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INTERVIEWEE: LaNell Anderson (LA)


DATE:  October 5, 1999

LOCATION:  Channelview, Texas

TRANSCRIBER: Robin Johnson 

REELS: 2036 and 2037

Please see the Real Media video record
of reels 2036 and 2037 from our full interview with Ms Anderson.  Please note that videos  
include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for
technical settings at the outset of the recordings.

 Note:  boldfaced numbers refer to time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview


DT: My name is David Todd and I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas and it’s October 5, 1999. And, we have the pleasure of being with LaNell Anderson here on the banks of the San Jacinto River, in the Channelview community area. And, a beautiful site but also the site of a – a terrible a – a chemical leak and also a – a river fire a number of years ago. And we thought it would be an appropriate place to interview, ah, LaNell, who’s been an advocate for protecting her community for many years. And I want to take this chance to thank you for spending some time with us.

0:02:03 - 2036

LA: Thank you, David, for having me.

DT: But, LaNell, could you tell us how you first came to, ah, this town of Channelview?


LA: Well, my father was in business, and decided that at my age of 13, that we needed to move to Houston. We moved to the north shore area, which is right here along I-10 East, and which is along Houston Ship Channel. And little did we know what we were in store for.

DT: What was the community like then?

0:02:36 - 2036

LA: Well, Channelview actually was a fairly clean community in 1957. The history of Channelview is that it once was sort of a resort area. The river was beautiful, the San Jacinto River here. It wasn’t contaminated at that point and people would come here for vacations.

DT: And then over the years I understand it got developed as an industrial site?

0:03:00 - 2036

LA: Actually it did. Long about 1978 – 79, some industry located on Sheldon Road, which started out very small, as a matter of fact. And, it is on the banks of the San Jacinto River as well.. And it has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, so that our community has been completely engulfed in industrial toxins, air emissions. We have three Superfund sites located within just two or three miles of the spot we’re sitting right now. And, these sites were created by companies dumping their carcinogens into these places.

DT: What kind of companies and plants came to Channelview?

0:03:42 - 2036

LA: Actually they’re chemical companies. They’re two of the major chemical companies in the U.S. Equistar now, once was called, Lyondell Chemicals, and, Lyondell, which once was called Arco Chemicals. They’re both huge chemical companies.

DT: And, what sort of things do they make there?

0:04:04 - 2036

LA: They actually make a lot of chemical building blocks, for other industries. But, ah, Ethylene Oxide is, and Propylene Oxide are their main, and 1-3-butadiene are their main products.

DT: And, what do you think drew them to this area?

0:04:23 - 2036

LA: I think the - the fact that they could be close to a large city and use the facilities of that city without actually being located in the city limits, which helped their ah, base line tax situation. Also, the ease with which they could ship their goods. We are crisscrossed, in this area, with pipelines. In fact, 25 pipelines run under the river that we’re looking at right now. And, there is also a major freeway, Interstate 10 goes coast to coast. So they could ship by ah, barge, they could ship by truck. And, also they could ship by rail. So it was a – a - a pretty unique site for them to help their bottom line profits.

DT: Where they offered any tax abatements?

0:05:06 - 2036

LA: The tax abatements were developed, actually, by the corporations. And, they, we have a jurisdictional issue here, which we’re located in the country here, not in the city. So we have a County Commissioners Court and, as well as a city council for Houston. And, there – it’s a multi-jurisdictional issue because schools give tax abatements, the county would give a tax abatement, and so, cities also give tax abatements, independently incorporated cities in the county can give tax abatements. Here in Channelview they have approached the school board many times for tax abatements. And what that means, most people don’t understand, but, about three years ago…


DT: Tell us more about tax abatement.

0:06:03 - 2036

LA: Well, actually, the corporations have learned that they can, ah, go to schools districts, they can go to the junior colleges, they can go to the county, and apply for a tax abatement. And what that means is they can build multi-millions dollar additions to their plants, their chemical plants, without paying tax on those properties for 10 years, the terms average 10 years. So, I spent a great deal of time about 3 years ago and I went to the Harris County Appraisal District and discovered that in Harris County alone, ah, from all the jurisdictions major industry had applied for and received tax abatements on eight billion dollars worth of their property. So that means that they did not pay tax on eight billion dollars worth of property for 10 years, which is significant.

DT: So the - the taxpayers in these communities are, in a sense, subsidizing these plants?

0:07:02 - 2036

LA: That’s exactly right, because they use our roads, they use our railway systems, they use all the facilities in our community and in our city, yet they don’t pay taxes on – on, ah, the profits that they are making. So, in a, in a real sense, tax payers are being forced to subsidize their profits, which citizens now believe is - is really unfair. I have done a lot of work at Commissioner’s Court when I went down and targeted a particular tax abatement for Elf Atochem, for example, and they were actually under indictment by the county attorney for breaking environmental laws. And they went and applied for a tax abatement anyway. So, we effectively stopped that one abatement, because how can you reward, with one hand – taking away, and then give with the other. And, that’s just – that is a good indicator of the hold that corporate America has on our county and our city here in Houston.

DT: We’ve talked a little bit about some of the financial burdens that these plants have put on the community. Can you talk about some of the environmental burdens, I mean, I think there have been a number of incidences over the years, from spills to leaks… the explosions?

0:08:19 - 2036

LA: Well, yes there have, David. Industry would have you believe that they’re innocuous, that they’re just trying to make, you know, a profit here and there. But when they live in your community and they proliferate the way these industries have proliferated in our communities, and in many communities all along the ship channel, all inclusive, they pose a serious environmental risk. Right now the Houston Ship Channel’s greatest contaminant is Dioxin. The Texas Department of Health has done the most recent fish tissue samples showing the highest levels of Dioxin ever measured. And, we’ve been under a fish advisory, which means we cannot consume these fish since 1984, yet there’s never been a sign posted anywhere. And there are very – there are people fishing every day putting fish on their table. The, ah, the chemicals, the amount of chemicals that are put into the air in Harris County total 750 million pounds a year. There are 5.1 million pounds of carcinogens, known cancer causing chemicals, that are put into our air. Our system of permitting is so lax in the state of Texas, that it does no good, you might say. Anybody who wants a permit is going to get a permit. While everybody in Houston, more than 4 million citizens, are breathing these carcinogens. So it doesn’t matter what part of Houston you’re in, you’re going to be breathing carcinogens.

DT: And, I guess, a lot of this is, sort of, insidious, back ground, sort of, emissions. But, are there also, sort of, dramatic instance that you’ve seen, I mean, that have, …(?)…sort of, hit the headlines?

0:10:02 - 2036

LA: Well, the example I would give, is that, just by virtue of where we’re sitting today, we’re located five miles from two facilities where there were two explosions in the past seven to eight years, where forty men died. They got up to go to work that day, they kissed their wives and children goodbye, they went to work and there were explosions and they died. They did not find a lot of those men. There is an area designated at our, one of our local chemical companies, where seventeen or eighteen men died. And, its – its designated that they can’t build on it, they don’t do anything there, because they know that that’s where their bodies are. It’s really a sad thing, when you get down to the gory details of these families now living without fathers and husbands and that’s not the only incident. We have explosions almost monthly. Across this nation, there are twenty explosions in the chemical and petrochemical industry every day, every day. Some take lives and some don’t. But I can tell you, just in the 1980s, two incidents that come to mind, the Hibernia(?) oil rig capsized; eighty-four men died. There was another oil – off shore oil rig that blew up, and 128 men died. So, I challenge anybody whose doing this work to study and see the cost of oil and the pursuit of the profit from that oil for our entire nation.

DT: The site that we’re at right now, on the banks of the San Jacinto, I understand that four or five years ago it was in flames. Is that correct?

