What we needed to do for the workers was to value their time, their effort, the months away from home and family to work for us, to make our lives safer in the future.
We wanted to give these for the most part, nameless employees one home-cooked meal before they left us to go to their own homes before heading out on another mission to protect yet another damaged town.
On Sunday morning of the EPA Superfund's last week in Miami, I went into the backdoor of the Northwest Baptist Church and asked if LEAD Agency could hold a home cooked meal for the valued visiting workers. The first gentleman turned me over to Jack Trask, who hearing what we hoped to do, took me down the bright white hallway to meet with Pastor Michael Knight. It took only moments before he said yes to our use of their space for the lunch. But he asked a thoughtful question, "How's the water here?" We have nothing without water, we all will agree, so I shared with him my hopes to protect our Roubidoux Aquifer from the legacy mine waste contaminated water in the Boone Aquifer sitting above it. But we were standing only feet from where that nameless swallow perched aquifer with BF Goodrich benzene lies beneath the homes in his neighborhood. These are serious issues in the building serving the Lord to speak about on a Sunday morning.
Mr. Trask walked me out of the building with more serious talk about loss and real possible causes our community musters through each day knowing or sliding aside acknowledgement as we go about our lives.
According to Louis "Red" Mathia, LEAD's board president who had worked at BF Goodrich, then served as Miami's mayor for 12 years, learned the powerhouse was left standing, said even the concrete had asbestos in it and personally wanted every bit of it removed to be the most protective for the community even though EPA said the asbestos had been fully removed from it.
190 tons of debris have been hauled away in trucks. It took 9 months, working for the most part 6 days a week. While if you look on the Toxics Release Inventory website for Ottawa County, over 159 thousand pounds of another carcinogen was released to the air throughout 2018. We got one dangerous pollutant removed at an expense of several million dollars, but we are still being exposed to tons of another.
I divert. We pulled together neighbors, LEAD members, some friends of friends and in walked crockpots with chicken noodle soup, salads, barbeque beans, broasted potatoes, green bean casserole, delightful servings of southwest chicken filets and rolls from the Ottawa Tribe and Hi-Winds Casino, deserts and of course the obligatory 'Thank you CAKE' you would expect to see. But each table had real dinner plates and cloth napkins we had brought from home.
The decorations combined the thanks for work well done, but the hope for the rest of the work left yet unaddressed: what lies beneath that neighborhood, the benzene and other chemicals and what flowed out of the plant and headed to the Neosho River for the life of the plant and since its closure.
In other words, the TOP is done, glad of it, but BENEATH and BEYOND not yet. How do we get that done? We have to care, we have to speak up, we have to MAKE it happen. The investigation, the real investigation must begin and the results must be addressed. This community deserves a CLEANUP and so do our downstream friends.
Lee, Mike McAteer and Lisa McClure arrived right on time, and were able to take note of the comments on white boards the Pam Bevis had posted throughout the room written by Miami Academy students. They didn't just read them, they took pictures of them all. They took photos WITH them. Then the vested workers arrived and we got to enjoy time with them as we shared a meal. Academy students came with their award winning teacher, Marla Stidham. Each table took a turn to speak about our gratitude for their work and time in our community. But when Mike McAteer stood to speak, clearly touched by this simple meal. He said in his 29 years of working in contaminated communities, this was the first one to receive this outpouring of gratitude. We almost made him cry. And that almost got me, too.
How little it takes to show we care. We will all remember that moment and jump into wondering what kindness we can give the next person, group of people who choose to serve us in whatever way they do.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim