“Vina Colley was Erin Brockovich before Erin Brockovich,” Kevin Williams wrote in a 2020 Belt Magazine article titled, “The Poisonous Legacy of Portsmouth’s Gaseous Diffusion Plant.” Williams continues,

“Colley has become an unlikely citizen-scientist, spending a lifetime researching and documenting PORTS and its sins… Colley was hired as an electrician at the facility in 1980 and worked there for three years. ‘I was exposed to everything. We were cleaning off radioactive equipment that we did not know was radioactive. They never told us,’ Colley told me. Then, she said, her hair started falling out, she developed rashes, and ‘I got really sick and went to the hospital, not knowing that it was my job causing me all these problems. I had big tumors.’ In the four decades since, she’s faced a range of health problems, including chronic bronchitis, tumors, and pulmonary edema.”

In this episode, we sit down with Colley herself to talk about growing up in Ohio during America’s Cold War atomic age, her experience working as an electrician at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, and her decades-long fight to hold the plant and the government accountable for what they’ve done to her, her coworkers, and her community, and to get them the compensation they deserve.

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Featured Music…

  • Jules Taylor, “Working People” Theme Song

Studio Production: Maximillian Alvarez
Post-Production: Jules Taylor


Transcript

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Vina Colley:

My name is Vina Colley. I am president of a group called Portmouth Pike, residents for Environmental Safety and Security. We had been, were formed in 1989 or 1987, sorry. And we also co-chair National Nuclear Workers for Justice. We’ve been here, I’ve been working on this almost 39 plus years. I live 11 air miles from the plant. My county is where the plant is, and I live in CIO County. I was born and raised in Portmouth, Ohio. I lived on Tru Street, lived a normal childhood life. I went to school, rode motorcycles, was in the sports and enjoyed my childhood and grew up not knowing about this plant being out there. And so I worked at, when I grew up, I worked at various different jobs and went the high school. And my last job that I worked at was at the Shoe Factory in Portsmouth, Ohio.

I lost my jobs due to imports and they sent me to a vocational school and told me that I could either take welding or electrical work. Well, I decided to take the electrical work and as soon as I finished electrical work, and I was working at a place called Osco in town, and I was an electrician there for a couple years. And then I went out to the, what we call the A Plant, which is the Portmouth Gas Diffusion plant in, it’s located in Piketon, Ohio. It’s the largest facility in the world. It has two of the largest buildings in the world, excuse me. And sometimes some of the workers you wouldn’t see ’em for. The place is so huge and they had different shifts and sometimes you wouldn’t see these workers for a year or more, and sometimes you never saw the same worker ever.

But when I lost my job and went out there, I thought I was pretty lucky to hand this job. It was the highest paying job I ever had in my life. And for some reason they would say, you won’t get as much radiation here as if you would get on a plane and you would fly. So I never thought about anything about radiation, and the plant was called at that time, from 1953 to 1985, it was called With Your Atomic. So I thought they made Goodyear tar and rubber for tires because we had a place in town that had Goodyear tires that they sold. So I felt like it was a safe place to work. They gave me hard hats and safety glasses. They were always watching us to see if we had ’em on. And I thought, man, isn’t this the safest place I ever worked at?

Well, I was hired in 1980. I didn’t know in 1980 until I started reading some of the newspaper clippings back. I had kind of forgot about it. But in 1980 when they hired me, they had 111 significant radioactive releases. I didn’t even know anything about those releases in 1980, but they never had any alarms. The alarms never went off for the workers or the community. So I didn’t know anything about all these releases, but I was only there from 1980 to 83 before I started really getting sick. Had to come off work for a while and I was a healthy worker. This facility hired only healthy workers. They’ve been in production since 1952 until 2001, and were still not for sure if they’re producing anything now or not because it’s such a secret. This facility was a DOE, which is a Department of Energy, but in the background hidden. We were a DOD facility for nuclear weapons.

Maximillian Alvarez:

All right, welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership within these Times magazine and the Real News Network produced by Jules Taylor and made possible by the support of listeners like You Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. So if you’re hungry for more worker and labor focus shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out the other great shows in our network. There are so many, and please support the work that we’re doing here at Working People because we can’t keep going without you. Share our episodes with your coworkers, your family members. Leave positive reviews of the show on Spotify and Apple Podcasts and become a paid monthly subscriber on Patreon for just five bucks a month to unlock all the great bonus episodes that we publish exclusively for our patrons.

