"Poster Child" Community for Environmental Justice Enters New Chapter in Water Pollution Fight

NASHVILLE, TN ­– A decade-long court order to protect residents of Dickson, Tenn. from the toxin trichloroethylene (TCE) wound down last week. The court has ordered that remaining settlement money be used by the county for ongoing water monitoring and related purposes. The end of ten years of court-supervised remediation kicks off the next chapter in a case infamously known as the “poster child” for the environmental justice movement.

The following is a statement from Sheila Holt-Orsted, one of the leaders in the NRDC et al. v. County of Dickson et al. case: 

“I’m passing the baton on to my fellow Dicksonions. It’s been almost twenty years ago since we found out our water was contaminated with one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. We drank, bathed, and cooked with Trichloroethylene (TCE) for almost 40 years. To add insult to injury, it hurt us even more to find out our white neighbors were provided clean, safe water and my Black family was not. When we thought it couldn't get any worse, it did. We learned that the dogs at the pound, waiting to be put to death, got clean water and we did not. How could so many have no regard for our health and wellbeing. Shame on the state, county, and federal agencies. The truth of the matter is, TCE is color blind, not racist. It’s an equal destroyer of health, families, and communities. 

“According to what I’ve been told, TCE more than likely will remain a deadly threat for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years in Dickson County. The NRDC lawsuit focused around the landfill and West Piney River. What about those state mandated sites no one talks about? Even though others filed lawsuits and some got money, andsome were relocated and didn’t have to file a lawsuit, the Holts were the only ones that fought for mandating steps to be taken for Dickson County to clean up their mess, protect its residents, and the environment. We endured hours of depositions, even our children (one about 9 years old). We were forced to answer such questions as if the contamination was our fault, not a result of their intentional negligence.

I wouldn’t necessarily wish what my family has suffered on anyone. However, if people making reckless, negligent, and discriminatory decisions about others’ health and wellbeing could walk in my shoes, then they would see a different perspective. I’m down for it if it brings about change. I hope other communities learn from Dickson’s disaster. It is a cautionary tale. My family is the poster child for the worst case of blatant environmental racism in U.S. history. I pray there are those who will continue this fight and will make sure their children will have a healthy place to grow up. I would not use well water from the aquifer in Dickson County. I am praying that even though the decree is ending, residents will step up and be vigilant. NRDC led a 14-year fight so that you and your children could have a safer place to live. I will forever be thankful, I hope all Dickson residents are too. If you pick up where the Holts left off, Dickson will be a safe place to live.

May God protect us all.”

Additional Information

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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