Ruth Murray is a retired school teacher who lives near in Foreman, Arkansas. For years she has fought the Ash Grove cement plant near her home, which is run by burning coal on-site, and mixing toxic coal ash into the cement.
Ruth complains about the toxic air pollution from the cement plant, saying "Oh, good grief we could smell [the plant] to high heaven! I forget the name of the devices on the stacks, but they would run with those things open."
Moreover, Ruth says, "where they burn that hazardous waste, they dump the residue into the cement."
Ruth is very concerned about the impact of the cement plant's toxic air pollution like mercury. "The Foreman area has high incidences of cancer. At the meetings, I had gotten from the Arkansas Health Department cancer cases over the period of years to show how cancer rates have risen since they've burned hazardous waste down here."
"We had a long hard-fought battle," Ruth says of her community's attempt to convince the plant to install pollution controls. "We had at our own expense water and air tests, but the environmental agency out of Little Rock was not interested- they are continuing to burn hazardous waste. I found the Ash Grove company's environmental record in other states, and they were shut down in Nebraska, but that didn't seem to matter to Arkansas at all. So they've got a new kiln down there now, and rewriting the new permit. I'm discouraged by things like that."
In addition to health effects on her community, Ruth is concerned about the impact of toxic mercury and other chemicals from coal on the workers at the plant. "I don't think they [the workers] are totally aware of what it does to the environment and to their health. I kept in touch with many of the workers, who I've known for years, and who I taught in school. I heard all of the horrific stories. Several of those men have died, they don't seem to last very long when they get out of that plant. [Once,] a young man burned to death feeding their kilns... he was so contaminated, they couldn't even transport him on a plane. He had three children. I think it was in the late 1990's. In the end they did haul him to Wadley Hospital in an ambulance, and put police tape all around, and decontaminated the ambulance in Wadley hospital. But he didn't live."
Moreover, Ruth says, "the new plant is going to be computerized, so they won't have the jobs they did have. But before, the selling point was that they'd have jobs for you and your children and grandchildren. Now there are layoffs."
"This is an area where people would sacrifice their health for a dollar, that's what it all amounts to," Ruth says sadly.