Longform

Chemical Warrior

Page 7 of 8

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."

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Ann Zimmerman