Famed environmental attorney Erin Brockovich has joined social and environmental organizations across the nation in what started as a grass roots effort and exploded into a full blown movement to stop the open tray burning at Camp Minden.
The open tray burning is the method selected by the Environmental Protection Agency, to destroy what coalitions have now learned is nearly 19 million pounds of M6 propellant improperly stored at Camp Minden by the now defunct Explo Systems Inc.
Melissa Downer, a Mindenite who contacted Brockovich, is a mother of three daughters, and joined the Concerned Citizens of the Camp Minden M6 Open Burn. She is also working closely with Francis Kelley, with Louisiana Progress Action and Concerned Citizens.
“I reached out to any and all national news, celebrities or anybody that has anything to do with this,” Downer said. “I sent her (Brockovich) an email, and I got a reply. It sent me over the moon that she would reply. She was interested in what the (legislative) delegation and the media was doing with it. I was emailing her every day, really, because everything was happening so fast.”
On Brockovich’s Facebook page, she posted a letter asking for signatures to show support for the growing Concerned Citizens and Louisiana Progress Action. The letter, addressed to Cynthia Giles of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, indicates its opposition to “OPEN BURN (of) 15 million pounds of abandoned M6 propellants at Camp Minden, Louisiana. By definition, open burning has no emissions controls and will result in the uncontrolled release of toxic emissions and respirable particulates to the environment…”
It cites “concerns for the potential human health risk created by open burning/open detonation as well as for environmental impacts on the air, soil, and water have required the military to identify and develop alternatives to open burning/open detonation treatment.”
And it is the long-term environmental impact of the open tray burn that caught Brockovich’s attention when she received the email from Downer. Downer said Brockovich responded, asking her questions about what was going on and how the disposal was being handled.
Brockovich, in an email to the Press-Herald, said she was compelled by Downer’s story.
“I was contacted via my webpage by a few dozen local residents telling me about the issue and the need to get a message to the USEPA senior staff,” she said. “I was compelled by their story and thought by using my network to reach out to many people might be our best hope to stop the burning.”
She’s also sent encouraging words to those who are a part of the movement.
“She’s front and center in that nature, and I’ve been keeping in touch with her and letting her know what was going on,” Downer said.
A photograph was posted on the Concerned Citizens of the Camp Minden M6 Open Burn Facebook page which reportedly shows how the propellant is actually being stored. Downer said Brockovich has seen the photograph and it is now posted on her Facebook page.
“This was the first time we’d seen how it was being stored inside, and it was horrifying,” Downer said.
Downer said Brockovich has a web page, www.communityhealthbook.com, where people can go to write their concerns.
Chris Broussard, a leader with the “Stop the Burn” coalition, says she was ecstatic about Brockovich’s involvement, along with approximately 70 other national organizations who have lent support to the effort.
“I think it’s powerful, and it’s giving us the ammunition to fight for safe disposal and stopping the burn,” she said. “Having those 71 groups do that for us is phenomenal. We got notice last weekend, and it made us all feel pretty hopeful.”
A rally at The Farm in Minden last weekend has gained the support of thousands of people to put pressure on the EPA and other governmental entities to find a safer disposal method.
Rep. Gene Reynolds, District 10, has been a leading voice in pushing the EPA to show their cards as to why the open tray burn process is better than another alternative. He hosted a meeting in Shreveport last week armed with scientists and data to make them answer questions.
“Gene Reynolds has been incredible through this,” Broussard said. “He’s been our ‘John Wayne’ in this.”
And while the EPA has granted a 90-day extension for compliance deadlines in the Administrative Settlement Agreement and Order on Consent for Removal Action, Broussard said the coalition isn’t stopping there. More meetings and possible rallies like the one last weekend will take place.
“We’re not going to wait until 90 days to do something,” she said. “Our group is working with attorneys and people familiar with all this.
“There are a lot of meetings being planned, but they haven’t been set yet,” Broussard continued. “We have hired an executive director, so the Farm will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. We’ll have some information there. There’s a lot of things going on in a lot of places to put pressure on them.”
They are also calling the governor’s office, and petitions were expected to be delivered Wednesday to U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Congressman John Fleming. She said there were thousands of signatures on the petition, and the one on Facebook is up to nearly 9,000.
When asked if she thought a class action lawsuit could be in the works, Brockovich said now might not be the best time.
“I don’t think a class action lawsuit at this time would be the proper action,” she said. “These people need to talk with their elected officials who should STOP this dangerous practice and protect the citizens. Not everything is about a lawsuit … working through a problem is always the best solution for the safety of the community. Sometimes it just takes many voices to help us accomplish this.”
“We just need to put our energy into stopping the burn, all of it,” Downer said. “And one voice can make a difference, but collectively, we can make a change. We’re not trying to work against the EPA, we’re trying to work with them.”