And please support the work that we do with The Real News Network by going to the real news.com/donate, especially if you want to see more reporting from the front lines of struggle around the US and across the world. My name is Maximilian Alvarez and I am really honored to be the call today with the one and only Vina Colley. And I promise you guys, you want to sit down and buckle in because we’ve got a really important conversation for y’all today. As you guys know and have been hearing from our recent episodes, there’s something really happening here with this coalition that has formed out of the wreckage of East Palestine, Ohio. And we have been there working with residents, working with unions, environmental groups and so on and so forth to try to bring people together to address the ongoing horror show that residents of East Palestine, Ohio are living through.

After Norfolk Southern’s bomb train derailed and was five cars worth of toxic vinyl chloride were vented and burned in and around East Palestine around February 3rd, 2023. And it was actually through the work that we’ve been doing there in East Palestine that I connected with Vina. And so I’m going to go into a little bit of detail here to explain that. So if you guys will forgive me, the intro will be a little long, but I promise it’ll be worth it, right? Because as you guys have heard from the compilation episode that we put out from the conference that we held in East Palestine a few weeks ago, right? I mean, there was a truly incredible gathering that happened there a few weeks back. And Vina was one of the folks who was there with us. And as I wrote in a recent piece for the Nation Magazine, I gathered in East Palestine with those who answered the call to take charge of long, neglected efforts to get the care remediation and justice, these forgotten residents desperately need a call put out by the newly formed Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers Coalition.

This alliance includes East Palestine residents, railroad workers, residents of other sacrifice zones like Piketon in Portsmouth, Ohio, people living near other rail lines, labor union representatives, environmental justice organizations, striking journalists and non striking journalists, socialists, Trump voters, non voters, and so many more. We heard and saw firsthand that even though the derailment has faded from mainstream media headlines, east Palestine is not okay. And in many respects, life has gotten worse for the residents there. These people have been literally poisoned by corporate greed exposed to toxins that continue to do irreparable damage to their bodies and their community. Many are still sick, still waiting for answers and aid from Norfolk Southern and the government still fighting not to be forgotten. We discussed how to pressure Biden to invoke the Stafford Act, to mobilize and expedite federal FEMA assistance to residents near the crash site in the surrounding area, and how to pressure his administration to issue a disaster declaration for East Palestine, which would secure immediate government funded healthcare for residents whose ailments and medical bills are piling up.

But what was most powerful about the gathering was seeing this diverse working class coalition of capitalism’s forgotten victims sitting together and discussing the basic struggles, hardships, and enemies we have in common. Everyone shared their own firsthand accounts of the many ways that this country is falling apart at the seams buckling under the weight of more than 40 years of corporate dominance, deregulation, disinvestment, and the systematic devaluing of labor and life itself. We all showed our scars to each other and we realized we’re all fighting off the tentacles of the same corporate monsters, corporate politicians, and Wall Street vampires. Anyone who has experienced tragedy in this country or at the hands of this country knows how quickly this country forgets its victims. When will we rise together to say we will be forgotten no more? So that is the question that we asked ourselves in East Palestine on March 23rd, 2024.

And I believe we answered that question by the very fact of being there physically together in that room at the East Palestine Country Club. The answer is now, now is the time to rise together. No one else is coming to save us, and we do not have any more time to waste. And one of the many incredible human beings standing in that room with me and residents of East Palestine was Vina Colley. And like I said, I could not be more honored to be chatting with Vina on today’s episode. Now it’s going to become clear to you guys as this episode goes on, why it was so powerful for Vina herself to be at that gathering in East Palestine. But if you’ll allow me, I want to give you some more context here by way of reading at length some passages from a really great piece by Kevin Williams that was published in Belt Magazine in October of 2020.

