The embattled town is Winona, Texas, home to some 457 people, mostly poor, black farmers, where poisoned air and ground water are accused of causing serious illness to its citizens. The company suspected is the American Ecology Environmental Services Corporation, which—its name notwithstanding—disposes of low-level radioactive and hazardous waste for some of the largest corporations in the United States.
And the woman who has decided to take on the company is Winona resident Phyllis Glazer, daughter of a man whose family perished in the Holocaust. She has devoted both her inheritance and the injunction to “never forget” to the fight on behalf of the town.
Glazer and other citizens charge that leakage from the Winona plant has caused extraordinary health problems among the town’s children—including tumors, seizures, respiratory problems unformed lungs and rare genetic diseases. Having settled there shortly after her father’s death, Glazer has since sent her mother, husband and children away, staying to continue the fight.
“We’ve got to get the word out,” says Glazer, her passion for a just resolution unabated. “There are thousands of towns like this, and it’s always in poor communities.”
Materials distributed as part of the efforts of MOSES—Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins—which Glazer organized, are peppered with recollections of her father, quotes from the Talmud and from one Yiddish song by Herman Yablokoff that reads “Oysgeyn vel ikh mum vi a hint,” “People—don’t let me perish in the streets like a hound.”
Indeed, it is the story of the Holocaust, and her father’s own escape from Riga two days before the Germans captured it, that inspire her involvement. “My father told me that his family lost their lives because their fellow men had closed their minds and their hearts to them. He told me of the doors that neighbors never opened to give them shelter,” she writes in one of her appeals for support. “In Winona, the knock had come to my door.”
Glazer’s campaign has involved many lawsuits, including those against the company, against the federal Environmental Protection Agency and against the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission for failing to protect Winona’s citizens. Earlier this year the company, embroiled in questions of cleanup and restitution, suspended its operations, and in a counter suit charged that the expense of Glazer’s repeated lawsuits alone have forced them to close.
But whatever the costs of this undertaking, there is only one bottom line for Glazer: “I can’t quit until all children are not poisoned in their home. . . . If the Jewish people don’t pay attention to this, no one will.”