0:11:46 - 2036

LA: That’s correct. In October 20, actually, 1994, if we could back up, October 16, the rains came. And they were in torrents, which is not unusual in Houston. We have had rains and floods for years. And it rained and rained, it rained all over Texas as a matter of fact. And the water is never stopped by damns up in the north Texas area, it continues to flow down stream. And, so, when it got to the Houston area, decisions were made to open damns in Montgomery County and Lake Houston and all of the people along the banks of this river, most of them that were at a fairly low level, were completely flooded. And there was a pipeline, Colonial Pipeline, it’s still in existence, actually. It’s owned by 20 companies that are all the major oil companies, that carries gasoline to the northeast. It’s the major delivery pipeline from this Gulf Coast area up to the northeast. It had been leaking for some time. In fact, we found out, through investigation, that they had been told the year prior to re, ah, re-position their pipeline because it had been found to be loose during an inspection by the Railroad Commission. And they had not done that. With the floods, of course, it became even in worse condition, and so they actually had a man there working on the pipeline. It leaked for what we believe to be two to three days. And then, upon some ignition source, which no one knows, the entire two mile stretch of the river that we’re looking at right now, was on fire. Of course, we had many, many people come from all over the U.S. to attend to this huge environmental assault on our community. It brought into focus many issues that still are unresolved. For example the Shelter in Place issue. Shelter in Place, and I’ve done some investigating about this as well, that order is typically given by a corporation. The corporation calls the local law enforcement agencies and they say, we’re issuing a Shelter in Place, because they’re the ones who know what’s in the air, what’s been released. Law enforcement has told me they have to take their orders from industry because they won’t allow them in the gates and they’re the only ones who do know. So, therefore, Law enforcement calls the school districts and to tell the schools to shelter the children in place.

0:14:16 - 2036

Well, on October 20, when this fire erupted on the river, there was a shelter in place order issued to the Channelview schools and then shortly thereafter there was an evacuation order issued on all the major television and radio stations. We were under assault. Our whole community was just about to blow up and we felt, we felt the very real threat. We’ve been able to raise some consciousness levels in our community, so we know how dangerous the chemicals are. When the citizens began to go to the schools to get their children, they would not release the children, because they were still under a shelter in place order. And it created chaos. Many citizens felt as though the offending companies, the offending corporations, had not only been guilty of running us out of our community, now they had complete control of their children. And, so help me, I know of no constitutional right that gives a corporation control over our children. But that’s how evasive corporate America has become. They control our world, in our view.

DT: LaNell, you told us a little bit about the pipeline leak and related fire here. Can you tell us about other incidents with pipelines, or shipping or transport or storage that you don’t often associate with the plants that they serve.

0:15:59 - 2036

LA: Well, there is such a public relations clamp on information that gets out in Houston, that often times we are not made aware of many of the leaks that come from pipelines, for example, from the barges that transport these chemicals up and down the river, ah, to the channel, up and down the ship channel. And, there are leaks. I mean, for example, about four years ago, I was asleep in my brick home, air conditioned and heated, nice windows, so it wasn’t just, ah, you know, a house where air would flow through easily. And I was awakened about 3 o’clock in the morning with a horrific chemical odor, I could not get my breathe. I was awakened from a dead sleep with this chemical odor that was in my house. And, and that’s just something that is - is really frightening and should not be. It should – that assault should not come to our community. Also, I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night with seismic rumblings, when one of these facilities would start up on of their major units, you know, in the middle of the night. And not know, my windows rattling when I lived in a nice brick home. You know, and I, and I thought well, maybe it’s the train, you know, maybe that’s what I hear. Because often times you think of the rumblings, seismic rumblings of the weight of the train coming along. But this was ten times worse. I thought we were going to be blown up. And I’m not alone. Many people in this community, in fact, all people in this community experience the same things and have the same concerns. We don’t’ know. Is tonight the night that our community is going to be blown off the map? And then, the more I learn about the chemicals are stored on sight, which should be covered under the latest legislation of RMP, risk management programs, I understand that two-hundred forty thousand gallons of Ethylene Oxide is stored at one of these facilities. And knowing that a twenty-vie, knowing that a twenty-five gallon tank car can explode, twenty-five thousand gallon, I’m sorry, tank car, can explode with Ethylene Oxide and create a hole six-stories deep in the earth, does it tell you, does it tell you what risk we’re at in this community. It – it’s just insidious. We live in what I call a kill-zone. Many communities up along the ship channel, up and down the ship channel, citizens are living in kill zones. Citizens are absolutely living in kill zones. There’s no way to escape. If lightning hits one of those units that’s holding all these on site chemicals, we’re gone. In our view, it is an unreasonable risk.

DT: Can you tell about this Ethylene Oxide tank car explosion? What happened?

0:18:52 - 2036

LA: I don’t have the details on that explosion. I have been told there was a twenty-five thousand gallon tank car, railroad tank car, which is relatively small.


I understand there was a twenty-five thousand gallon tank car, which is relatively small, by comparison to other tank cars, that was sitting on site, in Texas city, or one of the cities down south, and it got too warm and it exploded. Ethylene Oxide is a chemical that boils at 51 degrees. It explodes, it’s an auto ignition chemical, it explodes upon contact with the atmosphere. It is a very dangerous chemical and if it’s not managed properly, or correctly, it’s not off-loaded correctly, then we’re all at risk. During the river that was on fire, what they failed to tell anyone, was that the biggest risk was the Ethylene Oxide. Because that pipeline ran right along beside that chemical facility, very close, less than a quarter of a mile, just probably a hundred yards away, from this two-hundred forty gallons of Ethylene Oxide. Therefore, if that fire had traveled up that pipeline, none of us would be here today. None of us would be here.

DT: Speaking of explosions that sometimes hit this community. Do you recall any stories about one of the first major explosions, I guess it was at the Texas City docks, of I guess it was a transport ship?

0:20:37 - 2036

LA: It was a transport ship and it held fertilizer. It held the same fertilizer that the criminal used to blow up the building in Oklahoma City. And, I don’t know a lot about it, David, I know there was a lot of loss of life.

DT: Do you think there’s been any sort of legacy from that of people being wary of chemicals or shipping safety?

0:21:05 - 2036

LA: Well, I think we’ve all been led, the citizens have all been led to believe that improvements have been made. Improvements in the laws concerning how to handle those products. But it still does not remove the risk, does it? I was asked to be involved in a Coast Guard workshop for two days, a couple of years ago, concerning…


DT: Can you continue to tell us about the Coast Guard?

0:21:33 - 2036

LA: I was asked to participate in a two day workshop which the Coast Guard conducted concerning chemical spills into the navigable water ways, around Houston, specifically the ship channel. And, or course, all the chemical handlers were on board, they were at the table, there were more than forty of those men there. I heard frightening stories from some of those men. Basically that we had every response in the world associated with dealing with these chemicals, beginning with just lighting a match, throwing it over your shoulder and running like hell, all the way to calling the appropriate authorities to deal with the spill. Of course, once it’s in water, you know, it’s almost impossible to contain. And depending on what chemical you’re talking about. And then when you realize that a lot of these ships, that are off-loading these chemicals, have foreign workers who can’t read English, they can’t speak English. They come up to an American doc, we have separate environmental laws and rules than they do in their own countries of origin. You know, you can see the – the – the chance for a catastrophic error. And that leads me to another issue, in these facilities, they all use contractors and it’s a way of off – off-setting their costs and off-setting their liabilities.

DT: …Contractors as opposed to full-time employees?…

0:23:03 - 2036

LA: That’s correct. They maintain the safety record that they’re all so proud of, the ISO 9000, or ISO 6000, or whatever their numbering system is, which is just a game created for their own PR. Often times they’ll take the most dangerous jobs and give those jobs to a contractor, so that if there is injury or death, they don’t have to claim it. So they don’t get sanctioned by our environmental agencies. Many, many times…


Many, many times these contractors will hire, workers that don’t speak English, they can’t read directions that are printed in English.


Many times the contractors will hire people that can’t speak English, therefore when they go into these facilities to operate equipment and the instructions are there printed in English, they can’t read the instructions. And I would say, about 50 % of the time, that I am very suspect when a explosions occur from maintenance type operations, like cleaning tanks etc., that is was because of a worker who cannot read English.

DT: You mentioned you did this work with the Coast Guard. I imagine the Coast Guard isn’t alone in being an agency that’s responsible for regulating these industries. There’s the EPA, Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, the Railroad Commission. What do you think of their response to some of these risks in the industries here?

0:24:51 - 2036

LA: Well, David, I’ve done a lot of work with the EPA. They have asked me to come, as a public participant, to many round-tables in Washington D.C. and here in Houston. In trying to get a grasp on how our regulatory agencies work, I discovered the EPA delegates their enforcement authority to the state agency, the TNRCC [Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission]. And, in watching the TNRCC and their responses to particular issues, I can tell you that they are very ineffectual, in fact, I would term them as a failure. I think that they should give all the money they’ve made for the last fifteen years back to the citizens, because they have acted in no more than a way of extension to the corporations, they help the corporations fight the citizens. And that’s not why they were established. They fail, in my view, many times, when it comes to looking at federal law and state law. They will opt to give the most lenient, decisions when it comes to industry. We fought, I guess, the beginning of our fight here in Channelview came when a corporation named American Envirotech came to Channelview and decided they were going to put in a commercial toxic waste incinerator, on fourteen acres right by the ship channel.