And this piece is called The Poisonous Legacy of Portsmouth’s Gaseous Diffusion Plant. And we’re going to link to it in the show notes. So in this piece, Kevin writes Vina Collie, a slight woman with a bob of thick blonde hair climbs into her white Ford Explorer. Collie is 74, and for nearly 40 years, she’s been fighting the Portsmouth gaseous diffusion plant, known locally as the A plant or ports. Her home library holds scores of totes filled with neatly labeled documents, a paper trail that exposes what she sees as portsmouth’s, darkest and most egregious secrets. The plant nestled on the edge of Ohio’s Appalachia is just a few minutes drive from Pike County, a long hour south of Columbus and 90 minutes east of Cincinnati. It was built during the Cold War in 1952 to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons in the US Department of Energy’s Atomic Energy Program.

Gaseous diffusion is basically a process of enriching uranium through a series of feeds and cascades. This particular process has since fallen out of favor as technological advances have made the process obsolete. The plant stopped enriching uranium by diffusion in 2001, and in 2007, a portion of the facility was adapted into the American centrifuge plant, but in its prime, gaseous diffusion was a big deal for Pike County. It was also Ali argues a serious threat. Vina Colli was Aaron Brockovich before Aaron Brockovich. By the time Brockovich later played famously by Julia Roberts in the movie of the same name was building her successful case against Pacific Gas and Electric in California in 1993, Collie had already been battling the A plant for a decade. She alleges the plant has duped area residence for years about the health dangers of its processes, and that the government has created an impossible to navigate claim system.

In response, Collie has become an unlikely citizen scientist spending a lifetime researching and documenting ports and its sins. Collie was hired as an electrician at the facility in 1980 and worked there for three years. I was exposed to everything we were cleaning off radioactive equipment that we did not know was radioactive. They never told us. Collie told me then she said her hair started falling out. She developed rashes. I got really sick and went to the hospital not knowing that it was my job causing me all these problems. I had big tumors in the four decades since colleagues faced a range of health problems including chronic bronchitis, tumors and pulmonary edema. Collie is not alone around Pike and Scioto counties. The stories flow as freely as the creeks. A child who died of leukemia, a whole family fell by cancer, an uncle with unusual tumors on his neck, a cousin with a stillborn baby, someone with kidney issues, and on and on.

Portsmouth’s Hidden Legacy has created a cohort of citizen scientists, homegrown atomic brockovich’s and residents who reel off statistics about isotope half lives, transera, Neptune and beryllium, like people elsewhere might talk about the weather or fishing. Pike County is one of the state’s most impoverished with 20% of the population living below the poverty line. According to 2000 nineteen’s Ohio poverty report, neighboring Scioto County is in even worse shape. With 23% living in poverty, the economics of the region have barely budged. In half a century, thousands of workers, a mix of contractors and employees work at the A plan, one of the only chances for a decent income. A recent hiring notice for a plant security specialist advertised a salary starting in the mid fifties, double the per capita median. Other jobs like a junior radiation protection technician require only a high school diploma and can make $19 an hour to start gradually going up to $36 an hour.

But for decades, Collie says the perils of these high paying jobs were kept hidden. And those are the people Collie has devoted her life to trying to help. So that’s what we’re here to talk about. And again, now you guys know why it is such an honor to not only be talking to Vina and for us to be listening to her, but why it was so powerful and so important to have Vina there with us in that room in East Palestine a few weeks ago. So with all of that upfront, let’s go ahead and dive in. Vina, I got so many things I want to talk to you about, and I know there’s, we could talk for hours, so if we need to do this in multiple parts, we will. But we gave folks as much context as we could upfront to understand why we’re here talking, how it’s connected to all the other things we’ve been covering on this show, all the things that we’re trying to bring together in East Palestine. And I just really want people to know you and learn from you, and I want to learn from you and your struggle. But before we even get there, before we talk about all the horrific stuff that you have and your community have been through over the past four decades, let’s go back to just yeah, before. So you said you were born in Portsmouth and that’s where you grew up, correct?

Vina Colley:

Yes. And Portsmouth is about 20 some miles from pi.

Maximillian Alvarez:

So tell me a little bit about that. What was it like growing up in your childhood in that part of the country when yeah, the Cold Wars going on, these nuclear plants are seen as the future and also the way that we’re going to defeat the Soviet. So that’s happening in the background, but you’re also a kid living your life. So just yeah, tell us a little more about what that was like, where you grew up, if you had a big family, what kind of kid you were and what you would do for fun.

