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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Boy, you need water to drink?

Mark Graham for The New York Times
The Rev. David Hudson, left, with his mother,
Gladies, and his father, David Hudson Sr., at their
home in Bethany, La., near the Texas state line.

Texas Lawsuit Includes a Mix of Race and Water

Published: July 9, 2006

DeBERRY, Tex. — Frank and Earnestene Roberson no longer need to drive the 23 miles to a Wal-Mart near Shreveport for a safe drink of water.

Instead, it is delivered to them in five-gallon jugs, courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But they and neighbors in this historically black enclave in the East Texas oilfields seem no closer to being able to drink, cook or bathe safely from their own wells since the E.P.A. found the groundwater contaminated with pollutants that included arsenic, benzene, lead and mercury.

Calling themselves victims of "environmental racism," community members in June filed suit in federal court, accusing the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state's oil and gas industry, of failing to enforce safety regulations and of "intentionally giving citizens false information based on their race and economic status."

The commission said it had yet to receive formal notice of the lawsuit and had no comment on it.

But almost two decades after Mrs. Roberson first began complaining, setting off years of inconclusive state inquiries, the agency says it is now moving against a large oilfield services company that deposited wastes at a nearby disposal site that has since been closed.

The inspector general of the E.P.A. is also concluding a separate investigation into the handling of the problem.

With 30,000 oilfield waste disposal sites throughout Texas, there is no clear evidence that the community here was singled out for dumping, although residents said it followed a pattern, documented by the E.P.A., of pollution hazards that disproportionately affect minorities.

They said that pleas for help, including letters to President Bush, were bounced from one agency to another, and that their treatment stood in sharp contrast to a $1.7 million cleanup last summer by the railroad commission in Manvel, a largely white suburb of Houston.

"They worked very fast and were very diligent," said Mayor Delores M. Martin of Manvel.

Resentment is dying hard among the Robersons and their relatives on County Road 329. They are the descendants of a black settler, George Adams, who paid $279 and a mule for 40 acres here in 1911.

"This is America? It looks worse than the third world," said the Rev. David Hudson, the Robersons' nephew. Mr. Hudson, a retired California radio and television station manager, pointed out where wells had been plugged and where an elderly relative died last year in a home cut off from running water.

posted by Steve @ 12:58:00 AM

12:58:00 AM

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