January 24, 2008
The poisoning of Beverly Hills High
Q&A with author Joy Horowitz
(Page 2 - Previous Page)JH: It's part of who I am. My mother and father taught me how important it is to insist that we make links between environmental factors and cancers. He spent the last part of his life doing exactly that: filing this lawsuit against Lorillard and winning.
He was the first American to beat a tobacco company in court. I'm very proud of him for that. The ultimate settlement [of $2 million] happened after he and my mother died.
JJ: What changes have been made at Beverly Hills High School?
JH: There are methane monitors in the boys bathroom by the football field. The oil operator, Venoco, has supposedly spent $60,000 for fence line monitors to be able to determine when hydrocarbons and other toxic gases venture outside of Venoco property onto the school, but that's about it.
JJ: But you think it's not enough?
JH: At a minimum, I think that the community needs to take a really hard look at why it's so important that it continue to allow these industrial sites to operate where their kids are. Now that they're not part of the lawsuit anymore, it would behoove them to engage in real discussions about when oil production will stop.... You know, when I started this book, oil was valued at $30 a barrel, and now it's $100. I don't see them stopping anytime soon.
JJ: How much do the city and school make?
JH: It depends on how much production is going on at the time; the last time I checked, it was roughly a half a million for schools and half a million for the city -- now that the value of oil is as high as it is, they could be making a whole lot more. The residents get residuals -- I think quarterly payments. They're not that much, maybe a couple of thousand a year, but it's enough to make people not to be too interested in the possibility of change. People like their residual payments.
JJ: Is that why you think the city and residents were so opposed to the case?
JH: There's been no solid proof their kids have cancer as a result of oil production. So they can rely on scientific uncertainty and promote that.
It's also about property values. This is Beverly Hills. And even though [about] 60 percent of residents live in apartments there, I think that people are really blinded by the image of what Beverly Hills means. You would think that kids and health would be primary. You would hope that it would be. My book shows otherwise, and it's very sad that that's the case.
JJ: What has happened since the publication of the book? Has it spurred any activity?
JH: When the book came out in July, there was a deafening silence about it in Beverly Hills. I had hoped it might stir some conversation at the least. It didn't. For a while I thought, "Is it my paranoia? No one's responding to my book! What is it?" Then I found out there was this talking points memo, [from the city of Beverly Hills and the school] suggesting I had a specific point of view, and that I misstated the facts. Why do they need to do that? Why not just own up to the reality of the truth? It's like shooting the messenger, as opposed to dealing with the reality of the situation: There are these toxic chemicals being spewed onto the campus; nobody can exactly prove those toxic chemicals are causing those kids to get sick, and therefore it gives them a free pass.
JJ: How does the Jewish community play a part in this case?
JH: Part of the denial is cultural -- initially the issue was raised by members of the Persian community in Beverly Hills. There is this great and undiscussed antipathy in town between the long-standing citizens there and the newer arrivals from Iran. Because it was the Iranian American parents who were raising this as an issue, they were basically dismissed; their concerns were dismissed. Which was really upsetting to me.
For me, as a Jewish mother, family is everything. How is it possible that this community of Jews could allow their children to be put in harm's way?
Joy Horowitz will speak on "Making Decisions in the Face of Scientific Uncertainty: Beverly Hills High School and the Precautionary Principle" at the Beverly Hills Library on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. The Environmental Relief Center will present her with an award for Environmental Hero of 2008.
1 | 2