Document 93oG3xwQ3E35yL8VwpBGa2B36

spay, December 22, 1987 The Washington .Post ' THE CHEMICAL CORRIDOR Kay Gaudet, left, became concerned when sister Peggy Hoffman and nine other women she knew had miscarriages. Jobs and Illness in Petrochemical Corridor In Louisiana, Pollution Is Familiar but Pattern of Disease Is New By David Maraniss and Michael Weisskopf Washington Post Staff Writers ST, GABRIEL, La.---Kay Gaudet, the village pharmacist, started keeping her list one year ago. The first name on it was Peggy, her younger sister. The next nine were friends and neighbors. All had been pregnant about the same time, but there were no babies to show for it, only the private agony of miscarriage. Gaudet was concerned and curious. Was it coincidence? How many other women in St. Gabriel, population 2,100, had suffered similar fates? Gaudet spread the word at her drug store, at the Catholic church where she prayed each day and up and down the oak-lined river roads. Anyone who's had a miscarriage, teil Kay. Week by week, the list grew: Alice, Angie, Belin da, Charlotte, Dayna, Dell, Elizabeth, Emma, Irma, Karen, Matlin, Pam, Rhonda, Sandy, Sherri, Tammy, Terri, Tina, Tyra, Vera. Today, the names total 63. St. Gabriel lies along an 85-mile industrial corri dor where about one-fifth of America's petrochem icals are produced. It begins in Baton Rouge, with the giant tinkertoy maze of pipes, stacks and catcrackers in the shadows of Huey Long's skyscraper capitol building, and follows the Mississippi River down to the southeastern rim of New Orleans. The air, ground and water along this corridor are so full of carcinogens, mutagens and embryotoxins that an environmental health specialist defined living here as "a massive human experiment," the state attorney general called the pollution "a modern form of bar- See LOUISIANA, A10, CoL 1 Residents Tally Cancer Cases, Miscarriages fttuffln MeLinn, right. tits on Baton Rouge porch with Willie Fontenot, MeLlna worked et Copolymer Rubber td Chemical Cow, la biekgnuad, tad tey* the tintU tad hIh in the price ol jobs. LOUI9IANA, Prom A1 " barism," and a chemical UrtiOn leader now refers to it as "the national sacrifice zone.* As it rolls south, the Mississippi is an endless progression of wide loops. Seen' from the sky, they resemble colossal ques tion marks--rlghtside up and upside down--each quizzical turn lined with pet rochemical plants, refineries and toxic waste dumps, and dotted at bottom or (op by a town. Question marks loom large in many of these towns, not just in the poetic sweep of the river but in the life-and-death concerns of the people In Plaquemine, they wonder why Tiger Joe Gulptta and six other people came down with lung, brain or kidney cancer on one smalt span of Delacroix Street Their parish (or county), Iberville, is one of 10 m the southeastern one-third of Louisiana that rank in the top 10 percent of lung<ancer deaths nationwide, and while the percent age of cigarette smokers here is high, pub lic health specialists think there might be more to it Tiger Joe, who died of lung can cer three years ago, never smoked. In Chalmette. Elda Trapini would like to know why the street she lives on, Jacob* Drive, became known as "Cancer Alley,* with 15 cancer victims in two blocks, and why, a half-mile away on Decomine Street, her sister and nephew were among seven cancer victims on one block. On Coco Road in Geismar, whose yel lowish-green industrial plume can be seen 20 miles away, they ask why cats and dogs have lost their hair, why aluminum screens rust soon after they are installed and why teen-age and middle-age men are dying of kidney and testicular cancer. In the old company town of Norco, nat uralist Milton Cambrc puzzles over the dis appearance of Spanish moss from the live oak stands and crawfish from the ponds, puddles, marshes and canals And in' St. Gabriel, they want to know why there are so many names on Kay Gau- det'slut. Her figures mean that one of every three pregnancies there since 1983 has ended in fetal death, more than double the Louisiana average. As the numbers grew, Gsudet and many others here began to think what was once unthinkable: Perhaps the local chem ical plants--18 of them within five miles of town, eight more across the river m Plaque- mine--had something to do with it Nearly 400 million pounds Of toxic pollutants are released into the atmosphere here each year, inf -*><)firQpO-jxiuhds of vinyl chloride^ *a:ingredient of plastic that is a carcinogen and suspected embryotoun. `Something Was Very Wrung' This hypothesis was not easily posed in St. Gabriel. For decades, the town'* eco nomic health has been tied to the chemical and petroleum refinery companies lured to ^Lomai&rM agkr World jVar IL providing half of its manufacturing income. Some hus bands of the miscarrying women worked m those plants, which employ one of every five laborers in the state. Gaudet grew up in a company village up at the huge