By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Early on a mid-October day in 1991, Phyllis Glazer barreled down Highway 155 on the way to her son's elementary school in Winona, an East Texas hamlet northeast of Tyler. Her 9-year-old son, Max, had forgotten his math textbook the previous day, and he was determined to be at school as soon as the doors opened, so he could finish his homework assignment before the school day began.
Halfway there, Glazer felt the ground under her car rumble "like an earthquake." Then, as she passed Gibraltar Chemical Resources--a plant she knew little about except that it often emitted an offensive, nostril-burning odor--she saw workers scurrying to evacuate. Seconds later, she drove through an eerie black and reddish cloud that wafted from the plant across the highway. It was so thick, she had to turn on her headlights.
Glazer didn't give the incident much thought until a few days later, when her throat hurt so badly that she could hardly swallow. When she inspected her mouth, she saw skin hanging from the roof like stalactites and white ulcers covering her gums and throat. "It was like my mouth had melted," she says. She went to the doctor, who also discovered a small hole in her septum, the cartilage that separates the nostrils. Several weeks later, her toenails curled up and fell off.
Glazer soon discovered she was not the only Winona resident made ill by the toxic cloud. Days after the incident, the breasts of 65-year-old Marian Steich began to swell and lactate, as if she had just given birth, and Steich's 600 chickens suddenly stopped laying eggs. Two young brothers, whose family lived just on-fifth of a mile from the plant, started suffering seizures.
For most of the three years since Glazer and her husband had purchased their sprawling Piney Woods ranch, they had used it mostly as a weekend retreat. But Glazer recently had traded in her North Dallas city lifestyle for full-time country living. Her husband, R.L. Glazer, whose family owns one of the largest wholesale liquor and wine distributorships in the country, commuted between their Winona and North Dallas homes.
After the cloud incident, Glazer set out to learn more about her adopted community of 450 mostly poor and working-class folks. What she found alarmed her. The "smelly plant" was in fact a toxic-waste treatment facility that handled the most hazardous substances known to man--from benzene to toluene and PCBs--many of which were known to cause cancer and birth defects. The company injected some of the waste into underground wells for disposal and mixed others into fuels to be burned by cement kilns.
What's more, the plant had a decade-long track record of flouting state regulations designed to safeguard the community. As an Environmental Protection Agency official would later report, "This plant has been a horror to its neighbors for years...causing considerable suffering over many years to the poor and mostly black residents living nearby."
Two months after the October mishap, Gibraltar held a public hearing at Winona High School to announce plans to expand its facility. The normally apolitical and apathetic Glazer decided she must attend. During the hearing, a company representative cavalierly dismissed residents' concerns about toxic emissions and their potential impact on the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, the source for wells in the region. In the unlikely event that chemicals seeped into the aquifer, he said, the company would clean it up.
Taught never to raise her voice, Glazer shocked herself as she jumped to her feet and challenged the man. "That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard!" said Glazer, who knew how costly it would be to clean up an aquifer that was so large, it provided drinking water to one-fifth of the state. "You couldn't possibly have the kind of money that would take."
In the weeks following Glazer's performance at the public meeting, many of the town's residents streamed to her ranch. Many brought along their children, who suffered myriad mysterious ailments--breathing problems, skin diseases, growth disorders, unexplained tumors, and cancer. From the time the plant opened in 1983, these people had complained about it to assorted state agencies, but to little effect.
"I was just this housewife and mother, but I knew something was terribly wrong," Glazer says. "I also knew I was the only one in the community with enough time and resources to do something."
In this flamboyant woman, with her multi-colored cowboy boots, gaudy silver jewelry, and floor-sweeping skirts she calls "cowboy drag," a woman whose biggest concern once was choosing which new Dallas restaurant to frequent with her friends, the town of Winona found an unlikely ally.
And in this woman, with her surfeit of moxie and money, the toxic-waste company met its match.
Practically day and night for six years, Phyllis Glazer led a campaign against the plant and the government to protect the people of Winona.
