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USA: Creosote Contaminates Community for Generations

by Marie MarziEnvironmental News Service
September 5th, 2001

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





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