USA: Creosote Contaminates Community for Generations

Publisher Name: 
Environmental News Service

BOSSIER CITY, Louisiana -- A cancer scientist calls it a gold mine for
research, a former resident calls it death row, and lawyers have made
millions off of it.

A small neighborhood in Bossier City, Louisiana has some of the highest
levels of chemical contamination, cancers and birth defects ever documented
in the United States, according to National Institutes of Health (NIH)
scientists.

The Lincoln Creosote plant is now a Superfund site on the National
Priorities List of the most hazardous sites in the country. It was operated
in a 20 acre field next to a residential area from 1935 to 1969 by several
different owners and operators, producing telephone poles and railroad
ties. The wood was pressure treated with creosote, copper-chromium arsenate
and pentachlorophenol (PCP) and hung out to dry.

Eventually, two large creosote ponds formed leaving arsenic and
carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as deep as 15 feet in
the ground. Large residential neighborhoods border the Lincoln Creosote
facility to the north, northeast, south and west.

Harold Quigley and his family lived just across a ditch and railroad
tracks, yards away from the plant. He spent summer nights sleeping on the
side porch, breathing the fumes from the plant and watching trains come and
go. The house sits vacant now, with overgrown weeds and hundreds of large
fire ant hills. Though the family still owns it, no one has lived there for
years. Harold's sister Mary recalls playing in the tar pits and ditches on
the site. She and her friends would walk on the crust of the creosote to
see who could last the longest before falling in.

Harold sighs as he verbally wonders whether his sterility was a result of
his exposure to the creosote. He has no doubt that his two cousins who died
young of leukemia were victims of it. No one can be 100 percent positive
that Harold's parents died from it. His mother had four types of cancer,
and his father had heart disease.

His sister Bobbie had breast cancer and an aneurism. She now lives in a
nursing home. His brothers James and Paul have both had skin cancer and
both had sons with birth defects. James' son Scott and his wife Mary have
had two stillborn babies. Harold's sister Linda has not had cancer yet. She
says, "it's just a matter of time," but she gave birth to two children with
birth defects. She also had a stillborn grandchild last year. Mary Quigley
had two children with birth defects.

Some might say the Quigleys just have bad genes. But a medical professor
from Louisiana State University who has documented the incidences of death
and disease in this small neighborhood thinks differently. According to Dr.
Patricia Williams, the high incidence of cancers and birth defects in
Bossier City was probably caused by the contamination in the ground, air
and water.

Dr. Williams found that the incidence of leukemia from the late 1970s to
the mid-1990s is as much as 40 times higher than normal populations, the
rate varies depending on the type of leukemia. Breast cancer incidence is
as much as five times higher than normal.

Incidences of birth defects are 300 percent higher that those recorded
during a comparable time period in Osaka, Japan which is near Hiroshima
where an atomic bomb was dropped in 1945 to end World War II.

Some houses in Bossier City were built on top of creosote soaked soil, and
over a ditch that was intented to carry the contaminants away from the plant.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remediated soil around
those houses on Bardot Lane in the mid-1990s, Donald Rosebrook of
EndoEnvironment tested soil behind the houses in 1998 and found it was
still contaminated. He found benzopyrene, anthracene, and other PAHs at a
depth of nearly three feet, and states in his report, "this is an extremely
contaminated area that has not been remediated."

The EPA states on its website that no further action is "the preferred
alternative" for the Lincoln Creosote location. The agency adds, "There
appears to be no significant environmental or ecological risk as it [the
site] lies in a highly urbanized area of Bossier City."

Today, there are signs posted around the old plant site warning,"Do not go
in the ditch." There is a chain-link fence punched through with holes in
some places, but neither seems to deter the dozens of children who live in
low-income apartments built next to the site in the 1980s.

Several children told ENS they regularly cross the ditch to pick and eat
blueberries which grow wild in the abandoned field where the plant
buildings stood.

For the Quigleys and others who have seen their parents and neighbors die
of cancer, their concern has shifted towards their children and
grandchildren. There is strong scientific evidence that PAHs bind to DNA,
permanently altering it and causing problems in subsequent generations.

"Is this something I passed down," wonders former resident Rudy Estess when
he talks about his granddaughter who was born with Rhett's sydrome. He says
she seemed fine until she turned two when she started to regress. She now
has no motor skills an must be fed through a tube. Scientists can test to
see if the DNA has been altered, but many people do not want to know.

"People are so depressed and cynical now," said 27 year old Ryan Gatti who
grew up on Bardot Lane. He adds that people are worse off knowing about the
DNA because their health insurance could deny their claims, stating they
had a pre-existing condition.

NIH scientists hope they can get enough people to participate in their
study. Usually, they travel overseas to study the effects of carcinogens on
DNA, or they look for a select group of occupationally exposed individuals.
In Bossier City, they may get a rare chance to see how PAHs affect American
individuals over the long term.

They hope to find out whether or not the creosote is responsible for
damaging DNA and causing cancer in people who are deceased, those who have
moved away, and those who still live there. Even if they find that those
living there now are being affected, there may be little if any recourse
for them.

A lawsuit involving 2,100 current and former residents was settled out of
court with Lincoln Creosote last year. Lawyers for the plaintiffs took
about half the settlement after fees, $16 million, and the remaining $15
million was split between 2,100 people for an average of about $7,000 for
each person.

Many of the plaintiffs were disappointed because they received no funds for
future medical monitoring expenses and no compensation for their children
and grandchildren who suffer from secondary exposure.

Bossier City resident Michael Davis worries about his daughter Brittany who
started menstruating at age six and still suffers from growth hormone
deficiency. He asks, "Why was consideration not given to children not
living at the site but bearing the weight of the effects?"

Davis says he was told by his attorneys that Brittany would be included in
the lawsuit. When he found out she was not included and confronted his
attorney, Kark Koch, he was told, "Brittany slipped through the cracks."

Brittany was not the only Bossier City child who slipped through the
cracks. Jessie Dovis wrote this to the court, "I object to the allocation
with the claim I have filed on behalf of my deceased son Darell D. Evans.
Darell passed away on January 25th from colon cancer. I know that he was
exposed and I believe that it caused his cancer. There is no history of
cancer in my family. We lived in that area for a number of years. ... This
$500.00 settlement is unjust."

For Gatti, the settlement was not much compensation. "When you get five or
ten thousand dollars but you find out everyone on your street has cancer, I
tell you, it bothers you every day."

The EPA Superfund history of the Lincoln Creosote site is online at:
http://www.epa.gov/earth1r6/6sf/6sf-la.htm

AMP Section Name:CorpWatch