Planetary Casualties: An interview with Adrienne Anderson
Anderson is professor of Environmental & Ethnic Studies at the
University of Colorado at Boulder. She served as the Western Director
of the National Toxics Campaign, a network of community groups.
In 1997 Anderson filed a federal whistleblower case on a plan to
mix plutonium waste with sewer sludge, process it into fertilizer,
and then use it on U.S. farms. She works with farmers and unions
to stop such dangerous practices from taking place around the country.
What are the hidden costs of war?
During and after the war on Iraq, we heard casualty counts
of U.S. troops. Yet, what is missing from those numbers are the
hidden the casualties of war at home. These costs do not consider
the production facilities where these military weapons were made,
the testing of weapons of mass destruction here in the United States,
the people whose water is contaminated as a result of depleted uranium
testing, whether they’re in Socorro, New Mexico, Concord, Massachusetts,
or California. Communities are suffering from elevated cancer rates,
especially those near military installations where depleted uranium
has been tested, where nuclear weapons have been developed and are
leeching offsite, where there’s plutonium in well water.
don’t citizens know about these things?
example is Socorro, New Mexico. Damacio Lopez is head of a group
called the International Depleted Uranium Study Team. He was in
his home town of Socorro helping his aging parents recovering from
an accident. They were wondering why there were explosions going
off in the hillsides above their home. As Lopez looked into it,
he was shocked to discover that they were doing weapons testing
there, but the parties that were engaging in that were just basically
saying “don’t worry about it.” He later obtained
documents indicating that they were doing depleted uranium testing
and lied to the community.
Denver, the state of Colorado took acquisition of a piece of land
where depleted uranium was tested. The officials wanted to turn
it into a subdivision. People don’t know what’s next to
them, affecting their water supplies, devaluing their properties.
uranium was widely used in 1991 the first Gulf War. According to
many sources, there has been an exceptionally high rate of leukemia
and lymphoma cancers among Iraqi children. On top of that, half
a million U.S. troops that served in the region at that time and
about 150,000 today are classified by the Pentagon as disabled.
This is all under the rubric of the Gulf War Syndrome. They have
joint pain, headaches, fatigue, and other problems.
of U.S. soldiers who served in the Gulf War are being born with
defects. The government continues to deny that there is any risk
from depleted uranium exposures. In my view, we’re repeating
the same syndrome that we had with government denials about the
risks of Agent Orange and their unwillingness to compensate those
affected. Studies show that up to 43 percent of U.S. troops have
come home with illnesses. That’s a fairly staggering rate and
we sent another quarter of a million troops to Iraq where depleted
uranium was used again.
you have any information about what the U.S. is doing in the Andes
region? In Colombia, herbicides that are banned in the United
States are being used to eradicate the coca crop.
a herbicide called Roundup produced by Monsanto. There are indications
that this material is being sprayed by airplane on sensitive populations
and rainforest areas. Villages below are suffering high rates of
cancer and birth defects, contamination of water supplies, the destruction
of ecosystems and entire communities. There are indigenous populations
threatened by this and it raises the question of what really is
the agenda. Is it to simply alter the production of coca in the
area? It’s like going after a fly with a nuclear bomb, having
far greater and more deleterious effects than what the purported
motive is. There are some people that are questioning whether or
not the agenda is really to force the indigenous population out
of these areas so they can be used for other corporate purposes.
the early 1990s, Robert Bullard started using the term “environmental
of color, whether they’re in the U.S. or any other part of
the globe, are targeted for waste disposal practices—people
in Ecuador, for example. Texaco went into Ecuador and essentially
destroyed their rainforest environment. There were elevated cancer
rates, birth defect rates, benzene pouring through what were once
productive coffee farms, flower orchards, beautiful places with
populations that are now at risk and with economic devastation as
a result. The citizens ended up trying to sue under international
law for this violation of their rights. This happened in Nigeria
as well and places all around the world.
an area in Louisiana that’s quite notorious, Cancer Alley.
Is that an example of environmental racism as well?
are so many examples across the country. We have cancer alleys in
Ponca City, Oklahoma where Conoco was poisoning a low-income, predominantly
minority community on the tribal reservation there. In California,
we have these types of problems in typically low-income minority
about how a number of uranium mines are on Native American reservations.
look at New Mexico, where the Navajo (Dineh) were brought in to
mine uranium in the 1940s and 1950s for governmental purposes. They’re
an impoverished population. The government went in with the notion
that this would be an economic development opportunity. The Navajo
(Dineh) men that were working in those mines were not given respiratory
protection, although the government and its contractors knew that
this was very dangerous material. Sure enough, these miners have
very high rates of lung cancer. Throughout those areas of New Mexico
and Arizona where these mines were operating, the widows have been
seeking compensation for their losses. A governmental compensation
package was passed, but under the Bush administration, they don’t
want to pay the money.
look at Nevada, where the Western Shoshone reside. Under the 1863
Treaty of Ruby Valley, the U.S. government gave the land to the
Native Americans and it was essentially most of the state of Nevada.