Exxon re finery in Baton Rouge, where her father Still operates the pipes. From birth, she was accustomed to the sights and smella of heavy industry. But to be familiar, she decided, is not to be immune. "I'm not trying to be a hell-raiser or a goody-goody, I just think we have a situa tion that needs answering," said Gaudet, 37, whose pharmacy just past the stoplight on Rte. 74 has become a clearinghouse and meeting place. "When I first started with the list, Some people wanted me to say right away that the chemicals were at fault. But ( didn't want to say anything that I didn't know to be true. Then last summer, tt started to get out of control. When four women miscar ried in eight days, I realized that something was very wrong here. I Started studying the chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, and their ' possible effects, and it just clicked. I had (o' raise the question, SO I did-' My mom is al ways saying to me, 'Kay, shut up, didn't you ever see that Silkwood movie? If you're not worried about yourself, what about your kids?' And I say that's exactly what I'm wor ried about--my kids," Gaudet and her husband, Chris, have two healthy little girls, The oldest, Christine, 9, has watched her mother so carefully over the past year that she knows the issues, sometimes pretending she i3 a television re porter, Wtrii imaginary microphone in hand, she asks: Why are all these babies dying? That question ia being explored by the Tulane School of Environmental Health, but officials there do not expect to solve the mystery. A few'htudiej done in the United . States, Canada and England show an abnor mally high rate of spontaneous abortions and birth defects among women whose hus bands work near vinj^eWoride or who live `dbwnwftftf* ft wit -vlftyt-ehlond* potymeiua- tion plants. But as Tulane scientist Lu Ann White told the St. Gabriel women at a meeting in late August: "It's very possible you may never get a definitive answer.* Fred Loy and Richard Kremer of the Louisiana Chemical Association say the pau city of definitive scientific evidence makes them feel aa if they are "battling ghosts* in responding to charges against the industry. Once, when asked about the St. Gabriel sit uation, Loy said. "Before we can conclude anything, the State has to find out if there ri even a problem, how bad it is and what is causing it ,,. They say the chemu <1 plants are causing the miscarriages, but they have no proof. I could say they screw too much and that's the cause of the mucarnages. But then I would have no way to prove that' `It's human nature to want to blame something, whether it'a God or industry or your body,' Kreiner said. "The industry sometimes gets more than Its share of crit icism. We feel that in this area we have an exemplary environmental record ,,,, We have been pretty responsible neighbors' The chemical corridor was hewn from a simple rural society m a fiat, senutropical wedge of the Mississippi Basin, Vast sugar cane plantations, worked first by slaves, then by tenant farmers, enriched the aris tocratic owners of French descent who lived m mansions and enjoyed the society of New Orleans a short steamboat ride away. Enclaves grew up in the shadow of those es tates. pockets of poor blacks and Acadpns who fished, hunted and trapped in the bayoua and settled on streets named for their families. When World War II sparked an oil and gas Boom elsewhere in the sute, industry put its refineries along the river with its shipping lanes. Petrochemicals, made with petroleum provided by refineries and with salt, sulfur and water provided by nature, followed easily. By the 1970s, the industrial corndor was known as America's Ruhr, producing 60 percent of the nation's vinyl chlande, 60 percent of the nitrogen fertilizers and 26 percent of the chlorine Today, the river is lined with 126 petrochemical plants and seven oil refineries, nearly one for every half mile of the Mississippi. Jobs, Money and Pollution The jobs and money, they brought to 10 river parishes transformed one of the poor est, Blowcst-growing Sections of Louisiana into communities of brick houses and shop ping centers. !, But they also brought pollution. The nar row corridor absorbs more toxic substances annually than do most entire states: carcin ogens such as benzene, carbon tetrachloride and ethylene dichloride: experimental mu tagens or fetal poisons such as toluene, eth ylene oxide and chloroform. Coast Guard divers retrieving sediment samples from a bayou in 1976 suffered second-degree burns on their hands. St. Gabriel, Geiamar and Plaqucmine alone--10 square miles^an pollute the air with as much as 25 million pounds per year of these chemicals and dump 75 million pounds of industrial wastes into the Missis sippi, according to studies. Another 3.5 mil lion tons of toxic debris--more than l per cent of the nation's total--is buried, dumped in landfills and Stored in surface ponds or injected through underground