They citizens really became, melded. We stood together to fight this issue. We discovered the person that was making application for this permit, for this toxic waste incinerator was a former employee of the Texas Water Commission. So, not only had we paid her salary as tax payers, for many years, but she took what she learned from the Texas Water Commission to make a big profit. And it was wrong. There was no demonstrated need for this incinerator in Channelview. We had the old Rollins incinerator just across the ship channel from where the proposed location of this, this incinerator was to be. But yet the TNRCC, with John Hall as it’s Executive Administrator, issued the permit. I made a very strong case, during this contested case that there was no financial assurance proven on the part of the applicant and it is a RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act], Part B permit, and that’s one of the requirements. And so, John Hall worked very closely with the applicant to bring in a money-man. And that was from Odgen Resources, and, of course, you know, Ogden is one of the largest waste com – corporations in the U.S. And, on the very last day, when they issued the permit, John Hall forced them to merge, so then they could prove financial assurance, but technically they had no financial assurance. And so, they issued the permit, everybody went home. There were 600 people in the audience that day. I personally delivered 18,000 signed petitions to John Hall in an apple basket, and it did not matter to him.

0:28:07 - 2036

Everybody went home and decided we’d lost and that they were going to build the permit – I mean the permitted facility – and I decided that wasn’t going to happen. So I continued to fight. I looked at the way federal law and state law interacted. And John Hall was illegal, he illegally issued that permit. The minute, an interesting fact is, the minute – the political regime changed, and John Hall was no longer a part of the TNRCC. He came strait to Houston and went strait to work immediately for the attorney that was representing the citizens in this fight. We still fail to understand how an attorney can have that type of conflict and legally represent citizens. But it happened. It happened here in Channelview. We’re really angry about it still. But the most surprising and angry fact we discovered was that John Hall was immediately put on the payroll for waste management and as a lobbyist for the city of Houston. So, not only had he take the money that tax payers provided him, he feathered his nest for anything in the future. And he is now pushing, in the city of Houston and in Harris County for widening the port of Houston, for a new container port, when we have a container port that’s not even being utilized as it is, in Bayport. But why, you have to ask yourself why? And my dad told me, all my life, Nell, if you want to solve the problem, you follow the money. I followed the money. And they’re now trying to float a bond issue for 300 billion dollars, or some insidious amount of money, that the tax payers will pay, all to increase the traffic on the

0:30:02 - 2036

Port of Houston, okay, into the ship channel which will cause an increase of 7000 trucks a day, which will cause more death and destruction, and there is no end to it. And it’s all about corporate profit. It has nothing to do with benefiting citizens. And when you track the jobs that are provided, it never pans out – it never pans out. I did a tracking at the county commissioner’s, ah - court, of their tax abatement issues, and they all go for a tax abatement based on jobs provided. Well, I caused, and unknowingly, but I caused an internal investigation of their policies, and then someone inside gave me a copy of the report. Over 95% of the tax abatements never provided a single job, never provided a single job. So I was right, they’re wrong, I was right. It is, the fix is in, it’s all about money, and it’s all about our money and controlling our money.

DT: Why do you think these agencies aren’t more responsive to the citizens who pay their taxes, who pay their salaries. I mean, there’s some money there, is it not enough?

0:31:12 - 2036

LA: They’re not responsive to us because they don’t have to be responsive to us. We are just like a mosquito biting them. They run our entire state through their lobbyists, they run our entire country through their lobbyists. Texas has been in a long swing of coming from Democrat to Republican. And the major push occurred when Phil Gramm and, I can hardly say her name, Kay Bailey Hutchison, were elected as Senators in our state. We were done for then.

DT: How did that change things?

0:31:49 - 2036

LA: Well, because that caused more influenced to get more Republicans elected to the state legislature. And when the Republicans are in office, corporations win. A lot of people complain about Democrats and their give-away programs. And, and I’m not sure whether I’m Republican or Democrat any more. That’s how confused citizens are now days. What, what does, a centrist mean? What, what does it mean to be a conservative any more? We think we’re conservative, but the parties that we grew up voting for aren’t conservative any more. You know, we’re living in a time of slash and burn the politicians, you know, for any reason at all. In fact, they go a little further than slash and burn, they set them up. And so we’re all involved in their game of getting control. Why do they want control? Power. Why do they want power? Money. So the money interests of our country are running this world.

DT: Can you talk a little about these companies that are controlling the government, in your view. How is it that they operate, and influence government for us?

0:33:04 - 2036

LA: Their lobbyist write legislation which benefits their bottom line. Tom DeLay was quoted in our local news paper saying he was proud to have two lobbyist in his office in Washington D.C., that he was not ashamed to admit that they influenced the legislation that he wrote. In fact, he was not ashamed to admit that they wrote the legislation. So I, in turn, sent him a letter via fax asking him if he could not agree with me that he espoused nothing more than the benefits of a prostitute. And I asked him why, in his estimation, we should not fire him and just keep the lobbyist on, thereby saving a lot of tax payer money. After all, a whore is a whore. (you’re going to have to cut that, but that’s what I said to him in the letter, that’s what I said to him. Oh he’s a son of a bitch, I’m sorry, you’re going to have to cut that too. Okay).

DT: Did you get a response?

0:40:00 - 2036

LA: I never got a response from Mr. Delay.

DT: Can you talk about some of your other interactions with lobbyist and companies. I remember you told me once about an EPA meeting where there were a lot of people in suits, and, ah, can you maybe elaborate a little bit?


LA: Well, I attended an EPA hearing concerning the value of establishing a chemical accident safety board, and I believe it was in ’94, as a matter of fact, in Pasadena. And, ah, it was myself, another environmentalist, and a lady from Austin whose an attorney but an environmentalist as well. We were in a room filled with 400 men wearing gray suits, who had perfectly combed hair, perfectly pressed pants, and who were very well prepared with the remarks that they were ready to deliver to EPA. When the second man stood up, being the Vice President of Monsanto, he stated from the podium that he thought that OSHA was wonderful, and that EPA was wonderful, and he wanted to remind everyone in attendance that more regulation only cost the tax payers more money and that there was no reason for change. And when the EPA asked if anyone from the audience had anything to say, of course, I raised my hand. So I went to center microphone and I asked this Vice President, in his perfectly pressed pants and his recently cut hair, how he could make that remark in light of the fact that we were sitting within five miles of two facilities who had killed 40 men. And he said, well, of course, he couldn’t justify his remarks that nothing could replace those lives. And I asked him why he didn’t see that change was necessary and he couldn’t answer, he could not answer that. And low and behold, all these years later I see in the news that this chemical accident safety board was authorized, and it was coming up – they did not authorize the funding. And so once again, this authorization for funding was coming to the forefront to Congress. And I heard in the news that President Clinton was going to veto this bill, there was something he didn’t like about the bill. So I sat down and wrote him a letter. It’s titled was "Life in a Ship Channel Community". Because I know so many of the politicians have no idea what it is like live in these kill zones, around these corporations, where we could be killed at any moment. And within two weeks I got two letters of response, one from the Policy Director of OSHA, and one from the chemical division of EPA. And in the first paragraph of each letter it states, we’re writing to you at the request of the President to let you know he has changed his mind about the funding of this board. Now I’m sure I was not the only one that wrote to the President, or who wrote about this issue, but we now have a Chemical Accident Board in Washington D.C. that functions much like the National Transportation Safety Board.

DT: LaNell, you had a big impact and made a lot of efforts in working with the government and different industries. I’d like to know what drives you. Are there problems in your community, or in your own family or friends; health effects perhaps, that you’d like to tell about? What triggered your going from non-involvement to being this involved?

