AMERICAN ORANGE chronicles the ongoing, “mysterious” 58-year slow and silent death of a contaminated small town community in Mission, Texas. Like many small towns across America, Mission is inhabited by families who have lived in the town for generations. Yet, like many Southwest border towns, the American Latinos who live in Mission, are largely invisible to the American mainstream. They are mostly impoverished, uneducated, and have little resources to voice their unheard stories.
Their mostly wood frame homes are located within 100 feet of the formerly operating Helena Chemical Plant and the poison in the soil, indiscriminately, seeps its way to the area’s elementary school a block away. Here, in this tiny town, a people and a land languish in quiet suffering. Children at ten suffer brain tumors. Babies born with toxic burns are received in utero because their mothers drank poisoned water. “One lady in the neighborhood has six breasts and each lactated a few years ago when she was pregnant. At least one resident has only three toes, and several have six, some have deformed teeth, and others have short and long limbs.”
The Helena Chemical Plant housed over 20 chemical companies from 1950-1972, which produced 18 different pesticides and chemicals. Eight of these chemicals and pesticides were named as part of “The Dirty Dozen” by the United Nations, heralded as the “world’s most dangerous chemicals causing death, disease and birth defects among humans and animals.” Among these poisons were arsenic, DDT, and Agent Orange.
In 1972, The Helena Chemical Plant finally closed its doors (due to high levels of known contamination). In 1980, it was labeled a “Superfund” by the EPA – targeting it as a clean-up area for “real and threatened chemical releases.” In February of 2008, (28 years later), the EPA finally demolished the plant itself and removed the underlying contaminated soil. The EPA’s delayed $6 million cosmetic effort does little to truly ratify the contamination and damage that has been caused to the surrounding neighborhood, the people, and the future generations left behind.
According to statistics and medical research from 1999 alone, over 66% of all deaths in the county where Mission is located, were caused by ailments related to chemical contamination and exposure. Contamination levels in the area surrounding the Helena Chemical Plant are 100 times higher than allowable limits. Despite these statistics, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and other government agencies claim this “anecdotal evidence” asserting they “have not been able to demonstrate that the abandoned site has contributed in any measurable way to the pesticide body burdens of the people living near the site.” Coincidentally, the one time that random people from the community were tested for contamination by the Texas Department of Health, the results were reportedly “misplaced.”
AMERICAN ORANGE strives to lift the veil of environmental racism and chemical negligence that has contributed to the slow murder of Mission, Texas, and warn against the hidden and future poisoning of America’s small towns.