She converted a portion of her oversized bathroom into the headquarters of Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins, or MOSES, the citizens' group she founded to combat the plant she was certain was poisoning the people and the environment.
Brandishing a bullhorn and wearing a sign that read "Environmental Justice Now," Glazer led a small group of women on weekly pickets at the plant's gate. She paid for busloads of residents to attend public hearings in Austin, where they protested the plant's application for additional permits, and to visit Washington, where they pleaded their case to federal lawmakers and White House officials.
"I often felt I was fighting the government more than the company," Glazer says.
When the state refused to provide the resources the town needed to do a thorough environmental and medical assessment, Glazer hired her own doctors, geologists, and toxicologists. She also retained environmental lawyers from some of the most prominent firms in Dallas and Houston to ask the courts to do what the state and federal government wouldn't--shut down the plant until it came into full compliance with the law and implemented environmental protection measures.
In addition to filing several lawsuits against Gibraltar--and later American Ecology Environmental Services Corp., which bought the plant in 1994--Glazer funded a federal lawsuit against the EPA, alleging it had reduced the standards for protecting human health and the environment in order to allow the plant to expand.
The campaign cost her plenty--financially and emotionally. Over the years, she spent several million dollars--depleting her entire inheritance and much of her immediate family's savings in the process--to defend both the town and herself.
While many residents clearly saw Glazer as a savior, others considered her a misguided fanatic who used melodrama and unsubstantiated allegations to destroy an important economic resource in the community: The plant employed more than 100 people and provided financial support to numerous youth programs in town. The company employed almost one-fifth of the town, not including upper management, who coincidentally didn't live anywhere near Winona.
Over the years, Glazer and several other prominent members of MOSES were the targets of repeated death threats. Glazer also claims that on several occasions someone fired bullets at her house and mutilated her animals, leaving their remains hanging on a fence--proof of which she captured on videotape.
As her campaign picked up momentum and garnered national attention--an NBC Dateline segment on Winona dubbed Glazer the Toxic Avenger--she became increasingly concerned for her family's welfare. Fearing the threats of violence and health problems, Glazer sent her son back to Dallas to live. After an anonymous caller threatened to kill him, Glazer sent him out of state to boarding school. Glazer remained behind in Winona, protected by a bodyguard hired by her husband.
In March 1997, Glazer's campaign paid off when the company unexpectedly announced it was closing its Winona plant. American Ecology denied it posed a threat to the community or the environment; they blamed the shutdown on the financial drain of Glazer's legal assault, plus the personal-injury lawsuits filed against it by more than 600 area residents. Several of the plaintiffs, in fact, are former employees of the facility.
News of the plant's closing delighted Glazer and her followers and gave hope to hundreds of environmental activists like them across the country. But Glazer's glee was short-lived.
Shortly after American Ecology stopped receiving hazardous waste at the Winona site, the company filed a federal suit against Glazer, her 76-year-old mother, her husband, and her husband's business, Glazer Wholesale Distributors, claiming they had engaged in a "conspiracy" to destroy American Ecology by publishing "patently untrue statements" and engaging in a "pattern of widespread defamation" that created "false and adverse publicity."
The suit specifically accused Glazer of inventing stories to scare residents and claimed the sole motivation behind her campaign was to protect the value of her land.
Glazer found most of the suit's allegations laughable, particularly the part alleging a familywide conspiracy to destroy the company. No member of her prominent Dallas family had anything to do with MOSES; what's more, most of them hadn't a clue what she had been doing all these years out in the boondocks.
But defending the lawsuit would be costly. Seasoned activists, including consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who had become a supporter of Glazer's, considered the suit a company ploy to silence Glazer, who had spoken derisively of other controversial American Ecology projects around the country. Such legal tactics--referred to as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP)--are frequently successful in muzzling community protesters, who cannot afford the lawyers and experts it takes to defend them. As a result, many states have enacted legislation to deter or limit SLAPP suits. Texas, however, is not one of them. In fact, the same company that sued Glazer threatened to sue a group of scientists in California who spoke out against its plans to build a low-level radioactive-waste disposal facility in that state.