Yet, that was the area designated for testing nuclear weapons. Nuclear
tests have continued on into more recent decades. We have contaminated
water supplies. The government to this day is trying to force those
people off their land.
look at the Goshute tribe in Northwestern Utah. They’re surrounded
by the Dugway Proving Grounds where we are currently developing
and testing chemical weapons of mass destruction. They’ve got
a hazardous waste incinerator to the north. They’ve got all
kinds of other military-related activities. In the 1960s the government
was spraying toxic chemical weapons across their areas, killed 6,000
sheep, and they buried the carcasses on Goshute land. Then they
targeted them for the temporary storage of nuclear fuel rods. The
consortium of utilities that has tried to ram that deal through
actually had the nerve to say that the Native Americans would be
the best caretakers for nuclear waste given their history as environmentalists.
terms of environmental racism, it seems at times that the government
is an equal opportunity polluter, where largely white communities
are affected. For example, 8 miles from Boulder and 16 miles from
Denver is the notorious Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant.
Colorado, at Rocky Flats, the desire was for access to high technology
labor pools, which would have included the nearby University of
Colorado, and also access to water. Rocky Flats produces nuclear
weapons and pumps plutonium-contaminated waste into creeks that
were feeding public water supplies. At the other end of the county,
the Martin Marietta facility, which was producing Titan missiles
and testing fuels, was pouring toxic waste into a public water supply
that in the 1970s and 1980s was serving predominantly middle-income
white subdivisions in and around Littleton.
horrific wave of infant defects, cancers, and other problems followed.
There are significant similar cases in California with Aerojet and
other military contractors. Suburban communities are being built
in these subdivisions outside of urban populations. Their water
supplies are being contaminated by rocket fuel cancer-causing propellants
that contaminate water supply after water supply, forcing shutdowns
of well water all throughout Southern California and the Sacramento
area. Lockheed Martin contaminated Burbank’s water supply.
You have to wonder with all the people coming down with Parkinson’s
disease and all sorts of neurological problems, what’s the
association with that? Are studies being done? No, they’re
not. In California, Lockheed Martin was actually paying people to
eat their pollution, giving them $1,000 if they would eat perchlorates,
a solid rocket fuel contaminant that was contaminating public water
supplies throughout California.
Martin Marietta plant in Littleton is now Lockheed Martin. It was
featured in Michael Moore’s award-winning documentary Bowling
for Columbine. Littleton is the same town as Columbine High School.
Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky is another place where
there’s plutonium in municipal wells serving members of the
public. You mentioned Columbine. It certainly is a curiosity that
the two worst high school shootings in the United States both occurred
in communities directly neighboring a Lockheed Martin installation.
From my research, I think it is critical to examine the fact that
the Columbine community is actually a bedroom community for Lockheed
Martin workers. Many of the children that were killed in the high
school at the time, their parents work at Lockheed Martin. But unexamined
is the fact that children in that community, by the time they were
juniors and seniors at Columbine High School, had been drinking
contaminated water from the Lockheed Martin facility. From my research
and in coordination with scientists around the country, the types
of contaminants that Lockheed Martin was routinely dumping into
the public water supply, in the Columbine Valley area, are chemicals
that are known to cause aggression, neurological disorders, depression,
cancers, birth defects, leukemia, and other types of problems. When
I attempted to get this question examined through comprehensive
health assessments, Lockheed Martin put an end to that and has contributed
to threats to my position at the university, even raising it as
a questionable topic for study.
you just revealed, about the contamination in the Littleton area,
possibly caused by Lockheed Martin, is stunning. Has there been
any kind of media attention to this? Have there been any federal
raised concerns that there should be studies done of the affect
on populations that received contaminated water from the Lockheed
Martin plant. I was organizing one of the neighborhoods, a community
called Friendly Hills. In 1984-86 there was a mysterious cluster
of children that were dying from unknown causes in this middle-income,
predominantly white community. At that time, state officials and
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed to have no idea
what could possibly be affecting the area. Sixteen children had
died and we urged the federal government to launch an investigation.
At that time, the government concluded that there was nothing wrong.
conducted an independent investigation and were astonished to find
that for 30 years Martin Marietta had been contaminating that region’s
water supply, as well as a source of water just below their plant
southwest of Denver. Documents showed this was being done with the
full knowledge of the Denver Water Board, as well as the state of
Colorado, and also, in later years, the EPA. They shut down the
public water supply in 1985 and since that time the number of babies
born with fetal defects has plummeted.
still concern about cancers there so I had been urging, with residents
in the Friendly Hills community, that health assessments be done
by the Centers for Disease Control. Martin Marietta did everything
they could to prevent the federal government from conducting those
studies. In fact, the federal government gave Colorado thousands
of dollars to conduct a health assessment that’s required under
Superfund Law. Martin Marietta had the nerve to tell the State Health
Department that they didn’t want them to conduct the assessment,
because it could hurt them in a civil action suit that had been
brought by a number of residents whose babies had died and whose
children had contracted cancers and other problems.