metal pipes deep into the earth. Toxic fumes from a waste site near the Devil's Swamp section of Baton Rouge caused nausea, headaches and vomiting in workers two blocks away during a cleanup effort last month. Despite its longterm dilution in the en vironment, the corridor pollution leaves telltale tracks. In the 1970s, the Environ mental Protection1Agency found 66 pollut ants in Near Orleans drinking water and 3j* lethal chemicals tnThe air of Plaquemines The. groundwater of 23 industrial nu**0 along the nver u saturated with toxte mv- tenils, burrowing toward the drinking-wa^ ter aquifers of communities served by wells,' Motorists driving down the conador'i, main highway are reminded ui hyperbole pf the ultimate chemical disaster*,,'Bhopal on the Bayou.7* reads a billboard hoisted by workers on atrikil, from oat pi the jxtre^j chemical plants* ,r. ,'j Such a region might be expected tp re-, semblo a. congested, sooty notch oa the; Rust Belt. Not the chemical comdor, wuh| its neat neighborhoods and forests of shiny pipes. Pollution registers quietly hqrfr--m' the Oily taste of New Orleans water, which' Cajun dcKin^&ieun wmplain can spo:T eve erythmg trora lxAiroon fo'red' biani ind rice; m the blackened leaves of fruit treed,* in the acrid odor aid white particulate talP out from the Murphy Oil Refinery in Cha)-' mette, in the evacuation of the town of Good Hope. For lQ years, residents there,' including Charles'*nd Barbara Robicheaux,' kept their suitcases packed to flee monthly fires at a local refinery. 11 `We always kept our valuables in a safe place where we Could grab them at a mV ment'i notice," recalled Charles RobP cheaux, 64. The 100 families of Good Hope devised a warning system, knocking at each Others doors to rouse neighbors, often in the middle of the night. They would meet at the Presbyterian church where they kept their cars facing the river--the path of es cape. The refinery bought out the Robicheaui - family and other residents in the early 1980s, and today Good Hope consists of a few abandoned structures and weeds Ffom whole communities, the disruption devolves to the individual trauma of Jesse Billings, an `asthmatic from Piaquemave, felled from her ndmg lawn mower last Au- 8m LOUISIANA, AJ l, CoL l The industrial corridor it to full of carcinogens, mitogens and embryotoxim that it has boon coiled a "massive human exper iment" and a "national sacrifice jo/ie.'* A'arainf sign wu peatwl lot awstk fa Devifi Swamp. where dead trm Indicate potation ItrtL The 1970 Clean AirAct require* the Efli [L f to regulate hcuardoui airpollutants. The agency has emission standardsfor Seven substances, but they don 1 include many ofthe corridor V deadliest chemicals. ilr4yir i 1 .>, Barbara tad Charles ftobleheaux survey abaodeaed Street whir* they and their uifhbort once lived. i Prosperity, Illness and a Common Thread of Pollution LOUISIANA, ? AlO "It's just in every block of this gifat by i bluish cloud of chlorine, wfekfa. she said, was released with* out warning by the Dow Chemical plant 300 yards from her backyard. Hospitalised for three weeks with respiratory ailments. Billings. 60, *iid,T respect chlorine just like I . respect a gun." Her thick-skinned defense is dt fignsur in the chemical corridor, where pollution is woven into life small town* of 10,000 people, said Gulotta, a city councilman, "Every where you turn, you find some body's got cancer." She has heard some experts pin the cancers on smoking, but Gulotta knows that Tiger Joe never smoked. She also knows that since Dow Chemical opened in the J960s, and Other companies followed, the lightning bugs she caught as a little girl in Plaquemine have disap patterns much the way noise be comes part of communities in the path of jetliners. But the threat of peared. So have the dragonflies and the river shrimp, once plentiful. The pecan trees in her backyard catastrophic disease has turned bore deformed nuts this year. these river settlements into a cor "It has helped the economy," Gu ridor of fear. lotta said. "But if it's going to kill us Kay Caudefs list of miscarriages all, what good is it?* is' only the latest manifestation of The question echoes throughout that fear. More detailed, scientific the corridor, especially in places lists document cancer death rates such as Ceismer, a predominantly that grew as the chemical corridor black town across the river from grew. By the late 1970s, the area Plaquemine and next to St. Gabriel. hid enjoyed and endured 1$ to 20 Many families have been living yws Of Industrialization, the esti there Since their slave ancestors re mated latency period for carcino ceived land after the Civil War, land gens. that once fed them. Now, they let ..