But it would take more than an expensive lawsuit to stop Phyllis Glazer. True to form, she fought back, filing a counterclaim accusing the company of filing a frivolous lawsuit. And she vowed to fight the suit to the end.
Wherever Glazer and the members of MOSES went, be it the Texas Legislature, Congress, or the White House, they left behind crude dolls they fashioned from old pantyhose stuffed with moss. They called them wasted babies, and they symbolized the young lives they claimed were lost or harmed by the environmental pollution in Winona.
The stories of the children of Winona were heartrending and the reason Glazer refused to give up. None of these stories was more tragic than Linda and Steve Smiley's.
The Smileys' first child was born healthy in 1981, the year the plant first opened, but before it began accepting hazardous wastes. Three years later, after the toxic-waste plant was fully operational, Linda's second child, Courtney, was born with numerous birth defects, including webbed toes, partially formed ears, kidney disease, and a rare form of tumors in her mouth that had to be surgically removed when she was 6 weeks old.
The Smileys' third child, Stephanie, has a severe growth problem and suffers from unexplained skin ailments. Now 14, Courtney's problems continue to grow worse. She twice has had grapefruit-size tumors removed from the base of her neck, and she was recently diagnosed with a seizure disorder. Two years ago, after an explosion at the plant released a potent herbicide into the air, the Smileys finally abandoned their roomy three-bedroom house, which sat a mile and a half downwind from the plant. They were unable to sell the house; when company officials repeatedly denied that their plant was responsible for harming Winona's residents, Linda asked one--who lived 20 minutes away--to move into her house. The Smileys moved into a cramped two-room apartment in Tyler, where they continue to fight for their daughters' health and against financial ruin. Courtney regularly visits eight different doctors in Dallas and Tyler; their mounting medical bills recently forced the Smileys to file bankruptcy.
"I don't want people to feel sorry for us," says Linda. "I want people to understand what these people have done to us and to everyone else."
Pat and Lilly Hoyne moved from Winona after their son Douglas was born with severe mental retardation caused by an environmentally linked chromosomal abnormality called trisomy chromosomal 15. The Hoynes lived around the corner from the Smileys. But there were plenty of injured children whose families couldn't afford to leave, such as Marti Williams, a nurse whose son has Elephant Man's disease, and Bianca Jones, who suffers from a painful skin disorder in which her skin sheds and leaves her complexion mottled.
Armed with a traveling photo exhibit of Winona's children, Glazer told anyone who would listen about their plight. Glazer knew how to tug the heartstrings, but she still could not spur government officials to act on their behalf. Everyone wanted proof that the plant caused these illnesses. In order to make that link, Glazer needed help from the state, but she received little assistance.
She wanted the Texas Department of Health to do an epidemiological study to determine the extent of the town's health problems in the area and how they compared with those in towns of similar size. The health department had its doctors review the plant's environmental data, but no such study was ever done, says Dr. John Villanacci, an epidemiologist with the state health department.
"It was impossible to determine if people were sicker here than elsewhere," he says. "We were dealing with mostly self-reported conditions--burning eyes, breathing difficulties. You look for commonalties with groups of people, a clustering of similar types of complaints, but we didn't have that here.
"It is always difficult to make a link between an illness and a toxic pollutant," he adds. "You want to look at what type of air contaminants someone was exposed to and how much. But the company lacked air-monitoring devices, so there was a paucity of data. All we could do was look at the facts, and we probably didn't have enough of them."
The doctor's comments make Glazer fume. "There were plenty of facts, but no one bothered to come here and look at them," she says. "In one black neighborhood alone, 35 people suffered from cancer. Tumors were rampant in children and animals." (Video footage Glazer took shows a hideously deformed cow and a German shepherd with a tumor the size of a basketball dangling between his hind legs. She lost several of her own ranch animals to brain cancer and kidney disease.)