Vina Colley:

I had four brothers. One passed away with a small cell cancer, but we lived on front street next to the river. We are south of Columbus, about a hundred miles and right on the borderline of Kentucky and Ohio. And I grew up right on the river on front Street. We went out and played, kicked the can and did all the normal things the kids did. My dad played music and when mom and dad both worked and I had the four younger brothers, mine was the oldest, so I did a lot of babysitting. But we used to go down by the bridge and we would have bonfires and we would bake potatoes and play. And then in summertime we would play ball with softball or baseball. I had a brother who was really good in baseball. I mean, he was a good pitcher and a catcher, and he’s the one who died of small cell cancer.

Maximillian Alvarez:

I’m so sorry for your loss, vna, and I mean that goes for your family, your friends, your community. I can’t communicate enough how sorry I am for everything that you have lost, but as well can’t communicate to you just how inspired I am by your fight and your continued dedication to your community and to justice. And I think all of us are feeling really exhausted and scared most of the time these days. And just to know that you’ve been fighting through this stuff for this long really kind of gives us hope that we can do it too. And again, we we’re going to get into all that soon, but I just love hearing this and love thinking about a time before all this awfulness when you’re running around and playing with your friends, playing with your siblings, looking back on that time, does it feel like it was a genuinely sort of different time in America? Folks are always saying, or do you think that that’s more just nostalgia talking and people are really looking fondly upon their own childhoods? I guess I’m just curious what the scene was like in those decades when you were growing up.

Vina Colley:

It was different because we didn’t sit around and play on our cell phones. We were always outside playing all kinds of games and hardly we ever watch tv. And then you only had the three channels and the TV wasn’t killing us full of poison like they do now. All the lies they want to and keep everyone at the edge of their seats, fighting family and friends over all this political stuff. We didn’t do all that back then. We had good times. I mean, we would slate. There was a big wall, a flood wall. We would take a cardboard up there and we would use it as a sled and just as many fun things. And we’d play jacks and hopscotch and we were always busy. We were always happy. And we would go to the playgrounds and we didn’t have all this turmoil that we had now, right now, it’s hard to even talk to a family member of the politics, especially if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. They have divided the families here over all this political crat is what I call it,

Maximillian Alvarez:

Preach sister. I mean, I think that’s exactly what it is. And that’s what I was talking to Chris Albright and other East Palestine residents when I was there. I was like, all right, man, I’m the crazy socialist that Fox keeps telling you as the enemy. You guys are the white working class Trump voters that I’m told are the enemy. And yet we’re all just here as people trying to not get poisoned by corporations trying to raise our families, trying to make a living. And the ways that corporate media especially and our politicians of course, and the ways that they have managed to convince so many of us that half the country is our enemy, is just a really sad thing to behold. But again, it’s like just by being there in East Palestine with you and with everyone else there and seeing that all wash away, it does give me hope that we can cut through that crap. But that toxic stuff has been flowing through the air vents of our culture for decades, and it’s not going to be easy to just turn the clock back on that.

Vina Colley:

That’s true. It’s just really hard. We have to look forward. We have to get rid of all the media people that are going out, all these lies. I know Fox News, I’ve watched Fox News, CNN and NBNS. I watch all of ’em. And to me, Fox has told so many lies to the families, but I can’t even watch it anymore. And of course they were going to be sued, but they can’t be sued because they claim they’re an entertainment entertainment show, not a news site. So to me, that’s just so ridiculous. I mean, if you want to report the news, you should report the news. People like you who are trying to get the real facts out, that’s helpful. That’s not pitting any of us against each other, but what you’re talking about is the truth. It’s about human life and what they’ve done to all of us. These big corporations, they don’t care. They don’t care about if you’re sick or if your family members are dying. They just want that money. They just don’t care. And this facility here in isn’t any different. We paid good jobs, had good money. It was such a secret that they would tell the workers, if you go into a beauty shop or a barber shop, you better not talk about it out here because some of these beauticians and barbers may be a secret agents. So we grew up in a lot of secrecy here in this town. You’re not allowed to talk about what goes on at the A plant.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Wow. Wow. Let’s talk about that a little more. I wanted to ask, when you were growing up, I mean it sounds like a plant was still like the place to go to get that good paying middle class job. Can you tell us a little more about your memories before you ever started working there? The influence that the Portsmouth gaseous diffusion plant had on the community, the role it played in town and yeah, other details like that. Even just this sort of culture of secrecy where you’re not allowed, they’re not supposed to talk about it. That’s pretty creepy.