`Statistics compiled by the Nation* the earth lie fallow and boil their il Cancer Institute show that the well water. The fear began six state has the nation's highest lung years ago with the overnight death cancer mortality rate for white of 30 cows grazing nearby, local males, 25 percent higher than the leader Amos Favorite said. national average during the 1970s. Neat Cudd was a maintenance Six river parishes ranked among the top 10 percent of U.5. counties for such deaths, and New Orleans, m a 1974*78 survey of nine other tumor registries, scored 45 percent higher than average. Mortality rates have increased 2.5 percent annually since 1960, and 80 of every 100,000 white males died of the disease in the 1970s Compared to 52 per 100,000 from 1950 to 1969. At least one river parish ranks among the top 5 percent nationwide of deaths caused by cancer of the lung, stom ach, gall bladder, intestine, liver, pancreas, bladder, thyroid, eso phagus and skin. mechanic for seven years m one of the Geismer plants, BASF Corp., and his story prompts union leaders to question some companies' com mitment to health and safety, inside and outside of their gales. Before BASF locked out Cudd and other striking workers in June 1984, he handled equipment doused in toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing formaldehyde, Cudd said in an in terview m late October. "They would send us out to pull a valve, and it would be full of chemicals," he recalled. `Impossible to do it without getting it on us. It was quite frequent that we'd have chemicals on our clothes and hands " Two of Cudd's coworkers devel oped testicular cancer in recent years. Another has stomach cancer. A fourth killed himself after sus pecting that he had developed a brain tumor. In September, doctors told Cudd. 45, that he had kidney cancer and had three to SIX months to live. He died Nov. 7. BASF general manager Les Sto ry said the company requires pro tective clothing for workers han dling chemicals and that any expo sure to Chemicals by Cudd was "in violation of our procedure," As for health problems of BASF employes, Link to Cancr Uncertain Pollution's role in the corridor's cancer profile is open to debate. Studies by Dr. Marise S. Gottlieb of the Tuiane University School of Medicine showed that people who drink water from the Mississippi have "significantly higher" rates of rectal cancer than consumers of well water and that residents within one mile of large petrochemical plants have a 4.5 times higher chance of getting lung cancer than those living l to 3 miles away, . Industry officials say the studies re Sawed because they are based on death certificates that often con tain erroneous data. Dr. Walter Hukm, associate medical director of Ethyl Corp. m Baton Rouge, said that while extreme chemical expo* urea might lead to cancer and oth er serious diseases, he does not be lieve the levels here are high enough to have `an adverse effect on health." But at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, Dr, Velma Campbell said the studies suggest a "positive cor* relation" between the high cancer rates and pollution. Many physi cians are concerned about "ongoing exposure ... to low levels of can cer-causing products simply be cause we know that exposure to carcinogens at any level raises the riskshe said. Campbell said corridor residents have been subjected to a "massive human experiment* in which large quantities of a wide variety of sul> stances have been discharged into the air and water. Now we are Standing back and seeing what the outcome will be." The question in St. Gabriel and some neighboring towns is not what, but how bad. the outcome will be. In Plaquemine, Etta Lee Gulotta started assessing the damage three years ago. Her husband. Tiger Joe, healthy ail his life, died suddenly of lung cancer, and Etta Lee surveyed other households on her three-block Street- Sepen cancers, four of them fatal. Then, she canvassed within a five-block radius. Forty more catw ftrt Manv of rhe victims were A CHEMICAL GLOSSARY BEN2n: A clear, flammable liquid used as a solvent in the rubber and plastics industries and as a chemical intermediate, or building block. In the ' Synthesis of pharmaceuticals and detergents. High exposure to benzene can depress the central nervous system, causing headaches, nausea and loss Of muscular coordination. Benzene is a recognized human carcinogen that causes leukemia and has been linked to aplastic anemia, In which the cells in the bone marrow are destroyed CARBON TETRACHLORIDE. A nonflammable, colorless liquid used in fire extinguishers and in industry as a solvent for oils, waxes and resins. The chemical can depress the central nervous System end cause liver and kidney damage by killing celts and Interfering with the organs' normal functions. There is danger tor those exposed to Carbon tetrachloride If they also consume alcohol, which elicits a particularly potent reaction. Some studies with animals have shown carbon tetrachloride to be carcinogenic. CHLOROFORM; Once the chosen anesthetic of many hospitals, the colorless, volatile liquid is now used as a solvent in lacquers and plastics. Chloroform depresses the central