WASHINGTON – Mothers from Michigan and Missouri decried what they see as a lack of empathy from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to environmental crises in their communities.
Citizens in Flint, Michigan have experienced serious health consequences since last April when the city switched its drinking water source to the Flint River.
The health hazard in St. Louis County, Missouri is less well-known. An underground landfill fire at the Bridgeton/West Lake Landfill has been raging for two years and is coming dangerously close to colliding with nuclear waste, which could result in a “Chernobyl-like event,” according to the group Just Moms STL.
The National Press Club news conference Tuesday focused on the situation in Bridgeton, highlighting activism from mothers in the community and their partnership with groups in Flint.
“I think it’s time for the moms from Flint and the moms from St. Louis to make a pact to stay strong and protect our children,” Karen Nickel, co-founder of Just Moms STL, said.
Just Moms STL said it is focusing efforts on the federal level in the hope that the EPA will help relocate families living within a mile of the landfill’s perimeter. Last week, the group held a phone-a-thon event where it said more than 1,000 people called the EPA, seeking relief from the smelly, potentially dangerous landfill fire.
Lois Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, which hosted the event in Washington, said the responsibility falls within the EPA’s Superfund program, which is designed to protect public health in cases of environmental emergencies involving hazardous waste.
The non-profit center advocates for community-based organizations that are fighting for relief from environmental threats related to chemicals.
Calling into the event from Michigan, Melissa Mays of the group Water You Fighting For in Flint said the events in Flint and the St. Louis area are signs of significant flaws in how EPA operates nationally.
“The fact it’s gone on for this long… it seems to be a pattern,” Mays said. “An awful, horrifying pattern for the EPA and Gina McCarthy (the EPA administrator) to sit there and do nothing.”
The EPA could not be reached for a specific comment on Tuesday’s news conference, but the agency said in a statement last month it planned to build a physical isolation barrier around the Missouri landfill to mitigate the effects of the underground fire.
Even so, Nickel and Mays said they plan to keep up their efforts.
“Moms are joining together across the nation,” Nickel said. “No more poisoning our children.”