0:37:53 - 2036

LA: Well, in 1987, my mother died from bone cancer. She was barely 67 years old, and she lived very close to one of these facilities. And that’s what, what triggered my involvement. And then the next step was the incinerator. And then my father died of emphysema. And then, my older sister, whose two years older than me was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. And I started wondering why. I started asking questions and digging for information. And then I myself came down with an autoimmune disease and I was exactly the same age as she was when I came down with this disease. And so that began the journey for me. The levels of frustration and ah, indignation, you know, they rise and then they wane, you know, they go away. But, basically, it’s wrong. What’s happening is wrong. When a chemical corporation or a petrochemical, or any corporation has more civil rights than American citizens, it’s just wrong. What has happened to our country, you know? Even a foreign interest can come and locate in our country and those products have more civil rights have more than American citizens do any more. Then my younger sister was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. So, that means all of us in our family have been effected by environmental issues health wise. So human health is the reason I pursue this. There are numbers of issues in Channelview that die daily from the effects of pollution. There is an NRDC report, National Resources Defense Council report, using information from 1996 which proves that a thousand people a year die, in Harris County, from the effects air pollution. That’s a horrible cost. If you look at conservation issues and you ask yourself, what would happen if I went and poured poison on a thousand birds out in the Katy Prairie, there would be outrage in our country. But why isn’t there an outrage over a thousand people a year dieing in our county. That’s a thousand families who pay for a thousand funerals

0:40:17 - 2036

who look down at a thousand caskets being covered with dirt every year in our county. It’s, it’s a crime. It’s all I can say, it is a crime. In this community alone, in this zip code I have tracked the cancer rates through the Texas Department of Heath, for many years. And the male lung cancer rates are 100% higher than the expected incidents, based on standardized mortality ratios. That cost is too high, I’m sorry. There are many costs when you approach and try to understand the risks of major corporations, chemical and petrochemical being located in your neighborhoods. But it’s not only the risk from the kill zones, or being explosions and killing you, but the long term debilitating diseases as well. There are so many people that are suffering. An example I would offer is that, at

0:41:14 - 2036

the end of December, actually Christmas day, last year, all the way through June of this year, one of the corporations in our, in our community, Equistar, has been in an upset and a flare condition almost every week. On two of these occasions, they flared or burned over 800 thousand pounds of carcinogenic product. So that’s, that’s an additional load to our air shed in what we have to breathe over and above what they report. It’s unconscionable. There are many friends that I have in this community that suffered from nose bleeds, from upper respiratory infections, they were at the doctors office. You know, many, I still hear of the problems that occurred in those six months. And when you stop and you consider flaring and what is an upset, the definition of an upset, okay, and I have considered this because I worked in a source reduction project directly with these corporations, where I interfaced with the plant managers, with the managers of the particular units in each facility, okay, an upset is defined as off-spec product. So they – they make some off-spec product, for whatever reason, and they can’t sell it at the price they want to sell it, so they route it to the flare and they burn it. It’s just unconscionable. When you consider the definition of a flare, and we’ve talked about incinerators now, a typical incinerator is a dual train, rotary kiln, mechanical devise that burns waste and it also has interior scrubbers to remove a lot of the poisons. A flare is worse than an incinerator, there are no scrubbers, there is no testing required, you know, no stack test, etc., okay, they can go for permit amendment, they still don’t have to go through stack testing. So they just burn their stuff, they dump it into our lungs, is what they do, So, and

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then when you think about our state legislative, regulations, you look at the state implementation plan, that’s state implementation plan, and you realize that’s how the TNRCC gains their authority from EPA, and you realize that the flaring and the upset rules are very weak and they need to be amended in the state of Texas. And, by god, the citizens are going to force that, so that they can stop dumping their unwanted product into our lungs every day.

DT: You mentioned citizens and their efforts to try to work on the SIP(?). Can you tell a little bit about some of the citizens groups and networks and some of the individuals that you’ve worked with?

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LA: Well, there are many environmental groups in the city of Houston and in Harris County, as you can well imagine. There are some very good groups. We never meant to set up a network, but inadvertently it’s become a network. And there are several key people in Houston who follow the issues very closely. Unfortunately there are some groups, who set themselves up as environmental groups who allow themselves to be infiltrated by industry as well. So they, they become ineffectual. Galveston Bay Foundation is one that I would offer as an example. And they get in there and really cost the true environmentalist their issues, sometimes. But, we are working, there is network…

DT: …This is, I guess, what you mean by Astroturf?

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LA: Yes, yes, if you’ll remember when the new Clean Air Standards, the EPA was required by law to review the Clean Air Standards, and the industry really started a big fight on capitol air about new air standards. They fight everything that’s going to impair their profits. And, in the state of Texas alone, I received information, in print, of 110, quote, grass roots environmental groups that had been set up in all the communities across Texas to address this issue of new clean air standards. When we investigated who was running these groups we found that industry was behind every one of them. So we call them Astroturf groups rather than grass roots groups. And, and so if they can’t sway the votes or the politicians in the normal way, they’ll go to any length to do that. And if they can’t set up the Astroturf groups, then what they do is infiltrate other groups, environmental groups to sort of sway or wear out the people so that they can, they become ineffectual.

DT: Continuing on with that theme, and you’re looking for grass roots things, it seems like you had quite a few problems of getting the media to…(?)… put out your side or view, no matter how willing the individuals might be themselves, there seems to be an overriding quashing of these things(?)?

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LA: Yes, it’s well known, in Houston and in Harris County that, even the national media, ABC and NBC, ah, affiliates here. Their jobs have been threatened by industry, actually. And it’s akin to the 60-Minutes episode on the tobacco issue. You know, they threaten to pull all their advertising if, when they print a story, or, ah, air a story, about environmentalists and their point of view. If they do not air equal time, from a positive point of view for industry, then they loose their jobs. And they, industry tells them that. They’re not even shy about telling them that. So, and then what industry has done is they’ve tapped each national affiliate and they’ve have them come out and do work for them for their safety films and for other, you know, and – and, it’s a coop-ting, in our view. And although there are many dedicated people in the media that are very good souls, who want to do the right thing, the rules are laid out before them. They, they sometimes cannot. They’re precluded from covering the issue completely and entirely from a citizen point of view.

DT: Have there been local instances that you’ve had experience with where you tried to get coverage of something that you think is important, but people just can’t seem to find the time to do it?

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LA: Well, actually an NBC affiliate ah, had an anchor person named John McPherson, and he was particularly interested in our issues and gave us a lot of coverage. Ah, he started getting a lot of flack from industry. Hence the term "black jackets". He actually told me that he wished he could cover more, but that he’s been threat- his job had been threatened. So, the last issue he covered he came out and interviewed a lot of people right here in Channelview. And within two weeks, he was gone. He’s now in West Virginia somewhere. He actually lost his job, because he would not follow industry’s orders.

DT: I guess industry presses it’s case because of their revenues and their property. I understand that you’re a realtor that deals with a lot of individuals, real estate holdings and can you tell us a little bit about the impacts on your business and on the properties your clients have from the industries.

0:49:03 - 2036

LA: Well I am a realtor. I – I don’t work in this area. I was told by a doctor three years ago that I, because of my health problems that I had to move away from the extreme pollution. So I have moved, umm. I will say that property values over all the United States have improved, over all, no matter what city or town you look in. Property values in Channelview have not improved the same as other areas. In fact the residential property values have gone down. But interestingly enough, I just listed, a business property for a friend of mine here in Channelview and their values have go – skyrocketed. So it is, what we’re witnessing is an industrialization of this community. Industry has come in and they have completely industrialized this community. And they’re buying residential properties that used to be water front, water view properties and their locating barge cleaning facilities there. And sometimes they’ll buy – buy and house and the second person won’t sell, so they’ll buy the next house. And there is an incidence of this happening over on Lake Side Drive, here. And they’ve parked or moored barges in a solid row so that the people can no longer put their boat in the water and get out. They are landlocked by this barge company. And because the rules are so lax in the Coast Guard, there is nothing that can be done about it.

DT: You say that there’s nothing that can be done, but you seem to strive onward. I’m curious how you think that your town or community can regain some control over its fate?

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LA: I don’t think this town can regain any control over its fate.

DT: Why is that?

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LA: There are approximately 55,000 residents here. Most of them are ill. Most of them are ill. We started out once with 600 citizens that were interested in fighting this issue and we all fought and fought and we struggled and we have spent a lot of money. Harris County and the city of Houston spent more than a million dollars helping us fight this toxic waste incinerator and the TNRCC issued the permit anyway. And there is not way that any town, I don’t care whether it’s Channelview, I don’t whether it’s Lake Charles, Freeport, Orange, Beaumont, Port Arthur, any of those towns that you want to name along the Gulf Coast, they have not won, David. You can look at the historical – from a historical perspective and see that within 10 to 15 years after industry located in their city, it became a dead city. It is a cycle of industry creating dead cities along the Gulf Coast. You drive into the city of Port Arthur and there’s nothing left except empty buildings and abandoned houses right in the down town area. It’s becoming that way here. People are moving away.

