Pop + Politics: A Town's Environmental Disaster, Known to Officials But Not Residents

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As WNYC’s partner Pop and Politics travels across the country reporting on issues affecting voters in the lead-up to the November mid-term elections, they've encountered some Americans who feel they've been abandoned by government completely. 

Tallevast is a small, historically black town in Western Florida. Since 1961, it's been home to a manufacturing plant that produced machine parts for nuclear weapons. Solvents from the plant leaked into the town’s water supply, and have been blamed for a rash of cancers. Hazardous dust from the plant has also afflicted residents with the deadly lung disease berylliosis, a disease linked to Beryllium, used in the production process for the weapons.

Lockheed Martin purchased the plant in 1996, discovered a plume of cancer-causing chemicals leaking from the plant in 2001 and notified state environmental authorities. But the state was not required by law to notify residents and another three years elapsed before the town residents found out, accidentally, about the contamination.  

Entirely by chance, the Pop and Politics crew arrived in Tallevast the very evening lawyers from Lockheed Martin were presenting a potential settlement of the civil suit brought by the town against the defense contractor. Charlie Ziegler, who has berylliosis, and his wife spoke with Pop and Politics about life in their town and the difficulty of dealing with the deadly effects of pollution from a plant that used to be the economic lifeblood of the community.

Pop and Politics with Farai Chideya is a three-part radio series about the 2010 midterm elections that looks beyond the political horse race to get to the real issues, fears and beliefs that motivate voters. Our first special, this Thursday October 21st, focuses on Florida and is titled "Race, Rage and Reconciliation." Visit www.popandpolitics.com for broadcast times and multimedia content related to all three radio specials.