Dr. Marvin Legator also takes issue with the health department's approach to the problems in Winona. A professor and director of the division of environmental toxicology at the University of Texas-Galveston, Legator says, "You'd anticipate a smorgasbord of illnesses in this situation because the people were exposed to so many different chemicals. All you can say is that this is a sick community compared to a community without exposure. There's no question that it is difficult to document. But there is no question you can do it. The National Academy of Sciences calls it a symptoms survey."
Many of the chemicals treated at the plant are known to cause reproductive problems, cancer, and brain damage, Legator says. "If you know these people were exposed to hazardous chemicals, and you know what these chemicals can do, isn't that enough?"
The failure of the plant to maintain adequate records contributed to the shortage of data. It is almost impossible to know exactly how much waste the plant accepted each year, because of serious lapses in the company's record keeping. According to the plaintiffs' lawyers, records they've uncovered show, for instance, that the plant received 3,400 tons of waste from one particular company, but that company's records show it only shipped 900. When the lawyers checked the records of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, there is no record of the company's shipping anything. It's equally difficult to know what the residents were exposed to on any given day. For example, the company's internal tracking systems were so poor, the plaintiffs' lawyers could not find what substances were in the tanks at the time of the 1991 explosion that emitted the cloud that spooked Glazer.
Nevertheless, as far as Legator is concerned, the health department's indifferent response to Winona is indicative of the way every agency dealt with the issue. "This is real gut-wrenching stuff, but Phyllis got almost nothing but grief from the people who should have helped her," he says.
Glazer also chafes at the blatant double standard government has for its corporate citizens and the people it is supposed to protect. "Citizens have to prove they've been harmed--within an inch of their lives," she says. "But the company never has to prove it won't harm them. There was no environmental-impact study done before the plant opened. There was nothing but promises--empty promises."
When John Mobley, a well-connected East Texas businessman who ran Lloyd Bentsen's first U.S. senatorial campaign, first founded the Gibraltar plant in Winona, he said the company planned to inject salt water from the oil fields into open-ended wells and grow fruit orchards on the surrounding acreage.
Instead, the facility received the first federal permit to operate a commercial hazardous-waste injection-well facility. In this process, toxic refuse is flushed underground through a mile-long concrete shaft into a limestone cavern, where company officials promised it would not migrate for 10,000 years. The company also recycled solvents and blended other hazardous wastes for use as fuels.
No orchards were ever planted here, but plenty of toxic plumes flowered.
During its 14 years of operation, the facility logged more than 740 errant emissions and received more than 400 notices of violations from the Texas Air Control Board, the Texas Water Commission, and the TNRCC, according to Dallas lawyers Bob Buchholz and Bady Sassin, who represent more than 600 plaintiffs in personal-injury lawsuits against the two companies that owned the plant. These violations ranged from poor record keeping and failure to report emissions to incidents such as explosions. In one instance the state cited the company for accepting 24 times the amount of PCBs it was allowed to and covering it up by doctoring its record manifests. But that doesn't begin to describe the degree of irresponsibility the company displayed in Winona, evidence of which is just coming to light through discovery in the lawsuits the lawyers have worked on for five years.
They uncovered evidence of other shocking lapses in safety. "In the solvent area, the pipes were sealed with grease," says Sassin. "You know what solvents do to grease--they dissolve it. That's what happened here, and the pipes leaked like sieves."
In the pumping system, waste clogged the pollution controls. When the filters became saturated, workers just took them out and never replaced them.
"If these violations were ever found, nothing was ever done," Sassin says.
Gibraltar isn't the only company at fault. The lawyers unearthed a 1992 inspection report of the facility conducted by Mobil, which shipped its hazardous waste there. The report's author said it was the worst facility he had ever seen in terms of pollution control and number and degree of infractions. Citing problems such as defects in the plant's containment system, poor procedures for dealing with emergencies, groundwater contamination, and chemical spills, the report's author gave the plant an F. But Mobil continued to send its toxic refuse there anyway.