Vina Colley:

Some of the workers back in those times, which it started in 1952, and I think production started in 53. And by 1957, there was five workers that were in the hospital that were sick and dying from the plant. And the health department in the state of Ohio knew it because the union had wrote letters about this, but they turned their back on ’em all because of the jobs down here. And workers, when they used to come home, they would take their food off because they didn’t want to carry any contamination into their homes. But I didn’t know any of that when I was that young. But as I talked to people from all this research, they told me that I have a friend Dorothy Mead, who just passed away, and her husband, Gary Mead, she said that he used to come home and tell her not to let the kids touch his shoes or his work boots, but he didn’t think he was getting sick from the plant. And she kept trying to get him to quit, but he didn’t want to quit because he didn’t think it was his job. So about the third or fourth trip to the hospital, he told his wife, he said, Dorothy, I think you’re right. And it is my job making me sick, and once I get out of the hospital this time, I’m not going back. Well, he wasn’t able to go back because he died of leukemia. He actually bled the death.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Jesus.

Vina Colley:

So growing up around here, they had a place where you buy tires and it’s a Goodyear Tire and rubber. And so a lot of us in the community thought that’s what they made was Goodyear Tire and Rubbers out there. So they have spatial tires that you can come in and buy on discount and everything was called Goodyear around here. So we had no idea. Most of us had no idea that it was a weapons plant all these years, not something that they made tires for. Goodyear and the community, if you ask ’em any questions about the plant, they wouldn’t talk about it. So we’re not allowed to talk about it. What goes on out there is a secret. So it’s pretty much a town that was, they went to work, they mind their own business, and they didn’t talk about the A plant because they made good money there and they weren’t allowed to talk about it. They could lose their jobs if they did.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Wow. And do you recall, again, because like you said, you didn’t even know what was going on at that plant until much later. But I guess, do you have any memories from that era of how this country was talking about nuclear energy and nuclear plants? And I guess for folks in my generation who have only read about it in books, did it feel like this was an industry that people were excited to welcome into their communities and be a part of as this kind of nationalist project? I guess, what do you remember about the kind of culture around nuclear energy at that time?

Vina Colley:

I don’t know too much about nuclear energy, but I know about patriotism. Everyone thought it was their duty to work out there, and they felt lucky that they could be part of this energy from there. But I don’t think anyone really realized that they were producing nuclear weapons at Python. Maybe some of the workers who understood it better, but the community really didn’t know. I didn’t know until after I got sick and started gathering all these documents. And that’s how I really found out in 1978 was such a secret out there. The workers had dropped a cylinder and it ruptured in 21,125 pounds of this uan Hexa fluoride was released into the environment and the water, but it happened during a snow season, so they were able to throw some of the snow on the cylinder and stop it. But there was a lawsuit filed by the community.

It took 21 years to settle, and that incident was compared to Three Mile Island. Until this day, no one has ever been told other than if I put it on my Facebook, because if I find documents, I did have a webpage, but they hacked me so bad that I couldn’t keep a webpage up. But I’ve been able to keep a Facebook up, and if anybody ever wants to know anything about Piketon, they can look up my Facebook vna, VINA, Colley, C-O-L-L-E-Y, because no one can stop me from posting what I find. But this incident, like I said, compared to Three Mile Island, and we’ve not been told today that we had this incident or have we been, were studied for that incident. And when I got hired, and like I said, in 1980, they had 111 releases and I didn’t know it until it all came out in the paper and researched.

