Don't Waste Arizona, Inc
Quality Printed Circuits (QPC) facility


by Steve Brittle
After four years of unsuccessful wrangling with Arizona's Departments of Health Services and Environmental Quality for help, a South Phoenix community is finally receiving some attention, but from federal agencies. Quality Printed Circuits (QPC) was a circuitboard manufacturing company that was moved into the established residential neighborhood near 16th Street and Roeser by City of Phoenix Economic Development Services. The factory was gutted during a 12-hour fire in August 1992. Immediately, the community began to complain of illness to all levels of government. The state, city, and county ignored and denied these assertions, and went so far as to accuse the community of being hysterical. Finally, after a protest held by several community and environmental organizations in October 1996, the EPA agreed to investigate the matter. An appeal was also made to President Clinton when he was here.

Around 300 people attended the December 19, 1996, community meeting at South Mountain High School Auditorium sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sharing the stage with EPA staff, including its regional administrator, Felicia Marcus, were the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR), the Concerned Residents of South Phoenix (CRSP), a professor of public health from Oregon State University representing the TOSC program, and Don't Waste Arizona, Inc.

The ATSDR is a federal health agency that deals with the adverse health effects of toxic chemicals. The agency even publishes its findings for the public to use. ATSDR is requesting residents detail their illnesses and symptoms in writing to assist it in developing a community health survey. CRSP is the community-based committee that formed immediately after the August 31, 1992, QPC fire to address local citizens' concerns to government agencies. CRSP meets at noon on the first Thursday of each month at the South Mountain Community Center at 212 East Alta Vista.

Dr. Anna Harding was part of a three-professor TOSC team that arrived a day earlier than the EPA. The TOSC group conducted some interviews and previewed some of what EPA would see. The TOSC team also met with EPA before the Thursday afternoon tour of a sampling of affected homes and residents. TOSC, Technical Outreach Services for Communities, is a new program funded by an EPA grant. The idea is for some of the nation's universities to offer technical assistance to communities with contamination issues, whether for clean-ups of chemical problems or understanding potential health effects of chemical exposure. This program is of special benefit to communities that do not have the resources to hire technical help, and has enormous environmental justice appeal. This particular TOSC team is from Oregon State University, but it is linked with the specialties and services of several other universities. Steve Brittle of Don't Waste Arizona, Inc. spoke at an September 1996 TOSC conference in Detroit about his concerns for the community affected by the fire and appealed for assistance.

At the meeting, Vicki Rosen, Community Relations for EPA, introduced Felicia Marcus, who recognized State Senator Sandra Kennedy, State Representative and House Environment Committee member Hershella Horton, and Greg Coleman of Congressman Pastor's office. The meeting served as an introduction of sorts, as the EPA's investigation was just starting. There will be other community meetings as the agency has data to report. The introductions lead quickly to a presentation of people affected by the fire. These ranged from non-residents still quite ill after just being exposed to chemical contaminants during the fire to people who fell ill after being in affected homes and residents who have gradually become more and more ill.

During the tour and at the meeting, there were accounts of people dying, but none more stark than on Chipman Road, where residents pointed to house after house around them and down the street where someone had died since the fire. [The Current featured this street in a 1993 article entitled "Death Street."]

An unexpected input came from the sound of the constant coughing of the audience. Several members of the Coalition of Valley Citizens Opposed to Sumitomo, who came with a schoolbus load of neighbors to support the South Phoenix community, noted that they had never heard so many people in one place coughing and coughing. Others exclaimed that they would have never believed that this sort of chemical disaster could happen and be left unaddressed. The Coalition is concerned in particular because hydrogen fluoride, which Sumitomo would emit into the air by the thousands of pounds, is the samchemical suspected by Don't Waste Arizona of causing the adverse health effects and deaths in the affected neighborhood. At least several hundred pounds of hydrogen fluoride were burned during the QPC fire, and "statistically significant" higher levels of fluorides were later found in all tested area homes. Fluorides are very toxic; ingesting just one and a half grams of hydrogen fluoride would kill a large man through systemic toxicity.

Other acids burned in the fire, including 9,000 pounds of sulfuric acid. The theory advanced by Don't Waste Arizona at the meeting was that these acids were drawn with other chemical fumes into homes during the fire event and now are gradually corroding and deteriorating the galvanized air ducting. The tiny pieces of air ducting, with poisonous fluorides attached, are raining down into living areas in homes, to land on the skin or to be inhaled. The symptoms of fluoride poisoning match exactly with what the community has complained of ever since the fire.

A documentary video film team from Global Objectives recorded the meeting, and is in the process of preparing a video to send to national media about what happened in this South Phoenix neighborhood.

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