As the fear of Ebola begins to spread across the country, residents of small town in Texas have found themselves on the front lines.
A newly-formed citizens group in Port Arthur (Tx.) made it known they don't want anything connected to the deadly disease to come to their city. Their message to city hall Tuesday was simple: Bringing potentially contaminated Ebola waste to the Veolia’s Port Arthur plant is an environmental injustice.
Led by environmental activist Hilton Kelley, the Community Justice Advisory Committee Association (CJACA) staged a protest during the Port Arthur City Council meeting.
“City Council, Mayor, help our babies now. Please help us save our kids, we do not need Ebola,” Kelley said while the group of about 12 were escorted from the meeting by Police Chief Mark Blanton after they were told they were not posted to speak on the meeting’s agenda, but continued to do so anyway.
Kelley told the Port Arthur News he knew the group would not be able to formally speak because they were not on the agenda to do so, but wanted to get the Council’s attention.
Kelley said the group is protesting the recent shipment of potentially Ebola contaminated household goods from a Dallas apartment where Thomas Eric Duncan had stayed. Duncan, a 42-year-old Liberian national who was the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, and the first to die on U.S. soil.
Veolia Port Arthur Plant Manager Mitch Osborne said Monday that even though no contract has yet been signed, the plant will likely receive a second shipment of potentially contaminated Ebola waste. This batch would come from the apartment of a Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurse who was diagnosed with the deadly virus Saturday after treating Duncan.
“We feel every precaution should be taken to protect our community, our children and our elderly,” Kelley said. “We don’t feel this is done by our city and elected officials, on the state or federal level so we are taking this up to make our concerns known. We are not a dumping ground for the nation’s, or the world’s, bio waste.”
Osborne said the process the plant uses to dispose of the material is safe, and poses no risk to the community.
Veolia is one of only an handful of facilities in the nation permitted to take hazardous materials such as the Ebola waste, Osborne said.
“It is a safe and sound process,” Osborne said. “I am not going to place my employees in harm’s way, or the community. Our company is here to improve the environment and I believe we are doing a pretty darn good job of that. I believe we are doing the right and safe thing.”
CJACA member, Sheri Richmond, said she was concerned the community was not given enough information about the Ebola materials, and worried that the may not be safe.
Veolia’s initial plan to ship the Ebola ashes left from incineration to a Lake Charles disposal site. But that was halted when State District Judge Robert Downing signed an order Monday afternoon blocking disposal in that state.
Veolia has not yet decided what to do with the waste, but can store the material on site for up to a year.
Osborne said he hoped people would overcome their fears associated disposal of the Ebola waste, and realize the process poses no risk to the community, or company employees.
“We are counting on science and facts to outweigh the politics and emotions and rhetoric,” Osborne said.