought in the medical community, the legal profession, and organized labor to create a place where any employee, any resident that has a problem or thinks there is a problem, will be able to come and get help ranging from medical advice to arranging for a good attorney because it takes a good attorney to try a toxic tort case.
      We would also like industry to come and face the people in the town in a public forum and answer any and all questions on a quarterly basis. If they want to hear the hostilities, so be it. And out of that you will also hear things people would like to see that are positive. And I’d like to see when we have elections, to have the candidates come and talk only about environmental issues. “What are you going to do for the environment? What have you done in the past for the environment? What are your plans? How involved have you been or has it just been lip service?” This is new, and has not been done before. I think our representatives have to be held accountable to environmental issues. And if you don’t hold them accountable, nobody else will.
      You have to have national legislation to back up your concerns. Sometimes industry has carried a negative connotation because of what they have not done. But they do make changes many times because they have to by law, and that’s good. We have the Clean Air Act. We have SARA Title III (Right-to-Know). We have the Texas Clean Air Act. We need to have those because sometimes industry does things to benefit themselves, but it still it also benefits us. And we will acknowledge the companies when they do do positive things.
      There is no more a choice between a job and clean air and clean water. People now want clean air and clean water and their job, and I think that is a moving concern in a lot of places, as well as Texas City. Yes, we want to live here and we love it, but we want to stay. We are not looking to run somewhere else where it may or may not be cleaner People have to stay here. We came here because of employment. We like it here. We ‘re staying here, we want to see a cleaner environment. We raised our children here. It is better than it was when we moved here.