"Out of this entire country, I think East
Liverpool is the one city that Al Gore is afraid of," Sandy Estell,
a homemaker and lifelong resident of East Liverpool, Ohio, told Fox
News standing outside her home last week.
|Officials from East Liverpool, Ohio, wait for
Vice-President Al Gore's procession to pass in February
While the city may not scare the presidential candidate, the
hazardous waste plant, visible through the trees in Estell's
Estell, husband Bob, and their five children have lived about 900
feet from the incinerator since it went online in 1993. On the other
side of her home is an elementary school with 400 kids. Son Alex, a
fourth grader, studies there.
They and other local residents believe the waste incinerator is a
health threat and that emissions from the plant are harmful. And
they blame Al Gore for not shutting it down.
A company representative of Von Roll WTI, an Ohio subsidiary of
Swiss waste technologies company Von Roll, Inc., headquartered in
Zurich, says the plant is so clean that one of its workers could
safely do an eight-hour shift inside the smokestack without a
In 1992, before the incinerator had fired-up its ovens, then
vice-presidential candidate Gore made the controversial plant a
"And I'll tell you this, a Clinton-Gore administration is going
to give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems.
We'll be on your side for a change," Gore told Weirton, West
Virginia, voters in July 1992 on a bus tour.
"I thought, 'Oh, thank you, God!' This is going to be an answer
to our prayers. He's gonna come in here. They're gonna do the right
thing. They're gonna shut this plant down," Estell said.
But instead, the plant went into full operation during the first
year of the Clinton-Gore administration. In 1994, Congress's
investigative arm, the General Accounting Office (GAO), reported the
plant would destroy 60,000 tons of hazardous waste annually,
including carbon tetrachloride, monochlorobenzene, and 1,2,4
trichlorobenzene, all industrial solvents, and heavy metals arsenic,
cadmium, lead, mercury, and chromium.
"It's emblematic of a constant failure on the part of the
Clinton-Gore administration and noticeable because of Gore's image
to really protect the public from dioxins and other persistent toxic
chemicals," Joe DiGangi, a researcher for Greenpeace's Toxics
Campaign, told Fox News.
At the time, environmentalists felt betrayed and a series of
protests, some organized by Greenpeace, began at the plant and in
Terri Swearingen, 43, has been arrested nine times protesting the
incinerator, including inside and outside the White House, at Ohio's
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at the U.S. EPA and the Swiss
Embassy in Washington, D.C..
Swearingen lives just two miles from East Liverpool and has made
it her mission to remind Gore about his promise.
"We have to hound him, to hold him accountable and I think that's
our job as a citizen of this country," Swearingen, a former nurse
and homemaker, said.
During an April campaign stop in Vidalia, Ohio, Gore was asked
about the incinerator again. "Most of the options that were
available to us were taken away from us by a last-minute decision on
the part of the Bush-Quayle administration to grant them that
permit," Gore said in response to an audience member's question
asking him whether the plant would shut down.
Gore notes the EPA is investigating the permit process, but the
vice president says there's little anyone can do now that the plant
is legally running.
And defending Gore is the incinerator company, saying Gore never
promised to block the plant from opening.
"His promise was to investigate the permitting of this facility.
That was done by U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA," Fred Sigg, general manager
and vice president of Von Roll, Ohio, Inc., told Fox News.
In this presidential election year, the issue has split
environmental groups. Some are breaking ranks, returning to the Gore
"I think there is not only a gap, there's a chasm between George
W. Bush and Al Gore and Al Gore has stood firmly on the side of
moving in the right direction," Carl Pope, executive director of the
Sierra Club, said.
Even incinerator opponents living near the plant agree Gore is
the "greener" candidate. Does that mean they'll lighten-up on Gore?
"If we can't trust him on this issue in East Liverpool, Ohio, how
can somebody trust him in, you know, Iowa or Idaho or Nebraska or
wherever else he's made promises to the people?" Swearingen asked.
"Whatever it takes is what we'll do," Estell said. She and
Swearingen say they will continue to hound the vice president until
the incinerator is shut down.
—Fox News' Sharon Kehnemui contributed to this report