DT: They become ghost towns in a way?


DT: You were talking about citizens before, and how it’s difficult to keep people interested and enthusiastic about this. Can you talk about, I guess what you’d call burn out, in individuals you’ve known?

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LA: Well, what’s happened naturally with citizen opposition, the corporations have jumped out ahead of the issue to get control. And so they’ve used their very expert PR tactics to, actually threaten their employees with loss of jobs if they participate in any of our endeavors. And they had encouraged them, and I - we’ve talked many employees who have verified this, to talk to their neighbors to say that if they help the environmentalists, then the jobs will be lost. It’s really not an issue of jobs. It’s not an issue of competing in a world market. It’s an issue of greed and bottom line profit. And the latest reports show that, out of the top 175 energy corporations, that they pay their CEOs an average of five millions dollars a year. The highest paid one, which I believe is Exxon, which is hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty million dollars a year. While, at the same time, these citizens that are being threatened with their jobs, are still averaging fifteen to eighteen dollars an hour to risk their lives by going in chemical plants every day. So over the past ten, fifteen years their salaries, the worker’s salaries, their salaries have not appreciated, but yet, the CEO’s have grown some 7000 percent. You tell me, David, what would you do, what - what would you do if someone came and killed your family? Would you be angry? My husband and I have children – together five children, he has three and I have two. His oldest daughter had a child several years ago. Her name was Alisa. She was wonderful. She was a much waited for and wanted baby girl, in their family. She began to get ill. They didn’t know what was wrong. When she was about three months old, they discovered she had Biliary Atresia. She was born without any actual bile ducts from her liver. She had no bile ducts from her liver. I did some investigation and discovered from the American Medical Association that the dis - disease is caused by a virus called Reo 3(?). Her father works for Exxon. She was immediately put on a waiting list for a liver transplant. And she died at six months old. And it - it was something that really changed our lives. It was the beginning of our enlightenment of the devastation that chemicals can cause. And in further investigating I discovered that it’s not just the explosions like I’ve said, but the effects of these hormone mimicking chemicals that can cause so – such major life altering changes in so - such small quantities. You know, when you’re a fetus in the womb, it can change your whole life. There were no livers to match hers and so she died. And the most recent effect on my family is my sons, married, and he just had his second child three years ago. And his name is Mason. And when he was seven months old his mother took him for his second in a series DPT vaccinations. And in two weeks he had polio. So he’s paralyzed from his waist down, and can’t stand or walk. My belief is that the child had a compromised immune system, whereby he reacted in this way to the vaccine, where other children would not react. And so there are all sorts of associated costs with this dedicated pursuit in our country of profit, greedy profit, form oil and from fossil fuels and from chemicals. There are some 70,000 chemicals out in the atmosphere right now,

0:57:00 - 2036

in our environment. 70,000 chemicals. They’ve never had a screening and testing program with which they can put these chemicals through to see what health effects they have. They create 2,000 new chemicals every year that have serious effects on our endocrine systems. They permeate our water, such as the MBTE issue right now, that’s hot in the news out in California, it’s just been banned. You know, they test us, they use us for the testing. They’re not required, they’re not responsible. And our regulations fail. They have failed. There’s no other way to look at it, is that our regulations have failed. Why have they failed? Because of the corporate influence on our government. We are the government, we’re the government and yet we have no control. The corporations control our government.

DT: Can you talk about the ways that you see the corporations control the government?

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LA: Lobbyists creating legislation that benefits their bottom line and absolutely is against the benefit of the individual citizen.

DT: You mentioned that there’s a ritzy section of Houston somewhere and that there’s "x" amount of chemicals in the air. Now you’d think the executives who get the money, who work or run the corporations, they’re not all living off shore or on the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands with their tax free accounts. What does it take, or don’t they realize that their children, if the grow up, even in the ritzy section of Houston, are exposed to the same things. You’d think they’d be greedy enough, in their own personal way, unless they all live in enclosed houses with air filters. Why isn’t it possible to get through to them when they have to breathe the same air. What are they hearing?

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LA: It’s a very logical question. And I thank you for asking the question. Being in the real estate business I have the ability to check out tax records on individuals and their properties. And I have done my own study about most of the upper level mangers, and the plant managers, and some of the lobbyists for these major corporations. And guess what I found? Most of them live north of Houston and commute an hour and a half to work. Isn’t that amazing. So therefore, when my doctor told me that I must move out of the heavy pollution, I moved to a community where many of them live. So I decided if they live there, they have their families exposed there, it’s got to be the least exposure in Houston. There is an area in Houston called River Oaks, however, that has been there for many, many years. It’s, it’s not unusual for a residence in River Oaks to costs five million dollars. Those people believe, inside their homes, that they’re breathing clean air. There’s no way they can be breathing clean air. Houston now leads the nation in adult asthma, Houston leads the nation in childhood asthma, and Houston leads the nation in childhood cancer. We have the highest readings on ozone that are recorded. Much higher than Los Angeles. Our ozone problems, which is, it comes from particulate matter in the air and certain chemicals, and they get in the sunlight and the effects of the sunlight cook them and then they become ozone, ground level ozone pollution. Our ozone pollution comes from industrial facilities, whereas in Los Angeles it comes from a natural geographical setting where there are so many vehicles in Southern California, and the – the off-shore winds come and they trap this pollution at the base of the mountains and you can’t escape it. And it’s beginning to go up the mountains as well. In Houston,

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our state implementation plan has spent millions of dollars doing studies and they have discovered that more than 50% of the pollution comes from stationary point source, which means, industry. Automobile makers are required to put controls on their vehicles. And about $3000 of each vehicle we purchase we’re paying for environmental controls, for $3000. These big facilities along the Houston Ship Channel, for example Exxon, Shell, these two in Channelview that are just close to the ship channel here. They are like a half a million automobiles, tail pipes sticking the air pumping twenty-four hours a day, with no catalytic converter and no, envi - no environmental regulation on their emissions. To a degree, you can think of it that way. And with 16% of our ozone pollution coming from automobiles, wouldn’t you say that 16% of the effort needs to come from citizens and more the 50% needs to come from industry. The balance is made up of off road emissions and small business. But more that 50% is from industry point source.

1:02:10 - 2036


DT: Can you tell about some of your experiences in trying to get industry and government to be more responsive?

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LA: Well, of course, as you know, there’s no school that we can go to, to train ourselves to be an effective advocate. I have been advocating for Houston Ship Channel communities for some eight years now. I have aligned myself with people that I’ve met at public meetings, you know, to gain information, effective information. Ah, from, but, in looking at how to solve the problem, which you have to have a taste for solving problems to even get involved in this, I’ve decided that what industry responds to, which I’ve proven, is that if you can create bad press for them, they’re going to respond. The example is, at public meetings, they send their representatives to see who to put their finger on, okay, where the greatest opposition is coming from, if you will. And at one of the most recent meetings, concerning our state implementation plan, I got up and spoke and among the things I said were, "I know a lot of you from industry just hate it when I get up to speak because, and the allegations you make it that I’m uninformed, that I’m angry and that you never know what I’m going to say. But you’re wrong, I am informed, and you are right, I am angry, and you are dead right, you are never know what I’m gonna say. I will always call a spade a spade, until the truth is out, we will never solve the problem". During that same meeting I turned and looked at the TNRCC, and I asked them all, counted them off and asked them, if I gave each one of them a hundred dollars, which I could well afford to do, would they be willing to get up and go out into the audience and beat the hell out of the corporate executives that were there. I never got a response and I waited a long time. And then I explained them that that’s exactly what they’re doing, industry is doing to us, and they’re using the TNRCC as their weapon. That’s how fallible our system is in Texas. It is the - the state of "good ole boy politicians". When Bo Pilgrim can write a check on the Senate floor for ten thousand dollars, you’ve got to know that our state legislature is in bad shape. When Buster Brown can appear on the same television show that I’m on and I ask him a direct question of how the legislatures could have failed to put a time certain date in the grand-fathered legislation, he completely diverts and goes to a different subject. Then when you look at Buster Brown, whose now made an agreement with a young woman whom he sexually harassed in his office, not to file criminal charges against him, you know he’s guilty. So what do we have running our state legislature? We have hypocrites running our state legislature. It all gets down to the one thing that will change that I think will change this condition in our country more than anything, and that is campaign reform. We have to get the money out of politics in order to regain our country from the corporations.

