DISASTER RESPONSE

Pamela Swift is an abrasive environmentalist from southwest Phoenix who tests the limits of democracy. Because she has a confrontational personality, her effectiveness as an environmentalist has often been disputed. But no one disputes the fact that Pamela Swift is one of Arizona's first active environmentalists. For years she has traveled the state, attending public meetings at polluted sites, stirring up crowds, raising issues that were sometimes highly important and sometimes not germane at all.

Pamela Swift happened to attend the only public meeting on Motorola 52nd Street hosted by Dames and Moore. The audience was conservative and trusting of government, because they were never told anything alarming by regulators or polluters.

At the meeting, Swift instinctively blasted the bureaucrats for not telling the audience what was really going on.

Don Atkinson clearly resented the fact that activist Pamela Swift was present at the 1988 public meeting. "Ms. Swift and other interested parties were notified of the public meeting by mail," he scribbled in his notes shortly after the meeting. "We were going to send a cab for her but she preferred to ride on her broom."

Atkinson explains that he was tired when he wrote the note to himself, that perhaps he shouldn't have been so blunt.

But he did not appreciate Swift's sharp-tongued criticisms of either the state or Motorola. "We did our best to provide what was technically informative," he says. "I see no benefit in running around telling people that the worst site in the West is in their backyards."

The key thing, he says, is that Motorola, "the best dad-gummed responsible party," is cooperating to try to clean up the mess.

Perhaps it will be impossible to remove all the TCE from the site, he concedes.
But what is the point of alarming people about this when the company has spent millions trying to be a good corporate neighbor?

"You can always make headlines," Atkinson tells New Times. "But that won't change anything."

velma dunn recently was awarded a $50,000 EPA grant for citizen activists. The grant will allow Dunn to bring in her own experts to present their views to the public.

The way Velma Dunn sees things, the state allowed Dames and Moore to whitewash the information it passed down to citizens. This is the reason she didn't know about the plume stretching beneath the homes, she says.

"I don't know if I think information was whitewashed, I just don't think that enough emphasis was placed on informing the public and keeping them part of the process," says DEQ director Ed Fox. But with the government abdicating its duty to inform citizens to the suspected polluter for six years, and without a consistently vigilant press, angry citizens like Velma Dunn cannot come up with another conclusion.

Shortly after Velma Dunn informed neighborhood activists about the pollution, they formed a committee that meets weekly with DEQ.

Hardly a trusting group, this committee has convinced the state to conduct a door-to-door health study of neighbors on Brill Street. It is a major accomplishment, since state officials have long said people living near the plant have not suffered adverse health effects.

Some committee members have contended that the neighbors suffer high rates of cancer and other illnesses.

Velma Dunn's presence is a mixed blessing for DEQ director Fox. Dunn has pointed out several regulatory faux pas, like a yearlong gap between DEQ's written request for information and Motorola's response.

"These kinds of things are not acceptable," says Fox. "I cannot tell you why they happened."
But Fox worries that Dunn's frequent requests for public records might enventually end up in a lawsuit against DEQ itself. He worries that DEQ might "get sued for failing to take aggressive action" early on.

DEQ officials say that some of the lawyers have "panicked" the community by passing out erroneous information about health effects and pollution in hopes of recruiting clients.

Not too surprisingly, Velma Dunn is a plaintiff in one of the class-action lawsuits against Motorola. The lawsuit charges, among other things, that the chemical pollution caused serious health problems and declining property values.

Motorola has denied the allegations.
Motorola has also countersued Dunn for making "false and misleading statements" during neighborhood meetings. "I only told the truth," says Dunn. "They can't do anything to this old woman for telling the people the truth."

MOTOROLA: THE STORY SO FAR... v7-01-92

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