At IBM's behest, Gibraltar built a section at the plant to store cupric chloride, a nasty by-product produced from the manufacture of circuit boards. Gibraltar got around the hazardous-waste permitting process by alleging the plant was a recycling facility in which it extracted copper from the chemical.
"There is no evidence they extracted enough copper to make a plug penny," Sassin says.
According to state and federal hazardous-waste standards, cupric chloride must be stored on an approved site, in vented containers with filtering devices to capture emissions. In Winona, it was stored in open vats set into the ground 50 feet from Wiggins Creek, which the chemical ultimately contaminated.
Attempts to reach officials at Mobil and IBM for comment were unsuccessful.
In 1992, shortly after MOSES became involved, the Texas attorney general filed suit against Gibraltar for violating state air-safety and hazardous-waste statutes. The attorney general settled with the company two years later for $1.2 million, plus an agreement to implement certain safety devices.
Yet despite the numerous citations and eventual lawsuits, plant opponents point out, Gibraltar was allowed to continue to operate and contaminate the surrounding countryside.
Glazer's group, which had filed for party status in the attorney general's suit, was kept out of the settlement, which it criticized for being too little, too late. MOSES had wanted the company to put in emergency sirens and state-of-the-art air-monitoring devices, and to guarantee that a reputable company would monitor them.
"There were no provisions to keep the problems from happening again," Glazer says. "We wanted protection, not revenge. The company's previous air-monitoring devices were installed incorrectly and were worthless. How was that allowed to happen? How could we be sure it wouldn't happen again?"
The settlement came on the heels of a 1993 explosion at the plant; the result of mixing incompatible chemicals that sent a cloud of corrosive lithium bromide and sulfuric acid into the air. The company did not report the incident for 35 hours, and the state took the extraordinary step of shutting the company down. But within weeks, it was back in business.
When American Ecology bought the plant, the company was bound by law to remedy Gibraltar's past problems as outlined in the state attorney general's order. When the plant closed three years later, there were several elements of the order it had yet to satisfy. American Ecology is in the process of cleaning up the contaminated site, but how far past the company's property the contamination may have spread is anyone's guess.
"No one has bothered to do a study," says Glazer. MOSES had turned to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission for help when Wanda Erwin's water well became so contaminated that she and her family could no longer use it for drinking water. Erwin's farm, which had been in her family since the abolition of slavery, was one-fifth of a mile from the plant. The TNRCC gave the water sample to the company for testing, which turned up traces of benzene, xylene, toluene, and naphthalene, according to Glazer, but the plant, which processes all those chemicals, said the source of the contamination could not be pinpointed. Erwin eventually reached a settlement with American Ecology that required her to move off her land.
When Glazer tried to enlist the EPA in its cause, the federal agency instead went to work to assist the plant's new owners. After American Ecology took over operations, it wanted to reopen a second injection well on the premises. The federal agency had initially denied a permit for a second injection well because it lacked the protective cement casing required by both the state and federal standards. Immediately after issuing the permit denial, the EPA worked with the TNRCC to lower its standard, then issued a permit when the company reapplied.
Even officials within the EPA were outraged. "The law requires that a state program approved by the EPA shall be conducted in accordance with the federal requirements," Houston-based EPA enforcement officer William Sanjour wrote last year in a letter about the Winona plant to EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "Conspiring to reduce the environmental protection below the federal standard in order to promote business interests may be breaking the law and is certainly corrupt, immoral, and unethical."
But Sanjour wasn't surprised by the EPA's behavior, as his letter went on to point out. "This bias in favor of the regulated facilities and the contempt for the poor and disenfranchised who have the temerity to complain about it, is widespread among EPA personnel and is especially strong in Region 6 [the Dallas-based EPA office, which covers East Texas]," Sanjour wrote.
EPA spokesman David Bary declined to comment, saying, "It is irresponsible to respond to these allegations."
Adding insult to injury, an EPA official accused Glazer of using the black residents of Winona to make a bogus case of environmental racism out of what was simply a case of "Not in my back yard."
