Black Floridians Await Settlement on Toxic Contamination

  •  new york
  • Inter Press Service

Most do not even know who their representative is because no one can remember the last time a representative came to speak with the community. Most do not plan to vote because they don't see the point. For close to four decades, residents of Tallevast in southwest Florida lived side by side with the American Beryllium Company, which employed local men and women to manufacture parts for nuclear weapons. Each day, workers inhaled beryllium dust and brought it home on their clothing.

In an award-winning investigative journalism series for the Miami Herald titled 'Toxic Town', resident Charles Ziegler says, 'You came home, you brought that mess home.' Along with his wife, Ziegler suffers from chronic beryllium disease, a fatal scarring of the lung tissue. Adora Nweze, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the state of Florida, says the Tallevast case is only the tip of the iceberg.

'I can tell you this,' she told IPS. 'This whole state is covered with stories similar to this town's. There are areas, in the Black community in particular, where people are dying of cancer. Companies are depositing their copper and all sorts of metals in their drinking water.' 'Public health has been testing,' she continued sceptically, 'but something needs to be done. This is very, very real.'

Unbeknownst to Tallevast residents, toxic chemicals used in the plant, including dioxin and TCE, were seeping into the ground. By the time local regulators investigated, a poisonous plume had spread across 200 acres below the small historically Black town.

The plant was sold to defence contractor Lockheed Martin in 1996, and the leakage was discovered as the company prepared to sell the property in 2000. The state of Florida and Manatee County officials were notified but the problem was hidden from residents. State officials quietly began removing soil until a resident questioned their actions. In late 2003 information was finally released on the groundwater contamination. Only then did the truth of this environmental nightmare begin to come to light.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service