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Murrow Award, Best Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. "Bad Chemistry," Alabama Public Radio

“David Baker (of Anniston, Alabama) drove us around the community. And he explained that this person, this resident, passed away such and such year and this is one of the...our relatives passed away, passed away he passed away. So, it was so heartbreaking. Very, very sad experience,” said Professor Ryoichi Terada, of Tokyo’s Meiji University.

2023 marked 20 years since the Monsanto Chemical Company settled with residents of Anniston, Alabama. 20,000 African American residents in this town northeast of Birmingham blamed chemicals called PCBs, produced a local factory, for medical problems ranging from cancer to birth defects. Twenty years later, Anniston still bears the scars, and this isn’t the only alleged example of industrial chemicals killing Alabama neighborhoods, with the apparent endorsement of government.

Please find Alabama Public Radio’s entry for the Murrow award for Best Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive, titled “Bad Chemistry.” The APR team spent ten months, with no budget, producing this program.

Part one is titled “Monsanto, Anniston, and Taylor.” The impact of Monsanto’s PBCs in Anniston didn’t harm one generation, but many. APR news worked with twenty-four-year-old Taylor Phillips to tell the story of how these chemicals killed members of her African American family in Anniston, going back to her great grandfather in 1930.

Part two is “Alabama Veterans Still Dealing with Orange Agent.” PCBs aren’t the only chemicals produced by Monsanto blamed on making Alabamians sick. The company was also one of the two biggest manufacturers of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The Veterans Administration says 117,000 Alabama veterans were exposed to the herbicide during the conflict. One out of every four of these soldiers were black. APR reported on efforts by the VA to extend health benefits to former servicemen and women to help with illnesses made worse by Agent Orange.

Part three is called “A Tale of Two Cities, and Coal Ash.” The APR news team first reported in 2015 on the effects of arsenic, mercury, and lead from coal ash on the health of low income, black residents of Uniontown, Alabama. A landfill in this low-income, mostly black, community near Selma is the dumping site for coal ash, which is leftover pollution from power plants. 8 years later, the town still blames medical problems on the coal ash. While this goes, communities along the Gulf coast are hoping to head off similar problems there.

Part four, “Bluestone Coke in Birmingham,” focuses on a factory in Birmingham that’s been closed for five years. Still, critics say the plant is still violating Federal pollution laws and poisoning African American residents living nearby. APR listeners heard from people who can’t even bathe in the morning because of soot from Bluestone collecting in their homes. The environmental group, Cahaba Riverkeeper, is fighting a “David versus Goliath” battle against the owners of the coke plant, who have stopped paying court ordered fines.

Finally, APR returns to Anniston to finish our series with “Monsanto and Anniston: Twenty years later.” Here we meet Professor Ryoichi Terada, and another researcher from Japan, who are studying the long-term impact of PCBs on Anniston, following a similar man-made disaster in their country.

Respectfully submitted.
Members of Taylor Phillips' family in Anniston, Alabama. They were among the 20,000 residents allegedly made ill by toxic chemicals by Monsanto
Taylor Phillips
Members of Taylor Phillips' family in Anniston, Alabama. They were among the 20,000 residents allegedly made ill by toxic chemicals by Monsanto