"We didn't want it in anyone's back yard," Glazer says. "These facilities, in our opinion, shouldn't be within 100 miles of where people live. But it is not a coincidence that these facilities always wind up in poor and minority neighborhoods, where the people do not have the resources to fight them."
In a lengthy chronicle of the evils the plant had visited on his community, Don Hampton, a black pastor in Winona, took issue with the EPA's attack on Glazer. "The fact that a white woman has joined the cause of a minority community in fighting against environmental injustice should not be scorned. When we judge Phyllis Glazer of MOSES by the contents of her character, we find her a sister."
Glazer withstood numerous attacks on her character and motives. In the face of incredible odds and seemingly intractable obstacles, Glazer refused to quit, which won her many admirers.
"I can say without hesitation that she is the most generous person I've ever met in my life," says Mary Sahs, an environmental lawyer based in Austin who has worked with MOSES almost since its inception. "She is entirely selfless. She came to a community, and somewhere in her soul identified with people with whom, on the face of things, she didn't have a whole lot in common. She was much wealthier, had a different religion and cultural background. But she felt a kinship with them. There were some low points when she said, 'Can I keep this up? It's so hard, so expensive. It's ruining my life.' But I never saw her waver."
Glazer grew up pampered and protected in an Orthodox Jewish home in Arizona. Her father escaped Latvia at age 19 just days before the Nazis invaded. His entire family was slaughtered and buried in a mass grave in the forests outside Riga. He came to the States alone and penniless. He worked odd jobs during the day and studied engineering at night, and eventually founded his own company that manufactured air-distribution systems for buildings. It made him a small fortune.
Groomed to lead a traditional life of wife and mother, Glazer, at 17, wed the man her parents had chosen for her. "It was an arranged marriage and a loveless one," she says, "but it produced two beautiful boys." After divorcing, she decided to relocate with her two sons to Dallas in 1977. Before she left, a friend of her father's encouraged her to contact R.L. Glazer. "He'll look out for you," he said.
R.L. took good care of the attractive 29-year-old divorcee, and within three months they married. He adopted her two sons, and together they had another son. Life was sweet and uncomplicated, and Phyllis was utterly fulfilled.
But in the early 1980s, she began suffering from chronic pain in her arms and back. Unable to find the source of her illness, doctors treated the symptoms instead, prescribing so much pain medication that she barely got out of bed for three years.
In 1985, her father was killed in a car accident. Glazer's mother, Mildred Krueger, decided it was time for her daughter to get help. She took her to the Mayo Clinic, where Phyllis spent six weeks as doctors weaned her off all the medication. The doctors told her she would have to learn to live with the pain, and they suggested that the best way to do so was to find a project to distract her.
After returning to Dallas, Glazer's mother suggested that Phyllis and R.L. buy some farmland. She thought the serenity of the country would be good for her daughter's health. The couple put her off for three years, but the Glazers finally relented after falling in love with a 200-acre ranch on a lake in East Texas. Their oldest son named it Blazing Saddles, after the Mel Brooks comedy.
After watching a documentary on the wild horses of America, Phyllis decided to buy Spanish mustangs, rare horses known for their gentle gait. Doctors had told her horseback riding would be too tough on her back, and she was determined to prove them wrong. The Glazers eventually bought another 2,000 acres--the back half of a huge ranch owned by the late H.L. Hunt. In short order, Blazing Saddles boasted the largest herd of Spanish mustangs in the state, to which Phyllis added an impressive menagerie of exotic animals--llamas, bison, miniature Sicilian donkeys, emus, deer, antelope, and zebras.
Their weekend retreat turned into a thriving enterprise, and, with her two older sons away at college, Phyllis decided it was time for her to become a full-time rancher. But just as Glazer was beginning to settle into what she described as her "dream life," she was confronted with an environmental nightmare.
Many times over the following years people in town asked Glazer why she stayed when she clearly didn't have to.