And I helped the Dayton Daily move. I worked with them for almost two years on the story, and they came out with all of the releases in the paper. And so we didn’t get the date and paper here. So if you didn’t get the date and paper, people still don’t know here. People still don’t know what’s going on at that plant. Wow. We heard they wanted to start the centrifuge up and they did a test run in November, but we don’t know because it’s a secret. We don’t know if they’re still producing nuclear weapons. We don’t know what’s going on there, but there’s been so many releases that to remember that the Portsmouth facility is the largest facility in the world. We were supposed to be producing high assay uranium here for weapons, grade material, the highest assay that you could do. But in the meantime, what the workers didn’t know, and what I didn’t know is they were bringing Transics waste into this facility and processing it from West Valley, New York and West Valley New York ended up being, the workers thought it was a uranium extraction plant and it wind up being a plutonium extraction plant.

So they were sending all this stuff here to pipe then, and we were processing it and being exposed to things like titanium n Andia, bium, Marium C, them, you name it, we were being exposed to it without our knowledge, and we were not dressed, dressed to keep this stuff safe. Like they use asthmatic suits now, but I don’t know if they use it all the time, but they do dress the workers up in cosmetic suits. We were dressed in nothing. And when I complained about the areas being contaminated cut, because I was cleaning electric equipment with trichlorethylene and they had this oil on electrical components, and I asked what it was, and I just said it was just oil, just ordinary oil. And then when we get done, we had buckets of this stuff, we would dump it down the drains. So when I got sick in 83 and my doctor asked me what I was working in, he told me to go back and tell them to suit me up and to survey the area that I work in.

So I kept breaking out in rashes, and every time they put me on certain jobs and they come back and say, well, you are better than the instruments that we have out here to pick up anything. And so they had to put me on different jobs and my boss had to keep me with him. And so in 84, 85, I’m working and they put me on this electric equipment outside and I could see these little gray particles flying around. And I’m pretty scared because I got pulled off this job because of my breaking out. And what they didn’t tell me that this PCB oil was radioactive oil that was leaking all over the process, building every process building. Not only was it oil, but it was some of the product that they were producing. So once they put me outside and taken off these ceramic things off of electrical equipment and I could see these grape articles, and I put a mask around my mouth and a hanky, and I hurried up and took all those components out and called my boss and told him I was done.

So he came and got me in a golf cart and he took me up in a building, the 3 33 building, which this is one of the buildings they’re getting ready to decommission him real soon and put it in these dump cells. But he took me up there on the second floor, we’d been in this golf cart, and I said, where are we going? He said, well, there was a radiation alarm that went off. We’re going to go check it out and reset it. And before we could get halfway through that building, all this gray stuff come following us as fast as he turned around and took me back on the elevator. And we went down and I said, what just happened? I said, what was that stuff? He said, well, it wasn’t nothing. It was just a cloud of smoke. It was nothing. Well, I winded up getting really, really sick again and had to go to Dr. White and he did apathy on my throat.

And at the same time a guy named Mike who actually won a lawsuit against the plant in another one named Jean Farrell. And my friend Owen Thompson, we wind up going to Dr. White here in Portsmouth, and he sent us down to Cincinnati to see a Dr. Michael Kelly, who was an occupational health and safety doctor, which I went there two weeks after this gray stuff come flying at us. And I had two point 12 fluorides in my urinalysis. And one of the products they had out here is draining hexa fluorides, and they released a lot of fluorides. And so he said, I don’t know what’s going on out there, but you don’t need to go back to work. So they put me off on leave in 85, and of course found a way to take me off of the workers’ comp in 87 because they sent me to a Dr. George Esman in Portsmouth, Ohio, and he felt like there was nothing he could do for him. They wouldn’t pay him to examine me. And at the same time, my stomach is swelling and getting big. And he said that he’d not pay me to check you out. And so they took me off of workers’ comp in 87, and once they took me off of workers’ comp, the plant laid me off and kept me from getting 10 years then, but of course could you’re best at our pensions at five years, and they still cheated me out for five year pension. And so by 88,

Maximillian Alvarez:

Well, if I can hop in there just because I want to take a quick half step back to make sure that listeners are getting that kind of panoramic view of what you were seeing and going through while you were working there. Because even just the image you were talking about, about being on that golf cart with a manager driving through this massive facility and then seeing this ghostly toxic cloud coming at you and then turning around and saying, okay, job’s done. That is just the hairs on my neck are standing up thinking about it, especially knowing what we know now about what was going on at that plant. But I want to just like you were saying before that you and so many others in the community, so many people working there still didn’t fully know what was going on there. So I was wondering if you could just sort of take us back to that time working there when you started there, what you remember as a worker going into that facility, the kind of things you were being asked to do on this show to, we talk to people in the service industry, healthcare workers, teachers, and we always love to just talk what is a typical day, week?

