‘Concerned citizens’ seeks donations for fight against Koppers plant

By Gus Bode

Factoid:To donate, contact Willie Neal at 453-2755

The Concerned Citizens of Carbondale, a community group looking to take legal action against the owners of the former Koppers Wood Treatment Plant, announced Saturday that the group is now a non-profit organization and will begin soliciting donations.

So far, the group has raised about $60, which will be used to further the group’s grassroots campaign to gather community support, which thus far been difficult, consisting of lots of door knocking and meetings.

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The treatment plant, which is now owned by Beazer East Inc. and located at 1555 N. Marion St., was once the largest wood treatment plant in the world, using massive amounts of creosote, a harmful chemical, to treat wood.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents, during operation, the plant spilled “an unknown (but large) quantity of chemicals at several locations within, and adjacent to, the facility.”

Subsequent EPA investigations found high level of creosote and creosote-related contaminates, such as pentachlorophenol, leas and arsenic in surface soils, groundwater and creek sediments near the plant.

A residential neighborhood is just yards from the facility, and a $10.8 million EPA cleanup at the site is expected to be completed in November. But some community members aren’t convinced cleanup will help.

“You can just put it all in a big pile and bury it and still let people live near toxic waste,” said Willie Neal, president of the non-profit group and former employee of the plant. “It seeps into the ground and into the water. And what about all the people who lived in this area while the plant was operating? And what about the people who breathed creosote every day and fished from contaminated water and ate from contaminated gardens?”

A Belleville lawyer is still investigating the possibility of filing a class-action lawsuit against Beazer East Inc., although no scientific study of the effect of the contamination on the health of nearby residents has been conducted.

Steve Kennedy, spokesman for Beazer East Inc., could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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At the group’s meeting Saturday, which was sparsely attended, community members swapped stories of friends past and present who are suffering from ailments they blame on the plant’s pollution.

There were stories of friends who died young and stories of friends who moved away from Carbondale but still experience similar ailments, namely cancer, joint pains and unexplained skin irritation.

“There are days when I wake up and say, ‘Thank God for getting me through another night,'” said Willie “Yap-Yap” Mack, who lived in the community for more than 20 years. “I am in paid. I have cancer. I have high blood pressure. My legs are in constant pain, but it’s not just me. There are more like me, so I ask, ‘How can we all be suffering from the same things?'”

According to the EPA, some of the contaminates found at the site are cancerous. Pentachlorophenol can cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys as well as cause cancer.

For children, exposure to lead can lead to behavior and learning problems, slower growth and hearing problems. In adults, lead exposure can cause high blood pressure, nerve disorders and muscle and joint pain. And while arsenic occurs naturally in the environment, exposure to inorganic arsenic, the kind used to preserve wood, can cause nausea, vomiting and abnormal heart rhythm.

While the group’s latest meeting harbored anger and sadness toward illness and pollution, the group remained positive about the fight they have ahead, especially after one of the group leader’s granddaughters showed up with friends to offer support.

“This is what we need to be successful,” said Muslimah Zakee, who also lived in the community for 20 years before moving to Chicago and returning to Carbondale earlier this year. “We need the support of the entire community, including our youth.”

Reporter Monique Garcia can be reached at [email protected]

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