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Worried mom cleans up.

In December 1989, Lorrie Coterill, a housewife and mother of four, began worrying about odors coming from a gravel pit near her home. So she scaled the fence around the pit and discovered barrels leaking diesel fuel, evidence of illegal burning, and a sludge that was later found to contain lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other dangerous substances. The whole mess had been dumped illegally and was leaching into the ground water that feeds wells used by local residents.

Coterill phoned the Texas Water Commission and learned that the permit for the gravel pit belonged to Dal-Tile, a Dallas-based ceramic-tile maker, and that the water commission had never inspected the site. The commission's first inspection turned up numerous violations, and resulted in an FBI investigation.

Dal-Tile eventually was assessed a $1 million fine, and a Federal grand jury handed down seventeen criminal indictments, including conspiracy to dump hazardous waste, against company president John Lomonaco and Robert Brittingham Jr., company co-founder and one of the richest men in Texas.

Meanwhile, Coterill has quickly become. one of the most respected and feared environmentalists in the state, and h as organized Groups Allied to Stop Pollution (GASP), a statewide network that monitors toxic bad boys in Texas.

"We see this as war," she explains. "These polluters have encroached on my rights, my children's rights, my neighbors' rights, the rights of future generations - all in the name of profit."

Coterill's most recent battle involved an apartment complex in Austin that was illegally built on top of an old landfill. Along with other members of GASP, she went to the site to investigate and take pictures.

"It's not our policy to knock on doors and tell the people they are living on top of a dump - that would cause hysteria," Coterill says. "But in this case the city of Austin would do nothing. People were sick, children had constant nosebleeds, one child developed tumors, and while photographing the area, we found an old, rusty knife sticking out of the ground, about twenty feet from where a group of children were playing. At that point we said we had to do something. We told the city that if they didn't tell the people, we would go to the media." Within a week the apartment complex was chained off and the people were moved out.

GASP, which is operated out of Coterill's home, helps local groups to organize, do environmental testing, keep diaries, research, and get their own people in office. "When people tell me they can't fight city hall, I tell them that's hogwash," says Coterill. "People have to become informed and participate in the decision-making process. They have to know what is being dumped in their neighborhoods.

"Our organization isn't made up of a bunch of what you would call |activists.' We're just mommas concerned about the health of our kids."

Politicians and corporate polluters see Coterill and GASP as a real threat, however. "I've been thrown out of more city-council meetings than I can count," she says. "Why do I do this? Because it's so much fun, does some good, and beats the hell out of housework."
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Title Annotation:Lorrie Coterill
Author:Countryman, Carol
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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