The Dickson County Landfill, located in the heart of the historically black Eno Road community, a community maintained by “Jim Crow” segregation, is located just 54 feet from the Holt’s property line. Drums of toxic wastes were dumped at the landfill in 1968, the same year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis. Government officials first learned of the trichloroethylene or TCE contamination in the Holt family wells as far back as 1988—but assured the family their well water was safe to drink. However, in similar letters government officials wrote letters urging white families not to drink, cook with, or bath in the TCE-contaminated water in local springs and wells. TCE is a probable human carcinogen.
Harry Holt’s daughter, Sheila Holt Orsted is recovering from breast cancer surgery performed just last month. Toxic racism has not only destroyed a hard-working African American family’s health but has also stolen their transformative and intergenerational wealth, which resides largely in their landholdings. Black land theft by institutionalized racism has robbed African Americans farmers and landowners of wealth that would normally be passed down to future generations.
The best example of this land theft was illustrated in the discriminatory treatment of black farmers at the hands of the USDA and their long wait for justice. And in December 2010, President Barack Obama signed a bill authorizing $1.25 billion dollars in appropriations for the Pigford II lawsuit after Congress approved the legislation in November 2010. According to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, from emancipation to 1910, blacks amassed 15 million acres of land of which 218,000 black farmers are full or part owners. A steady decline of landownership begins after 1910 through theft, intimidation, discrimination, back taxes, and economic loss. And now we add theft by pollution to this list.
Currently, a recycling center, garbage transfer station and Class IV construction and demolition landfill operate at the controversial Eno Road site, where 20-25 heavy-duty diesel trucks enter the site each day, leaving behind noxious fumes, dangerous particulates, household garbage, recyclables and demolition debris from around Middle Tennessee. The garbage transfer station alone handles approximately 35,000 tons of waste annually.
In 2003, the Holt family sued the city and county of Dickson, the State of Tennessee, and the company that dumped the TCE. The family in the Holt v scovill case is represented by the New York-based NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF). And in March 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sheila Holt Orsted and her mother Beatrice Holt filed a lawsuit against Dickson City and County governments seeking cleanup of alleged water contamination.
Dickson County covers more than 490 square miles, an equivalent of 313,600 acres. Yet, the only cluster of solid waste landfills in the county is located in the small Eno Road community. African Americans make up less than five percent of the county’s population and occupy less than one percent of the county’s land mass.
In January 2009, one of the private defendants, which had filed for bankruptcy since the case was first filed, agreed to settle with the Holts for $2.6 million. In March 2009, the trial court ruled against the remaining government defendants on their motions to dismiss the Holts’ personal injury, property, and discrimination claims. Both the NAACP LDF and NRDC cases are now proceeding toward trial.
The following web links provide a chronology of events surrounding the TCE contamination of the Holt family’s wells and homestead and the discriminatory treatment at the hands of city, county, state, and federal government agencies, a case that has been described as the “poster child” for environmental racism.
Orsted speaks on environmental racism by Aaron Frasier, College Heights Herald, 15 September 2010.
Dickson Landfill Battle Still Moving Forward by Nicole Ferguson for News Channel 5, 24 August 2010.
NAACP Hold Rally; Claims Toxic Well Poisoned Black Families by News Channel 5, 5 September 2009.
In Our Backyard: Environmental Racism in Dickson by Michelle Chen, ColorLines, 4 September 2009.
Sept. 5 Labor Day “Call to End Toxic Racism” Rally in Dickson, Tennessee by Robert Bullard, OpEdNews, 26 August 2009.
Old Evil, New Twist: Environmental Racism, by Richard Leiter, Breast Cancer Action, Spring 2009 Newsletter.
Water Contamination Suit Filed Against Dickson County, Tennessee by the Environmental News Service, 10 March 2008.
Chemicals in Dickson County Landfill at Center of New Lawsuit, by Nina Cardona, Nashville Public Radio, WPLN News, 4 March, 2008.
Tour Spotlights Effect Of Water Contamination On Dickson Family by Nashville News Channel 5, Tennessee, 29 November 2007.
Take Back Black Health Toxics Tour Planned for Tennessee Town: National Campaign to Spotlight Deadly Impact of Environmental Racism by Robert D. Bullard, Dissident Voice, 28 November 2007.
Toxics Tour Planned to Highlight Environmental Racism: National Campaign to Spotlight the Deadly Mix of Toxic Racism and TCE Contamination on an African American Family by Robert D. Bullard, OpEdNews, 24 November 2007.
Environmental Justice for All by Tracy Fernandez Rysavy, Co-op America, 10 October 2007.
Troubled Waters by Cynthia Gordy, Essence Magazine, 1 July 2007.
Family traces tainted water to racial discrimination, Nashville News Channel 5, Tennessee. 12 January 2007.
Poisoned on eno road, by Bob Herbert Opinion, The New York Times, 2 October 2006.
Poisoned water, government response, and race: Black families still must wait longer for protection, by Robert D. Bullard, Dissident Voice, 31 August 2006.
Deadly "Tennessee Two-Step" Keeps Leaky Landfill Away from Officials' Homes by Robert D. Bullard, EJRC Report Series, 5 April 2006.
Toxic terror in a Tennessee town, by Robert D. Bullard, EJRC Report Series, 22 February 2006.