now know that this not only affected Friendly Hills, but also all
of those subdivisions that are essentially feeder communities to
the Columbine High School area. From my research I can say for certain
that they were receiving water contaminated by the Martin Marietta
facility. Yet there have been no investigations and when I called
in January 1999 for a comprehensive health investigation—this
was before the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999—
Lockheed Martin wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and told
them not to conduct any further assessments.
correlation between lead and aggression is well known. Why isn’t
this a fruitful area of inquiry, as it relates to the Littleton
community and Columbine? Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters,
from my research, was exposed to contaminated water as a baby. I’ve
notified that family’s attorney of my research and they’ve
opted not to pursue it. Of course, they have a horrific amount of
trauma and grief to deal with and I can’t fault them for that.
The other shooter (Eric Harris) grew up at Superfund sites near
the Sandia labs in New Mexico. Every place he has ever lived has
been designated as a Superfund site because his father was in the
pulled together a team of independent physicians from around the
country, some of the best in the nation, including Richard Clapp,
who was head of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry at one time. They
agreed to do an epidemiological investigation of the Columbine area
based on my research. The State Health Department has refused to
give them the vital statistical data that would allow that study
to be done.
of the western states, where many of these Lockheed Martin facilities
are located, also suffer from major problems with water availability.
We have a drought in Colorado and in California. They’re desperate
for water. Yet, water supplies are being lost all over the country
as a result of contamination from Lockheed Martin alone. Of course,
there are other places where these problems are developing from
other corporations. The people in charge of that installation when
they were illegally, records show, dumping into a public water supply,
weren’t criminally prosecuted. One of the chief managers at
the Littleton facility at Martin Marietta at the time has now been
appointed by President Bush as one of the top leaders of the U.S.
an aquifer is contaminated is there any way for it to clean itself?
depends on the compound. We have an area in eastern Colorado where
there’s been plutonium found in ground water 200 feet deep,
according to Department of Energy certified studies. That of course
is irreparable damage. In Colorado, where the plutonium has been
found at a Superfund site that wasn’t acknowledged before,
the EPA winked and is allowing a deal to go through. They’re
pumping it into a public water sewage system to use as fertilizer
on farmland in eastern Colorado. It will also be made available
to home gardeners without acknowledgement that that material is
in the landfill. In many cases some of these military-related contaminants
are not even regulated by the federal government.
such compound, hydrazine, is a rocket fuel propellant used in the
Titan missile program. It was the compound at issue in Littleton
as well as when the Columbia exploded. The reason NASA warned people
not to touch fallen shuttle parts was because of the hydrazine fuels.
But these were the same compounds that Martin Marietta was illegally
dumping into the public water supply at issue in Littleton that
I’ve researched for 20 years and will probably work on for
another 20 years because of its gravity. So those are compounds
that aren’t treated by typical municipal water supply systems.
The government doesn’t even regulate it because it’s so
rarely found. But where it is found, in California, the state is
shutting down wells that have the tiniest fractions of the breakdown
products of this rocket fuel propellant. According to California’s
water quality website, 20 drops of this substance dispersed in enough
water to fill the Rose Bowl would contaminate the entire volume
of water. They’re regulating it in California at the teeny-tiniest
of fractions. In Boulder, there’s a source of rocket fuel contamination
from a facility that was operated by Raytheon, formerly Beech Aircraft,
blending these fuels at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The EPA in that
region might say “this facility meets all applicable State
and Federal laws” and yet people may be surprised to learn
that there are no state or federal laws governing some of the most
toxic chemicals that could put them at risk.
EPA is the federal regulatory agency that is supposed to monitor
these sites. What kind of job has it been doing?
there are some very good people in the EPA, clearly in the Littleton
case and the Martin Marietta plant, the EPA knew that the water
was being poisoned and did absolutely nothing. We were shocked to
find that the person who was put in charge of overseeing federal
installations like the Martin Marietta complex was actually the
person who was previously at that Martin Marietta complex and who
was responsible for environmental compliance while these dangerous
poisons were rolling down the hill into a public water supply.
see the revolving door all the time between government agencies
like the EPA responsible for protecting us. If you go through and
look at their resumes, you’ll find that they were part of the
problem that they were regulating. Under the Bush administration,
the revolving door is spinning so fast, we can’t keep up with
sources of information would you recommend?
people who would like to know more about depleted uranium, I recommend
a book called Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted
Uranium by Akira Tashiro. The book by sociologist Robert Bullard,
Confronting Environmental Racism is a very easy read. There
is also a book called Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!
by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. They’ve also come out
with one called Weapons of Mass Deception that examines the
propaganda used by the Bush administration in this current conflict
Barsamian is the founder of Alternative Radio (www.alternativeradio.org).
He is the author of many books (see www.southendpress.org) .