JOHNSON COUNTY, INDIANA. — “We are done begging,” said Kari Rhinehart, mother of a 13-year-old who died of brain cancer in 2014 and a member of the 6000-member group, If It Was Your Child. “We are demanding the EPA finish what it started and place these restrictions on TCE and other dangerous toxins.”
After almost 60 children developed cancer in the small Indianapolis suburb of Franklin, families started to ask what was killing their children. Tests showed the carcinogen trichloroethylene (TCE) from an industrial site was releasing vapors into homes. TCE is a cleaning and industrial degreaser. Levels were more than 250 times the state limit around a Franklin sewer, with a plume of contamination stretching outward.
The EPA ordered TCE cleaned up decades ago, but one federal administration after another failed to follow through. The previous administration proposed a “review” of TCE limits—a slow process that is almost always derailed by corporate opposition. So parents watched their children die without knowing why.
Families are now calling for an EPA investigation like the one that looked into the government’s slow response to Flint’s water crisis. As inadequate as that process has been, Franklin families now face increased opposition from the administration that many county voters supported in the 2016 election, hoping for some kind of change. However, the group resists being divided by party politics, noting that both parties have let the cleanup fall by the wayside.
Across party lines, families oppose the corporate agenda and demand real and effective health and environmental regulations. The government has to protect people from TCE contamination! Accusing the EPA of “serious mismanagement” and “significant delays,” many traveled to Washington several times after the dangers became clear last summer to prevent even weaker limits on TCE.
EPA confirmed the danger and began preparation for air-cleaning devices for homes. That action has now been indefinitely postponed. TCE levels still expose hundreds of thousands of workers; but home exposures like in Franklin are now excluded from review.
Some in the county talk about getting the federal government out of people’s lives. At the same time, there are calls to get the EPA to step in and end the contamination. Franklin’s Republican Mayor summed it up, saying, “When it comes to public health, we can go against party lines. And I don’t agree with trying to roll back the EPA’s role.” He added, “Back in the day, there weren’t any rules. That’s why there was so much contamination.”