nervous system and chronic exposure can lead to liver and kidney damage Some studies with animals have shown it to be carcinogenic. Chloroform sometimes appears in public water SUppkfS ss a byproduct of chlorination, but government standards regulate acceptable levels ETHYLENE OXIDE: A chemically reactive gas used as a sterilizing agent for surgical instruments and in the production of polyester resins, antifreeze and other things. Acute exposure to ethylene oxide can lead to respiratory Irritation, skin or eye irritation. Some studios with animals have shown it to be carcinogenic, TOLUENE: A colorless, flammable liquid found as a constituent of gasoline and paints. The greatest toxic dangers from toluene are associated with depression of the central nervous system. Humans can be exposed to higher concentrations of this chemical without toxic . effects than to the Other chemicals on ttos list There is hb evidence . that toluene is carcinogenic. VINYL CHLORIDE; A eolortess gas used in the manufacture of polyvinyl Chloride plastics. There is evidence that vinyl chloride carcinogenic to humans, particularly affecting the liver; it has also been linked to tumors m the lung. Vinyl chloride depresses the central nervous system and IS S suspected embryotaxin. Story said, "We have not been able to determine any workplace rela tionship." The central issue facing Ceismer and the entire Corridor ia how to co exist with the plants. No one is rec ommending the shutdown of com panies SO vital to Louisiana's for tunes. The most common prescrip tion is regulation. But within Louisiana's traditional political culture, the environment has only recently received atten tion. There are no fulltime environ mental lobbyists in Baton Rouge, while the Chemical association has five and the association of business and industry has 10 more. The state Department of Environmental Quality is not funded by the legis lature. relying solely on fines, per mit fees and federal grants. Every plant is required by state law to obtain permits for water and air emissions. But the legislature exempted air polluters built before 1970, and parts of half of the state's plants qualify. Where permits are required, critics say, the state is too generous in setting limits and too lenient m enforcing them. Companies frequently exceed their permits without penalty. There were 78 "accidental re leases" and six spills by 14 of the 13 plants in the Geismer-St. Gabriel area in the first nine months of 1986, totaling 47,800 pounds and 4,100 gallons of air pollutants, ac cording to a Sierra Club study. Among the 14 offenders, two were fined. Industry In Government The industry, meanwhile, has been able to retain its tax breaks (10-year property tax exemptions for new or expanding manufactur ers) by controlling state boards and local councila that make such deci sions. In Plaquemine, for instance. Etta Lee Gulotta it the only one of six City Council members who does not work for a chemical company At Louiaiana State University, Dr, Paul Templet, chairman of the environmental policies department, said his staff has never received funding to study Chemical pollutants along the corridor because "it hasn't been politically favorable to do so." After Gottlieb's studies sug gesting a link between cancers and chemical pollution, her funding dried up. Louisiana Attorney General Wil liam J, Guate, Jr. blames the EPA for poor regulation, criticising the agency f(r "unwillingness or rnabdtty' to set limits on toxic air con taminants and for failure to inves tigate the health effects of heavy chemical fallout in the state. The Clean Air Act of 1970 re quires the EPA to regulate hazard- ' OuS air pollutants. Seventeen years later, the agency has emission Stan dards for seven substances, and the Qst does not include many of the corridor's deadliest chemicals. An EPA spokesman said setting Stan dards for the contaminants IS 'ex traordinarily expensive and timeconsuming." One of Guste's assistants, envi ronmental specialist Willie Fon tenot, has spent so much time in vestigating reports of spills that he knows where he is along the cor ridor entirely by smell. 'We must be approaching the carbon-process ing plant,' he will say, Sticking hia nose out the car window for a sniff. During the gubernatorial primary this fall, several candidates, includ ing governor-elect Buddy Roomer, discovered that public sentiment on environmental issues appears to be Changing. One poll showed nearly 75 percent of respondents would accept stronger environmental reg ulations even if that meant a ka of jobs. Roemer, who has pledged that jobs will not outrank environmental concerns in his administration, may test that sentiment. "There's s dear change in public perceptions," he said. *lt used to be that the chemicals were viewed as being in the state and national in terest. Now the feeling is that while chemicals have to be produced, we shouldn't have to take all the im- 0-4