The protest was organized in response to the release of a 1999 Combined Preliminary Assessment / Site Inspection Report with supporting documentation released by MDNR in late May 2017.
Armed with homemade signs and the undeniable First Amendment right to gather peacefully in protest, citizens of Camden County flocked to the downtown square in Camdenton Monday evening for a public demonstration designed to bring awareness to the ongoing chemical contamination affecting residents.
The protest was organized by the Camden County Contamination Board, a public Facebook group that has grown to more than 1,100 members in the last three months.
The group is dedicated to researching and discussing trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination and other pollution caused by untreated industrial wastewater from a former manufacturing plant owned and operated by Dawson, Hamilton-Sundstrand and later by Modine Manufacturing Inc. to the city-owned Hulett Lagoon from 1967 to 1987, which infiltrated the city-owned Mulberry Well in the 1990s. The lagoon and well no longer serve the city.
Modine purchased the Sunset Drive facility in August 1990 and continued manufacturing operations until its closure in 2012. For over 25 years investigations by the Missouri Department of Resources, Environmental Protection Agency and consultants hired on behalf of the manufacturers have conducted numerous studies and analyses as well as remedial actions enforced by corrective abatement consent orders that still continue to this day.
Approximately 30 citizens of all ages filtered in and out of the July 3, 2017, demonstration that lasted from 5-7 p.m. in front of the Camden County Courthouse. They were mostly comprised of Camdenton residents as well as members of the Camden County Democrats.
The protest was organized in response to the release of a 1999 Combined Preliminary Assessment / Site Inspection Report with supporting documentation released by MDNR in late May 2017. The documents contradicted what current city officials said during a press conference the month prior in April regarding the usage of the Mulberry Well, which was turned back on twice after being pulled offline due to unacceptably high levels of TCE.
When the well was pulled offline on Feb. 2, 1999, it was Camdenton’s largest municipal water source supplying approximately 70 percent of the drinking water until new well controls were installed in July 1998 which cut the supply down to approximately 40 percent, according to a letter by former Public Works Director Vince Costa to MDNR on Feb. 24, 1999.
Protest signs, carried by both young and old, were aimed at Camdenton City Hall as well as the state and federal governments.
“How many dead from drinking the water?!” one sign asked.
“1.7 million pounds of TCE dumped!! Sad!” another read.
“TCE is killing me!” one woman carried.
“Air & H2O quality / Save EPA” read another.
“Welcome to CamDUMPton, home of TCE” a young lady displayed.
The choice of location, on public property along the downtown square and visible by eight lanes of traffic as opposed to being at Camdenton City Hall further down Highway 54 and along only two lanes, rankled the feathers of some social media critics who argued the demonstration would be misunderstood and the wrong governmental entities would be blamed as word and media coverage of the protest spread through Lake area Facebook groups.
But organizers James Gohagan, who lives across the street from the facility, and Jessica Bockoven agreed that the protest was a success. Because some citizens were protesting water and air quality unrelated to the manufacturing facility, the fact that the demonstration was held at the courthouse within city limits was an appropriate location.
The location, turnout and peaceful nature of the stand-in, experiencing no issues with traffic or peace disturbances, made the demonstration a success for the type of awareness they sought to achieve, according to the two organizers.
Several deputies from the Camden County Sheriff’s Office stopped by at different times to monitor the scene and chat with protesters. Most people who drove by seemed to honk their horns or wave in support of the showing.
A few cars cars pulled over to ask those gathered for more information about the event and history of the site, while others in attendance said they wanted to learn more about the facility and chemicals involved as they have family members and relatives who either had worked there or lived nearby.
“Clean water is a right!” a young man yelled. Standing next to him, a woman probably three times his age repeated, “Clean water is a right!”
And then the voices of men and women, young and old, joined together in unison.
“Clean water is a right!”