DT: And how do we do that?

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LA: Legislation. We have to find some lobbyist, that I guess won’t get overpaid by industry, that will represent our interests.

DT: …how do you, in a sense, clone yourself and get more LaNells out there?

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LA: That’s the one thing I’ve failed at. I’ve not been able to do that. I get calls daily from Har – all over Harris County and from Montgomery County, surrounding counties…where they need help. They need help fighting an issue right now over in the La Porte area, where Elf Atochem and American Acryl has made application for a permit for a new, yet another incinerator, which is not necessary. It’s, we believe in conjunction with this port expansion. We also believe, when the issue is no longer hot, that they’ll take in waste from all over the world and burn them right there. And once more, our air shed is deteriorated. There just seems to be no way to stop it. How do you get people interested? Usually the people are interested and they find you when they have a problem. All you can do is try to help them get focused on trying to solve their problem.

DT: What sort of other calls have you gotten…?

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LA: Oh, I’ve gotten calls from African American communities, where they think there is an issue of environmental justice about the Superfund sites being located in their neighborhoods, and they’re correct. Out of 29 Superfund sites located in and around Harris County, they’re all located in neighborhoods of color. It is an environmental justice issue. Actually it’s environmental racism. These corporations learned a long time ago that if they can go to the communities with the least resources to fight them, that they increase their profits.

DT: …Can you tell about other advocates who may have dropped by the wayside, burned out over the years?  Can you give us some examples of how that happens and why?

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LA: Well, we don’t get paid. We don’t get paid a penny. Most people have jobs. They can’t take off from work. They’ll participate when they can. But basically, it’s very negative, it’s very, very negative to continue to loose. We have had wins, from time to time, which encouraged some of us onward. But people don’t seem to be, they seem to be so involved in both partners having to work in a family now to keep up their standard of living. You know, people continue to loose, while corporations continue to gain. And, and it’s very difficult to overcome that in citizens. If it’s an immediate threat, yes they’re going to get involved. But for the long term, they think, quote, the government is going to take care of it. And, we are the government, we are the government. If we don’t speak up, it’s not going to get said. The reason I continue over the eight or nine years that I’ve been doing this, I suppose to sum it up, in the middle of the night when I can sleep sometimes I wonder what I could have done to protect my family more. We’ve, we’ve, our family has suffered a lot. And, and mine’s not the only family. There are many families out of the 55,000 people in just this community who suffer, and other communities along the ship channel, who suffer, who suffer health problems.

DT: And these people who suffer health problems, do they want to get involved? Or, do they feel like it’s just more pain than they want to deal with?

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LA: They want to get involved initially, and when they begin to see what a huge battle it is, it’s easier for them to move away. They just move away. That’s what creates the dead cities, they get sick and they move away.

DT: You had mentioned earlier this is a win the encourages people. Can you tell about some of the successes you’ve had and maybe some of the frustrations or failures from the fights you’ve been in?

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LA: Well, even though American Envirotech in what I think was an illegal move by John Hall, they still haven’t built. I was successful in going to the Senate Natural Resource Conservation Committee, Senate committee actually, and proving that the applicant and her forced merged partner, had filed law suits against each other. And that again brings into question the financial ability that’s required by the permit. So, I also filed my own appeal, and I’m not an attorney. But I fashioned an appeal to EPA about the issuance of this permit. And continuing to fight that permit, I believe, is the reason that that facility has never been built. So, you know, we do have some wins occasionally, not enough, I’ll say that. You know, but, as far, it has to be an individual desire and the example that I gave was about the Chemical Accident Safety Board that really was enough to spur me on for another seven or eight years.

DT: Do you have any particular heroes or mentors in the environmental world? Did you read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a college girl, or…?

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LA: No I did not, but I have since, of course, gotten a copy of - of that book and read it. My greatest mentor is Doctor Neal Carmen. He’s the chair of the Clean Air Chair of the Sierra Club in Austin. He’s a Ph.D., as, it’s a, in the sciences. He also was a regulator. He worked for 12 years for the Texas Air Control Board. And I’m no different than many citizens across Texas, when we call Dr. Carmen. He gets the information and helps us, he helps focus us and cut through all of the time consuming red tape to learn how to fight effectively. And we’ve made some major strides in Texas. Ah, the, I would bring up the grand-fathered issue. Ah, we, for many years, twenty-seven, twenty-eight years, we have had legislation in the state of Texas that gave some of the old facilities a free ride, actually. And that, with the implementation of the Clean Air Act, it was stated and assumed, by the Texas legislature, that some of these corporations were so old that they would be out of service soon. And that it would be ridiculous to force them to upgrade to the control technology that was being required through this legislation. And, low and behold, twenty-seven, twenty-eight years later, some of these old corporations are still pumping away. There’s one cracking unit at Crown Central Petroleum that was built in 1920 and has been grandfathered all these years. The law states, the legislation states that if they make changes to that facility, that it cannot increase, decrease, or change speciation of wastes that they produce. Well you know with the advancement of technology that there’s no way they could have continued to repair this cracker without it changing emissions in some way. And yet the state of Texas has given them a pass. And, it’s not only them, the Exxon facility in Bay Town is 60% grandfathered, 60% of that huge facility is grandfathered. The 1-3-butadiene unit out here at, Equistar, formerly known as Lyondell was grandfathered and I’ve kicked up a big storm about that. And I guess we could count that a – a victory.

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I kicked up a big storm about it. I asked Doctor Carmen to come with me to the, ah, meeting that the company offered to have. We discovered that Elf Atochem, which was not on site, was shipping their product in using Equistar’s, then Lyondell’s grandfathered 1-3- Butadiene facility and to produce their product and then shipping that finished product off site. I’ve talked about that in Washington many times. And, the Justice Department even talked to me about that issue. They have since become permitted. That was a victory. They permitted that 1-3-Butadiene unit. Can you imagine what we breathed prior to the permitting. So, we put enough heat, primarily Neal put enough heat on the Governor about the grandfather issue. And quite frankly, Governor George Bush, which many citizens, most citizens in Channelview call Toxic George, wanted to jump out and get ahead of that issue. So he, very carefully orchestrated a committee to address through the TNRCC to address the grandfather issue. I attended every one of the meetings. They were not scheduled to have any public input, until I was the squeaky wheel needing the grease, and insisted on public input. So they dedicated one entire meeting to public input, with three minutes each to speak on a week day during business hours when a normal person had to work. At the end of this process over several months they created a program for the law breakers which were the grandfathered facilities, so that they could volunteer to join in this grandfathered program, which is, requires less regulation than normally permitted facilities, okay, and gives them longer time. So the problem they ended up with from the Governor was layered with incentives for industry, absolutely layered with more incentives for industry. So George Bush has created and rewarded law breakers in this state. And, he, he has a horrible, horrible environmental record. And it’s all for the pursuit of the greedy profits of the oil and petrochemical industry.

DW: There’s often much injustice in this world. But you were saying, what if you had pursued some of these industry officials and lobbyists? How would they feel, would they see it as something fair? And, you explained that your family has been attacked from these chemicals that have come out from these companies?

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LA: Well, let me appeal to your sense of problem solving here. Let’s say we could apply a route cause analysis to all the deaths that occur. Which is not anecdotal, by the way, it’s not anecdotal at all, it’s provable. All the high rates of cancer, all the suffering from health problems and the deaths that have occurred in my family. And you relate that to an equal action towards the chemical companies, the petrochemical companies that we know are causing this. If we were to kill members of the pertrochemical companies do you think that they would rest before they put us in jail? If spread poison on one of them, let’s say I took a plant manager and I poured poison on him, how different is that from what they’re doing to 55,000 people in this community by forcing us to breath their carcinogens? There’s no difference. So why is there no justice for what they’re doing to our citizens in our community?

DT: …Were you born and raised in this area, or another part of Texas?

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LA: I actually moved from Beaumont, Texas.

DT: At a young age?

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LA: Thirteen years old.