"My father fled from injustice in Europe that claimed his family's life," she explains. "He was dead by the time we found injustice here. Environmental injustice is subtler; the damage that's done is slower and hard to prove. The people of Winona were gassed, and as a Jew I was outraged. My father told me that his family lost their lives because their fellow man had closed their minds and their hearts to them. He told me of the doors that neighbors never opened to help protect them. In Winona the knock had come to my door--the knock that asks, 'Will you be counted among the righteous?' I knew what my answer had to be."
Perhaps the hardest thing Glazer had to do was send her son away for safety. During one weekend visit, which was constantly interrupted by phone calls for Glazer concerning MOSES business, she apologized to her son.
"I haven't been much of a mother to you these days, I'm afraid," she said.
"You're a hero, mom," he replied. "That's why everyone calls you. You know what to do and how to do it."
Thinking back on that moment, Glazer laments, "I lost the youth of my son, and I can never regain it. But I had to do it. Everything in my background and history said you have to fight for the children. I could have hightailed it back to Dallas, but I couldn't leave the children whose names and faces I knew, the children who played in my home. I couldn't protect myself and leave them to their fate. As a woman, as a mother, as a child of God, I had to stay."
Not long after the plant closed, Phyllis moved back to Dallas, but her environmental activism continues. MOSES is now ensconced in an upstairs wing of her Dallas house near Valley View Mall. Here, she and one paid staff person--a paralegal assistant--spend their days advising residents from other communities like Winona, researching environmental issues, and writing letters to lawmakers around the country, educating them on the dangers of environmental toxins.
"We have a major battle ahead of us," she says. "We're out of the trenches and into the war. Now we can make a difference on a state and federal level. The state of Texas has done nothing but destroy environmental laws year after year...The signs say 'Don't Mess with Texas,' but that is a damn lie. For a price, you can do any damn thing you want here."
She is currently raising money for a project to document the cases of children in other communities who have been harmed by poisonous pollution, communities that have no one with enough money and clout championing their cause. She plans to compile it into a report and submit it to the Executive Office of the President, Council on Environment Quality and to policy makers in Washington. She also hopes to turn it into a book, titled Sins of the Fathers: the Poisoning of American Children.
Last month, American Ecology agreed to drop its racketeering suit against Glazer and her family. In return, Glazer withdrew the counterclaim, as well as the federal suit against the company asking that it be shut down. (The suit pending against the EPA was dropped after the plant closed.) She considers it a victory. She paid the company nothing and refused to sign any agreement that would silence her. The company, however, agreed not to sue her again on any of the claims in the original petition.
Larry Levine, an attorney representing American Ecology, said he could not comment on the suit, because the settlement was confidential. Glazer says there was no confidentiality agreement, and she's delighted to talk about it.
"I believe they settled because these polluters did not have a case and never did have a case," Glazer says.
Though Dallas is now her home base, Glazer returns to her Winona ranch every few months. "I go back for funerals generally. That can keep you in Winona."
Last month, she lost her good friend Charlie Adams, a 62-year-old man who died of lung cancer. In October 1997, Amanda Carter, the 11-year-old daughter of her ranch foreman, died of Hodgkin's disease. Amanda spent the last two months of her life at Children's Hospital in Dallas. Phyllis was by her side every day.
Since the plant's closing, some people have reported improvements in their health. Phyllis' mouth ulcers disappeared, but she still suffers from short-term memory loss, and her septum is practically gone. Penny Adams, a young girl who developed respiratory problems at age 3 and was so frail she could not leave her house, has gotten so much better, she can now attend school.
After the second explosion in 1993, Marian Steich's 600 chickens died, and she developed skin cancer over her entire face that required repeated painful chemical peels. Steich had enough and moved from the farmhouse her grandfather had built. She has since moved back to her farm, where both she and her new chickens are thriving. Earlier this year, American Ecology settled Steich's personal-injury lawsuit for $350,000.
But these are the exceptions, Glazer says. "This was a monster. And it took everything we had to close the monster down. We won on every front. But too many people are still suffering. Too many people are still battling just to get their medical bills covered. And too many people still lost their lives.