President Kennedy said that any problem that can be created by humankind can be solved by humankind.
Forty year ago tonight, I was at the City Council in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, cross-examining Department of Energy and Union Carbide officials about the world's largest mercury pollution event, long kept secret from Americans, and even our Presidents. Oak Ridge City Council allowed me 20 minutes. None of this "three minutes is all you get" guff stuff that we get from stuffy elected officials in Florida. We don't solve problems if we can't talk about them, or if our officials have biased blinders on.
Our government and its criminaloid contractor emitted 4.2 million pounds of lethal mercury into workers’ lungs and brains, and into the East Fork PoplarCreek and groundwater of the state of Tennessee – a tort, a crime and a sin.
After his presentation, I asked JOE BEN LAGRONE whether, if the Soviet Union had dumped millions of pounds of mercury all over Oak Ridge, that would not be considered an “act of war?”
I also asked LA GRONE, whether “being DOE means never having to say you’re sorry?”
I questioned the ethnocentric nature of Oak Ridge managers, who disdained testing turtle meat, even though low-income African-American residents caught and ate turtles from the East Fork Poplar Creek. I questioned the lack of scientific validity of DOE’s studies. I questioned the conflict of interest nature of self-monitoring of environmental pollution.
In all, at the May 23, 1983 Oak Ridge City Council meeting, I questioned LAGRONE & Co. for about 20 minutes, all of which was transcribed in the minutes of the Oak Ridge City Council. Looking at those minutes today, 40 years later, I am reminded that there is no limit to what one can accomplish if you research, ask questions, and don’t take "no" for an answer.
Before I left for law school, Mr. LaGRONE had ordered Union Carbide to incur overtime, providing me with 30,000 pages of documents establishing that workers in Y-12 buildings 9201-4 and 9201-5 breathed in as much as 30-60 times the then-prevailing health standards for mercury, without respirators.
In the best tradition of diplomats from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Holbrooke, I stood up for our country and her principles against those who violated human rights and devastated our environment. Sorry if that offends.
The City of Oak Ridge, Tennessee will never be the same again thanks to the ethical employees and residents who “blew the whistle” and stood up to authoritarianism and its Environmental Racism. Massive cleanups at all Department of Energy nuclear weapons plants followed, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, creating jobs, saving lives, in eleven states.
Likewise, the City of St. Augustine, Florida and St. Johns County, Florida will never be the same again thanks to the ethical employees and residents who “blew the whistle” on pollution, civil rights violations and mismanagement problems.
There were times in Oak Ridge – and in St. Augustine – when friends warned me that my life was in danger. But as the great American patriot, Nathan Hale, once said, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country.”
There are still a hostile few who think citizens should be “seen and not heard” and should “know their place.”
I pity them, for they “know not that they know not that they know not,” as my former environmental whistleblower client and mentor the late EPA, HUD and FBI Senior Special Agent Robert E. Tyndall (Retired) put it best.
They are wrong -- this is our place, our town and our time -- we’re going to make this a better place.