DT: So, I don’t think we’ve discussed yet how you’ve seen this, I mean ‘cause you, because, was there a time when you can remember having gone swimming in this kind of water? Maybe you could do a little historical review then versus now…

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LA: When I was a teenager, we often water skied in this river. And it’s – it was just wonderful. I mean, there were fish. You know, people would come down here and go fishing and it was – it was fairly clean. And, it was a weekend recreational area, and this rivers designated for recreation, by the way. Over the years, not many people water ski on the river any more. Some times people will come into the area not being aware of the risks, and they’ll water ski. And when they take those – wh - if there’s an accident, for example and they take those people to the local hospitals, the first thing they do – when they realize that they’re not, you know, they’re not going to die immediately, is they pump their lungs, they pump their lungs out, because of the poisons that are in the water. It’s a sad commentary on the condition of the river when I was a teenager and the condition now. The oxygen levels are really low, in the water, so it does not sustain the normal botanical life that once existed there.

DT: …(?)problems like that, do you find that there are any allies out there, that, for example do the unions help in any way? I mean, they are sort of on the front lines, in many cases.

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LA: Well the unions have been threatened by other corporations, just as their regular workers have in the non-union shops about jobs. About how incredibly important it is that there are no new regulations so that they can keep up the profits, so that they can keep paying them their $15 to $18 dollars an hour. Umm there’s one example that I would give, which is Crown Central Petroleum. Their company gives, like most corporations, give good lip service to "we want to do the right thing", that’s part of their public relations. And, at one point in time some of the union workers went to the corporate officials and said, look we’re really concerned about some problems here and we think we’re being overly exposed and we think we’re being affect. So, the companies response was to lock them out and hire new employees. And they’ve been successful at doing it. They have absolutely been successful at doing it. So, that is a – another example of how the laws in our country don’t matter when it comes to corporations. They’re going to win because they can outgun us, financially, and they can outstay us, because of their employees. They pay their employees to work on these problems.

DT: Are there other examples of where companies have tried to retaliate or silence their neighbors or their workers?

0:20:21 - 2037

LA: Well, unfortunately, in – in this environmental business, the corporations are very well trained in how to silence any opposition. The first thing they do is jump into a community and form a citizen’s advisory panel, which is misleading in and of itself, because citizens never advise corporations. But, they gather some community members, and they issue invitations, and especially to those that are opponents, and they bring you together and they get everyone’s agreement to work through their process, which is based on dragging it out as long as possible and finding some way to control every body involved. And one experience I’ve watched over the years is, in one particular CAP, a citizen started out very strong, very, very strong.

DT: What is CAP?

0:21:20 - 2037

LA: The Citizens Advisory Panel. And, of course they learned everything they can about each and every member. And they learned that this particular member had a business and they had some contracts with that business. And so they immediately pulled those contracts. And, of course, that hurt their business and it was their only method of survival. So, the opposition became less and less and less. And then the rewards on the part of the corporation started. The corporation would rewarding this person in little psychological ways, it’s really a psychological warfare. They would offer speaking engagements, they would offer trips, they would offer many things. So that the person became extremely pliable, and became a weapon against the rest of the community. It was an attempt, a bald-faced attempt at splitting the opposition. And they – they almost won. They almost won.

DT: Can you gives us some examples, maybe, of people who have been co-opted, are that you’ve perceived as being co-opted?

0:22:30 - 2037

LA: I’m not sure anybody would admit that they’ve been co-opted. But it was very easy for me to see when this happened. That that’s exactly what the corporations were attempting to do and they did successfully co-opt this person.

DT: And, the things that they would say, or the people that they would spend time with would change after they…?

0:22:52 - 2037

LA: Well, the remarks made by citizens would become more friendly toward industry. And, actually make an appeal to other citizens to understand industry’s position. And they started making a pitch about the jobs that were necessary for the community and the money that industry had spent on safety issue. And, you know, all of the – the rhetoric that we’ve all heard, for all these years, from industry. It was very obvious.

DT: Talking about rhetoric that you’ve heard over the years, can you sort of track how things have changed since you first became involved in this, the way industry deals with the community surrounding?

0:23:36 - 2037

LA: Well, in the very beginning, industry didn’t care too much, because, you know, the – the regulations were a little more lax ten years ago. And so they didn’t think they had to answer to anybody. You know, when, when communities gained in number in their opposition to the things that the corporations were doing, that affected their health directly, then they decided to pull back and approach this in a more, in a – in a stealth like fashion so that they, they could achieve the same result without being very public about it. And that’s when the CAPs or Citizen Advisory Panels were instituted and they have facilitators that are paid by industry. And so, it’s an absolute directed, waist of time on the part of citizens. They often times get people who are retired from industry to be a, quote, citizen member. You know, they are receiving a retirement check every month, what are they going to say against an industry, I mean, they’re not.

DT: How do you get the most effective response out of government or industry? How do you make the biggest impact, what is the best route to take?

0:24:52 - 2037

LA: Two years ago I decided personally that I was not going to waste my time on government any more, that the politicians were being used as nothing more than an obstacle in my path. And that the shortest distance between the problem and the solution was going directly to the source. And I have been involved in this source reduction project for many years now. When I bypass the time wasting interaction with politicians and I go directly to the plant managers, and to the Vice Presidents and I say, "This is what we’ve discovered, now what are you willing to do about it?" The only thing I have in my favor is bad press.


DT: LaNell, can you talk more about the Crown Central issue you’ve been involved with?

0:25:40 - 2037

LA: Well, I’ve tracked the union members, of course, and helped them in some of their appearances before the legislators, etc. But recently I was asked to do an interview for NBC and, I agreed. And we went over to Crown Central. And I think you’ll find this very interesting in terms of the media and how much effect they have on this issue. There was a film crew, and…


DT: Can you resume telling more about Crown Central?

0:26:13 - 2037

LA: Well, I was asked to do an interview over there. Ah, I’ve attended many meetings to help legislative issues, along side the, ah, union workers. And, I did this interview a couple of weeks ago, with a White House Correspondent, NBC, and, ah, as we were setting to do the interview, I know you’ll enjoy this, Crown Central sent three trucks out to investigate what we were doing, and they didn’t just drive up…


0:26:59 - 2037

LA: Another example I would offer is the Crown Central Petroleum issue, which has been a big grandfathered issue. They’ve been cited for breaking many, many environmental laws here in, ah, the state of Texas and Harris County. And, ah, some of our local government officials, at the time they were breaking these laws and some of our, I guess, environmental groups, gave them an environmental award, which was just egregious to most of us who seriously work on environmental issues most of the time. They have a cracking unit that was built in the 1920s that has been grandfathered all these years. They’ve changed it. There’s no doubt. And when their employees came along and objected to, some of the processes that were being, forced upon them and the emissions endangering their lives, they just locked them out, simply locked them out. I’ve been to many hearings with these, ah, some of these men and woman. We’ve had them at a citizen’s hearing as well. And what, ah, this company did actually was illegal, but there are no consequences for this company. They seem to be able to get by with doing whatever they choose to do, with no fear of retribution. Well, a couple weeks ago, NBC White House correspondent asked me to do an interview with them, and I did.

0:28:15 - 2037

And, I know you’ll appreciate this, we went over and set up in front of Crown Central Petroleum. Well, while the corporations will try to convince the public that they are so amenable to cooperation, I would just like to tell you that I personally experienced, and so did the NBC film crew and interviewer, that Crown Central sent three pick up trucks out, not in an innocuous way, but in a very threatening manner to ask what we were doing there. And when the NBC crew gave them their card, they went away, because, as I pointed out early on in the interview, we had to be on public property. They would not allow us to do an interview on their property, of course. And, not only did they sent these three trucks to intimidate us, or let me say to attempt intimidation, they also had a worker pull up very close to us and video tape everything we were doing the entire time we were there. And, of course, that just caused us to stay a little longer. But that’s the sort of cooperation that industry gives the citizens, is intimidation.

DT: You mentioned that Crown Central, and I guess other companies have very old units in their plants. Can you describe some of your visits that you’ve made to these different facilities and what they look like, describe for the people that haven’t had the chance to visit?

