"Maybe he's developed a bit of
courage," said Terri Swearingen, a
registered nurse and barbed opponent of the toxic chemical waste
incinerator, which vents steadily
into the air, day after day, just 1,100
feet from an elementary school attended by 400 children in this humble Ohio River Valley town.
"This is Gore's broken promise,"
said Ms. Swearingen, a who has
been arrested nine times and who
was carried off from one sit-in inside the White House two months
into the Clinton-Gore administration, after she found the waste incinerator going into operation despite
"You promised!" she and her colleagues have shouted at the Vice
President across Mr. Gore's seven
years in office even as the administration insisted it discovered that it
was legally unable to block the
plant's opening because in the final
weeks of the Bush administration
approval was granted to test the
"Read your book!" critics have
shouted, reminding Mr. Gore, the
environmentalist author, of his assertion that he is the nonpareil political watchdog on the issue.
In response to questions, Mr.
Gore's office said this week that "as
promised, we looked exhaustively"
at the issue and found the initial test
permit from the Bush administration "can't be revoked unless we
can prove it violated health and
safety standards." At least two reviews could find no violations, said
Melissa Bonney Ratcliff, a spokeswoman for the vice president.
A month after the Clinton-Gore
victory in 1992, Mr. Gore, a leading
critic of incineration, promised that
the new administration would prevent the plant from opening until
Congress investigated its safety
and how it had got federal approval.
"The very idea of putting it in a
flood plain, you know, it's just unbelievable to me," candidate Gore had
said of the incinerator when he
campaigned in July 1992 in nearby
Weirton, W. Va.
"We'll be on your side for a
change," he promised opponents.
In the third month of the new
administration, the plant, operated
by Waste Technologies Industries,
was permitted to begin commercial
operation. While Mr. Gore has
maintained the incinerator could
not be blocked, environmentalists
insist it could have been stopped if
the Clinton-Gore team had resolved
to do so after the election.
Ms. Swearingen and other opponents have been fighting the regional commercial incinerator, from
proposal to construction, across the
past 20 years, turning a mayor out
of office here over the issue. In now
pointing to the Ohio primary, they
are determined to show that a candidate's pledge that goes around,
"We are reminding Mr. Gore of
his promise as he runs on his own,"
said Alonzo Spencer, a retired steel
worker who is galvanizing his Save
Our County protest group once
more at this fresh opportunity to
single out the incinerator.
In advance of the primary, a dozen organizations, including the environmental group Greenpeace and
Ms. Swearingen's Tri-State Environmental Council, have requested
a meeting about the incinerator
with Vice President Gore, promising there will be no new civil-disobedience disruptions, at least not "at
or during this meeting."
"We are now feeling that the
health effects we first warned about
back then are starting to come
true," Mr. Spencer said, referring to
a state health study in 1997 that
reported "strikingly higher" cancer
mortality rates for East Liverpool
than for the state and nation.
The local cancer mortality rate
for the four years through 1995 was
235.0 per 100,000, compared with
182.6 for the state and 172.2 for the
nation. Mr. Spencer agrees the
causes of cancer can be complex
and long running, but he insists that
opening the plant so close to a
school in a troubled region of old
steel, foundry and pottery industries "exacerbated an already high-risk situation." A detailed study has
been started to search for causal
evidence beyond the data, with no
definitive tie yet reported to the
The plant annually burns 63,000
tons of hazardous waste, including
lead, mercury and hundreds of other toxic chemicals. Gases and particles from the smokestack, including
dioxin, are supposed to be within
permissible federal limits, but opponents note that the state fined the
plant $126,000 for violations of air
The plant's proximity to East Elementary School has been underlined in various studies as a potentially risky situation. A state law
adopted soon after the incinerator
began operating required at least
2,000 feet of separation between
schools or homes and any new incinerators, almost double the safety
As the primary approaches, critics are emphasizing that the incinerator has been operating on an
interim basis ever since the initial
federal permit expired in 1995. So
this is the time to press Mr. Gore
over the issue once more and try to
embarrass him if necessary, according to the opposition, whose
prowess is well tested.
"I've already talked about this
with Bill Bradley," the tireless Ms.
Swearingen said of the former New
Jersey senator who is challenging
the vice president in the primary.
"We are always looking for that one
person to take this seriously."
Rick Hind, legislative director for
Greenpeace's campaign against
toxic wastes, speculated that Mr.
Gore was "assuming the environmental vote is in his pocket."
"We went from great hope to
great disappointment," Mr. Hind
said of the Clinton-Gore team's handling of the East Liverpool issue, in
which, he said, they moved from
opposition as candidates to their
administration's joining the company in defense of the plant in a subsequent lawsuit.
Steady as the plume pouring from
the incinerator stack, the politics of
the March 7 primary are being pursued by small-town environmentalists with a memory for pledges
"This was their very first environmental promise," Ms. Swearingen said, protecting that 1992 press
release. "And it was their first