Crossett: Why the Government Shutdown Is A Matter of Life and Death for Polluted Communities

Originally published at DeSmogBlog

With no end in sight to the GOP war on democracy, shutdown edition, all “nonessential workers” are off the job of protecting the American public. This includes 94 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency staff, who are on the couch watching football instead of watching the polluters who threaten public health and safety. 

For the residents of Crossett, Arkansas living in daily fear of the toxic air and water pollution originating from a paper mill and chemical plant operated by Koch Industries subsidiary Georgia Pacific, the EPA staffers they’re depending on are anything but "nonessential." The government shutdown has life or death consequences for Crossett, and communities on the fencelines of polluting industry across America.

The folks who live on Penn Road in Crossett have suffered an unimaginable loss of life that they attribute to Georgia Pacific’s air and water pollution. Out of 15 homes on the street, 11 people have died of cancer.

Georgia Pacific's facility - a plywood, paper mill and formaldehyde resin plant that produces well-known products like Brawny paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper, Dixie cups, and Quilted Northern toilet paper - has dumped millions of gallons of wastewater into open ditches nearby, in violation of the Clean Water Act, as well as toxic vapors into the air.

After listening to powerful testimony from Crossett pastor and community leader, David Bouie, at a meeting this summer about the situation, EPA Region 6 administrator Ron Curry pledged to visit the community members in Crossett and assess the plant's impacts on their health.

Now that important visit is delayed, thanks to the government shutdown.

Crossett, an important documentary chronicling the community’s ongoing struggle, is entering the final stages of production, but the filmmakers, Natalie Kottke and Erica Sardarian, are effectively shut down, pending the EPA visit. The film will feature interviews with former White House adviser Van Jones and world-renowned chemist, Dr. Wilma Subra. Sundance Channel declared that "a film like this could literally save lives."

Watch the trailer:

As Van Jones points out in the trailer:

“This is happening all across America. This is not just about one town. This is about a whole series of small towns and vulnerable neighborhoods that are being preyed upon by economic power and big polluters. They think they can get away with this.”

As long as the EPA remains shuttered, Koch Industries and other major polluters will continue to threaten public health in communities across America.

I first heard about the situation in Crossett two years ago to the day, when Brave New Foundation sent me a short film about the Koch plant in Crossett that I wrote about the following day. Watch:

So the next time somebody suggests to you that the government shutdown is no big deal, or even a good thing, tell them the story of Crossett, Arkansas. 

Follow the film's progress on Facebook and Twitter.