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  • Rewind.

    During the 20-year span of the Great Depression and the mid-1950’s, the population of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas doubled in size. The immigrants were products of the Dust Bowl, World War II, people looking for a decent wage at corporations such as Boeing and, of course, the people who dreamed to see their name in lights. Whatever the case was, all these people were chasing a dream.

    The dream to finally live a comfortable life; a life where hard work paid off; a life where the men always worked and the women always smiled; a life where children were given the tools to excel past their ancestors; a life where all was hopeful, bright and clean.

    This is where the nightmare began; it began in the trash.

    With such a sudden influx of people, LA scrambled to meet these people’s needs.
    Houses built; schools constructed; roads paved and the result of all these things was waste…construction waste…industrial waste…everyday waste…a whole bunch of trash. A question arose,

    “What should we do with all this trash?”

    An answer came back.

    “Whatever you do, NOT IN MY BACKYARD!”

    Enter the neighbor. Riverside California, an hour due east of LA. A city that had seen glory in the past with its citrus fruit and its four star motel, The Mission Inn, yet Riverside wanted to be part of the current glory, it wanted to be part of the LA dream. Yet, Riverside didn’t have the oceanic climate; it didn’t have the corporate headquarters; it didn’t have Hollywood. So, the question remained, “How can Riverside be part of this dream?”

    An answer to this question came on August 9, 1955. This was the day that Riverside City officials came up with a perfect idea on how they too could profit from the LA dream; this profit, these officials decided, would be made by providing LA with a place to put their trash. A deal was struck and the search began in Riverside county… a search for where to put all this trash.

    Enter James Stringfellow.

    James Stringfellow, a high school dropout, was a Riverside resident and the owner of a 17-acre limestone quarry located near the neighborhood Glen Avon, a suburb of Riverside. In 1956, he was approached by Riverside county officials to allow them to put trash in his quarry. At first, he said no; however, a few days later, an official geological crew showed up and did a ‘geological’ evaluation of his quarry. The survey took a few hours (it should be noted that a survey for toxic waste should take months). When the entirely too brief survey was complete, the geologists and public officials went to James Stringfellow and convinced him that it would be profitable to change his quarry to a dump and that is was safe to do so…the survey told them so.

    Not knowing any better, James Stringfellow went along with the advice. Before the quarry could be lined the protection that would be mandatory today (I hope), the trucks began to arrive, McDonnell-Douglas trucks, Montrose Chemical trucks, General Electric, trucks Hughes Aircraft trucks, Sunkist Growers trucks, Philco-Ford trucks, Northrop trucks, and Rockwell-International trucks. All of these trucks brought one thing…trash. Some brought rocket fuel; some brought pesticides; some brought hydrochloric acid; some brought shit. No matter what kind of trash these trucks brought, they put it in the same place, the concave area that once served as a quarry. The trucks did this 24 hours a day. If a truck showed up and Stringfellow had hung his hat for the night, there was a note on the open gate to the truckers to act on their good will. This is how it went for nearly 20 years.

    Fast forward.

    1972, the quarry had become a lake of what experts would later discover consisted of a complex mixture of more than 200 hazardous chemicals. Residents around the quarry began to complain. Nosebleeds, emotional distress, insomnia, cancer, genetic defects began to plague these folks. Fingers began to point at Stringfellow and instead of stay and take the blame, he walked away and left the signed over his land to the State of California. The State of California shrugged, took the quarry as a gift and didn’t even bother to lock the gate.

    Fast forward.

    1978, the quarry and dump both a Glen Avon memory now. The concern in Glen Avon this year was the rain. It rained so much that water filled the streets and what the Glen Avon kids found so neat was this rain had bubbles like the ones in one’s bath. They leapt with glee over this soapy rain; they rolled in it; they threw it at each other’s faces; they put it on their own faces and pretended the suds were a beard. What these children nor their parents knew was some of this water was from the quarry above. In fact, during these 1978 rains, the State of California, at the concern of a flood in the quarry, released 1 million gallons of whatever liquid was contained in the quarry lake and they released on the same streets where these children played.

    Zoom In.

    1987. A boy is drumming. He is beating skins. His friends gather around. He is a leader of men. He is a local punk rock king. He is keeping time. He is overcome with a feeling. He is convulsing. He is spasming. His friends think he is joking. They watch him flail. He doesn’t stop. His friends stop laughing. An ambulance is called. They take him in. They look inside. They find a small mass on the left lobe of his brain. It looks like a clam. They think they know what it is. They don’t want to touch it. There is nothing they can do. It is rare. It is death. They tell him six months. He is 22. The boy’s grandfather met a similar fate. Could be heredity. The boy grew up in his family’s salon. Could be the chemicals. The boy grew up down from the pits. Could it be? No way to prove. A life changed. A dream broken.

    Zoom out.

    The boy is an example. Many people suffer. At Glen Avon Elementary, 17 of the 21 teachers get sick. Cancer rates and other disease rates in the area spike. People talk. One woman, Penny Newman, a teacher from Glen Avon, begins to ask questions. She gets no answers. She doesn’t stop. Court cases begin. State of California denies. The number of sick in Glen Avon increases. This cannot be denied. Judges begin to listen. Monetary compensation begins.

    How much does suffering cost?

    How much does the dead cost?

    How did this happen?

    Stringfellow Acid Pits.

    Second largest environmental accident in American history.

    Second only to Love Canal.

    Stringfellow Acid Pits.

    Heard of it?

    Why not?

    Media forgot to mention it?

    Survivor was on?

    How did this happen?

    Press rewind.
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