Friday March 5, 2010

Environmental Justice

University of Dayton students win first place in Ohio Environmental Justice Short Video contest and shine light on contamination at Behr industrial plant.

A video by five University of Dayton sophomores that shines a light on the hazards of contamination at a local Dayton industrial plant won first place March 4 in a statewide environmental justice short video contest.

The eight-minute video - created by Paul Azzi, Jennifer Biette, Jessica Hanley, McLean Johnson and Kiersten Manifold - tells the history of the Behr Dayton Thermal Products plant and includes interviews with residents in the nearby McCook Field neighborhood, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has called "one of the worst contamination sites in the country."

View the Behr video and the second- and third-place winners at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice YouTube page.

In 2003, groundwater beneath the Behr facility at 1600 Webster St. was found to be contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), a solvent used by Chrysler, the former owner of the plant, to clean automotive parts. By 2006, environmental investigators discovered that the TCE plume had traveled underground and settled beneath the McCook Field neighborhood, causing exposure through soil vapor intrusion to 400 homes, several businesses and two schools.

"I'd like it cleaned up, of course ... what I would really like to see is some legislation to stop it," McCook Field resident Phyllis Weber says in the video. "These companies are getting away with it, they know they're doing something wrong, and then they're able to walk away from it with no accountability, and that's not just here, it's everywhere."

TCE is a known carcinogen and is linked to permanent nerve, liver and kidney damage. A study by the Ohio Department of Health in 2008 found higher than expected number of cancer cases in McCook Field associated with TCE exposure.

The U.S. EPA determined that more than 200 residential and commercial structures in the area required a mitigation system to keep indoor air clean, and in 2009, the agency declared the Behr VOC plume area Ohio's 48th Superfund Site and approved a work plan for the clean-up.

"We want people to recognize the injustices that occur across our country and that something needs to be done by our government and legislatures to better protect people from all communities," said Johnson, a human rights studies and political science major who collaborated on the video. "We want the people of McCook Field to receive what they rightfully deserve. Their homes should be frequently tested, their systems frequently checked for efficiency, and they should be compensated for the hardships they have had to endure, be it depreciating property values or medical bills."

The contest was sponsored by Ohioans for Health, Environment and Justice (OHEJ) and the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition (OSEC) and supported by Ohio state legislators and national environmental health organizations. Winners were announced at a red-carpet ceremony Thursday, March 4, at the Vern Riffe Center in Columbus.

OHEJ and OSEC sponsored the contest to inform state legislators and the public about the need to make environmental health hazards a priority in Ohio and to gain support for an environmental justice bill that was developed in response to the concerns of citizens affected by environmental threats from across Ohio in 2007 and 2008.

For more information, contact Meagan Pant, assistant director of media relations, at 937-229-3256 or mpant1@udayton.edu.