Activist holds meeting on contamination

Written on 09/25/2023
Edwin Faunce

This article is brought to you by the Committee to Elect Mike Katcher.

Michigan State Associate Professor of Sustainability and Environment Jennifer Johnson was told a few years ago that she “just had to meet” Kokomo’s Sherry Roe. Roe, a local nurse and environmental activist, had successfully won a settlement from Dow Chemical Co. for her father’s cancer that was caused directly by exposure to deadly chemicals they unknowingly worked with during his career at Delco Electronics Corp.

“As soon as Sherry began sharing information with me about Kokomo's long and complicated history of industrial development, contamination, and health challenges, I knew this was a place I needed to visit and learn much more about,” said Johnson.

Johnson, an environmental anthropologist and former Purdue professor, started a relationship with Roe that led her to being on a panel of environmental experts and attorneys, including Roe, at an open forum on Sept. 9 at Carpenter’s House Church on Kokomo’s north side.

“These small and midsized towns and their residents are often overlooked by policy makers, corporations, scholars, and experts of various kinds,” said Johnson. “That's one big set of reasons I focus my work in Kokomo and places like it.”

Roe published a book about her experiences trying to get to the bottom of the cause for her father’s maladies, “Profits Over People.” In recent months she has been going over publicly accessible records to find out if more areas of Kokomo and Howard County have been affected by industrial contamination.

Her concern comes from a purported rise in certain types of cancers both in retirees from local factories, and also some new cases of younger people that could have been affected by businesses using toxins while they were in business. These sites are still raising questions for environmental monitoring agencies.

Roe, who organized the Profits Over People event on Sept 9, and Johnson were joined by Bryce Gustafson from the Indiana Citizens Action Coalition, attorneys Jeff Johnson (no relation) and Robert Heil from the Heil Law Firm of Corpus Christi, Texas, and via Zoom, Lisa Washington, RN and educator at the Minority Health Alliance in Kokomo.

Roe spoke about her recent discoveries of documented contamination at the now abandoned PPG manufacturing facility on Vaile Avenue in Kokomo and of Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) reports on the Southway Plaza shopping center, a story The Kokomo Lantern published on June 30, revealing ground contamination still present at the shopping site at alarming levels from a former gas station and dry cleaner located on the property.

Roe stated, “It’s not the government, it’s the people that make the community better. If we don’t stand up and say something about it, nothing is going to happen.”

Roe and Johnson promised more open meetings together in the future so that the public can be informed on the group’s discoveries and can ask questions about area contamination and its effect on everyone concerned.

To find out more about “Profits Over People” and to be informed of future meetings of the group, contact Roe on her Facebook page.