0:29:34 - 2037

LA: Well, over the past three of four months I spent probably a total of 24 hours inside chemical plants. And, you can walk through a, one processing unit that’s very old, and then walk through an identical processing unit that’s very new. And, and it, and the difference is just instantaneous. You see leaks, you smell, ah, the chemicals, ah, very strongly in some of the older units, the ground is saturated. Of course, the corporations don’t want this information to get out, you know. You ask them and you start probing to understand their fugitive emissions program and you realize that with some corporations that’s nothing more than a sham. They don’t, they don’t monitor their fugitive emissions at all. You know, they just go through the paperwork, so to speak. Ah, while other corporations are very good at it. I have to say that we visited one plant, and stayed in their plant for several hours, where they did an excellent job of monitoring their fugitive emissions. And when that word, fugitive, is attached to emissions, it tends to make people think it’s insignificant. But, you better believe it’s not insignificant. With over 400,000 connections in a facility where there might be an emission, where there is emissions, from leaks, and the leaks are considered so minor as to not to be something that has to be changed right away, you know, fugitive emissions are a huge issue. When you look at the TRI, Toxic Release Inventory, reporting this,


the Toxic Release Inventory reporting that’s required by all corporations, you’ll see a huge chunk of their reportable emissions are calculated as fugitive emissions. There are two different methods of calculations, they can go by…


…these corporations can go by a formula, which is considered worse case scenario. But, when you as a citizen get in there and start looking, it’s not worse case scenario at all. You know, it’s a, it’s just a standard that was set out there for a typical plant. They could have something leaking like a si-…


Any corporation could have something leaking like a sieve, and they could call it a fugitive emission. Ah, they have, the laws are very specific about first attempts to repair, then they have 15 days for the second attempt, and then they have 30 days for the next attempt. So we’ve got 400,000 connections…


So we have 400,000 connections in a facility with the potential to leak. And, any number of those connections can leak on an ongoing basis.

DT: You told us a little bit about what it’s like to visit some of these plants. Can you describe some of the – the homes and small business that would abut some of these plants and maybe talk about this idea of buffer zones.

0:32:29 - 2037

LA: Well, what citizens refer to as kill zones are…


0:32:38 - 2037

LA: What citizens refer to as kill zones are the zones that are closely, ah, located, you know, very, very close proximity to the plants. And that’s at the highest risk, they’re at the very highest risk from accidental explosions. Depending on the height of the stacks from the flares, etc., you know, you may or may not be in the most exposed area. And depending on the wind directions. I don’t know if I’ve explained, but here in Channelview, we’re pretty unique in that we have the ship channel coming from the Gulf of Mexico, up through Galveston, Texas City, all of those cities, where they have industry located all the way down to the gulf. Their emissions, the winds, by the way, according to data, about 70% of the time each year, are south-southeast to north-northwest. So if you look at the geographical position of Channelview in relation to the ship channel, you realize all of those emissions are floating out over the least resistant area, which is the ship channel. And the wind is naturally blowing them up the ship channel, to the point right here, at Channelview, where the ship channel makes a hard 90 degree left turn. The emissions don’t make the 90 degree left turn, they come and get dumped completely on our community.

DT: And you visited these people that have had to sell their homes or otherwise leave the community because of the pollutants?

0:34:12 - 2037

LA: I have. I’m one of those people. I’ve been, ah, able to afford to move. The point I’d like to make is so many people are trapped here because they can’t move. They bought their homes and paid for them and are retired. They can no longer go out and get a job to support another mortgage payment at a higher price somewhere. Their productive years are gone. And, that’s the most insidious part of this. Ah, there are other people, naturally, who moved to the community when the property values began to decline, because the property values began to decline. There are no disclosures out there from industry about the carcinogens in the air, and the chances that you likely are going to be made ill from breathing the air. Ah, by the way, an interesting fact is , we breath ten times more air than the water we drink. So many people are so focused on water, which is a very important issue by the way. It is certainly a pathogen, ah, for the chemicals. But, the air is more important in my view. Ah, but the communities get stagnant because the people who can afford to move away, do. Ah, people who get ill for the first time in their lives from something caused by chemicals, are told by some responsible doctors that you’re being made ill by the chemicals and you need to move. So they get out of the neighborhood. The property values decline. People have to go out and wash the dust and soot off their houses every day, ah, sometimes every day. It gets into your carpeting, it gets into your air conditioning system of your car, so that every time you crank up your car you smell the odor of chemicals. You know, and the corporate executives make light of this, they say it’s the smell of money. But it’s not, it’s the smell of deadly chemicals.

DT: You mentioned that some of these residents get advice from doctors. Can you tell about the medical community and their reaction to people’s symptoms and their worries?

0:36:12 - 2037

LA: For the most part the medical community in Houston is silent, much to citizens who are actives dismay. We have the greatest medical center in the whole United States, in a lot of people’s view, right here in Houston. These doctors come here, they think it’s the Mecca, you know, to serve their time and their residencies right here in Houston. And I cannot tell you how much money has been spent on that medical center. Yet, those doctors often times sit silent. They won’t come out and make a public statement about the health, and the - the health of the citizens of Houston. They have, however, just in the past couple of years, stated that childhood cancer is number one, we’re number one the nation for childhood cancer, number one in the nation childhood asthma, and number one for adult asthma. And there’s a reason for that, but that’s as far as they go. There are neighborhood doctors, however, who will go a little further. But upon questioning a physician about why doctors would not take a more positive stand, since their Hippocratic Oath is based on protecting the health of human beings, they simply say we have less than eight hours of training, in medical school, about environmental causes of illness. So how do we know? We have nothing to back us up. So there needs to be a revolutionary change in our medical establishment, our medical community. They need to get responsible. There is an organization called Physicians for Social Responsibility, and they’re making quite an impact. And all I would say that all physicians in our country need to follow the path of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

DT: Speaking of impact, can you tell us what you think your biggest effect has been on Channelview and environmental protection concerns?

0:38:06 - 2037

LA: Well, because of citizen opposition, the two major chemical companies in this area have cleaned up. They have permitted units because our eyes have been on them. And they can no longer get by with just counting on the TNRCC not to regulate them. Ah, we’re looking. We recently discovered there was an MTBE unit that was not permitted. And they produced all sorts of excuses. They produced a huge thick book about the reasons for all of the failures during a recent inspection. But, you know, history repeats itself and history cannot be denied. You look at the history of these corporations and no matter how much they say they’re doing the right thing the inspections reports say that they’re not.

DT: …From what inspection reports are telling you, for an individual plant or an individual company, what do you think are the big challenges for the environment in general, in this area or in Texas?

0:39:23 - 2037

LA: Well I think in the whole U.S., you know, look at the rivers and streams in our country, they’re all polluted. Look at the lack of control over the chemical industry. There’s no testing and screening program for chemicals, why? You must say why? And when , when people come to me and say, "What can we do?", I say, "Start asking why, when you talk to someone ask why, and continue to say why". And eventually we’ll get to the answer.

DT: If there was a message that you could pass on to other people, is it that, that people continue to ask the question, "Why"?

0:39:59 - 2037

LA: Well, I think the primary message would be that we are all responsible to take care of ourselves. W cannot depend on the government to do it, we are the government. We’re responsible to manage and maintain our communities as well as our homes, our schools. The industry that’s located in your community, understand what your rights are. Don’t become intimidated. Don’t say, "Well, somebody else will do it", they don’t, they don’t. It’s starts with you. It starts with you.

DT: If somebody said that they would fell intimidated, what would you say to do about the fear?

0:40:45 - 2037

LA: Well, I would ask them to remind themselves that we live supposedly live in a democracy, not a "wealth-ocracy". That as long as we subscribe to the values of a democracy that means that we citizens do have rights, but if we don’t stand up and assert those rights they’re going to be taken away from us more and more and more every year. Rather than to feel intimidated, what are they going to do, kill you and eat you, no they can’t do that. You have an opinion that is equally as important as a corporate executive’s opinion, especially when he’s violating your air space, your water that you’re drinking, when he is using your portion of our natural resources. No one ever said that corporations had the right to 90% of our natural resources. They have acted irresponsibly in managing what they’ve done to our natural resources. They need to stop doing what they’re doing. If they – if the corporations cannot operate, making a profit, doing things the correct way, then I suggest they shut they doors.

DT: Is there anything else that we ought to discuss?

0:42:01 - 2037

LA: That’s it. I’m just drained.

DT: Well, thank you very much, LaNell. You did a wonderful job and it was a pleasure to visit with you.

0:42:08 - 2037

LA: You’re welcome. You are very welcome.

DT: Thank you for your time.

0:42:10 - 2037

LA: Hmm. I guess that was a good note on which to end.

DT: Drama.

End of reel 2036.

End of interview of Lanell Anderson.


Conservation History Association of Texas
Texas Legacy Project

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