What are the things that you as a working person are dealing with on the job? Could you just tell us a little more about that, your memories of starting to work there, how big the facility was, what you were doing? Just give us that worker’s eye view of your time working there before you started getting sick and eventually had to leave.

Vina Colley:

Actually, I was a healthy worker. I even had to go back to my doctor and they ran spatial blood work. I was so healthy, but that’s what they do. They hard, I healthiest workers because it takes us longer to get sick. But I had nothing wrong with me whatsoever. I had pretty good healthy genes and I would rewind motors. I did conduit. I worked on relays, but they hired me in as a second class electrician, and it was a apprentice experiment where they put us on all the jobs. So I was in every building on plant side and we’re talking, there’s 3,600 or 3,800 acres, and there’s all kind of buildings. They had all kind, they had two or three incinerators.

They would even get this black stuff from the steam plant on these people’s homes and workers would have to go out there and clean off their homes from the inside and out. And they did that when Goodyear was there, but they quit doing it after Goodyear sold out. But the workers were janitors. We’d go out there and we wore coveralls, just regular coveralls, and they started giving us, buying us boots to work at the plant with. And so we didn’t have to take them home, wear ’em home. And so I thought, man, I never worked in a place that was so safe to work or had safety glasses. They stayed on me. They give us a pair of boots so we wouldn’t take our boots home in case we stepped in some type of contamination. Of course, they never talked about radiation being at the plant.

They actually said you would get more radiation by flying in a plane than working here. So I didn’t really know what radiation was at that time, other than taking X-rays or something like that. But for these people, I mean, they’re not human. They just let you come in and clean up all this radioactive material. And maybe not all the bosses knew, but I believe some of ’em did. And actually there’s about 10 or 12 safety guys who wrote the safety for the plant, all wind up dying of cancer. And Chris, I didn’t know all this. And I worked on relays and I’D in conduit and I’d go in these buildings and I would see a sign saying, you’re in a radioactive contaminated area. And I said, where’s this area at? And they said, well, I was taped off over there. Don’t walk through the tape.

So they made you feel like the radiation, if they had anything there, it would be any contamination. It was within this yellow tape line. Well, once I called, my life changed at 83, I wrote a grievance to the Department of Labor, told them that I felt like they were more than 30 workers being exposed to radiation, but I really didn’t know what I was talking about. But actually down the road, I did know what I was talking about then, but I didn’t know. And then when I got sick in 85, the Department of Energy sent people to my house and they asked me the same questions over and over, over, and mainly it was about that oil. So I told my husband, I said, it made me feel like I know something that I don’t know. I said, they asked me the same questions about that oil in the trichlorethylene that I was cleaning with.

And I said, there’s got to be something more to this. So when I started digging into the records, I found out there was a congression. Our union in 1980 went to Washington dc. They stormed Senator Gwen office over the health and safety issues, and a guy named Bob Alvarez opened up his door to these workers. So they asked for a full investigation. And here I’m getting hired, and I know nothing about this until about 86 when I found out the union did that. But Clan’s office promised to help these workers and do an investigation. And when they came back to work, all they got was harassment to workers. And it was the largest workers in the world that went to DC and Storm Senator Glenn’s office over health and safety, radiation and safety violations. I think they had 576 violations at that time. Wow. And so Denny Bluefield, I have to say is one of my heroes.

He was the president of the union. He just died a few months back with cancer, but he took that union up there, tried to get us help, and all we got he got was harassment. So of course he was no longer the union president, he still worked there, but this is what they do. Anyone who complains about health and safety, they harass you. They have these red phones in the building and they said, if you see this oil, they had a concrete around the equipment, but if you see oil coming on the floor, you take this red bone and you call OSHA or the Coast Guard, I can’t remember which it was, it might’ve been the Coast Guards and let them know. But what happens when you use them little red bones, you are calling directly into the plant to the DOE office on site.

And so they know automatically who the workers are that are starting to ask questions. When I’ve been harassed, I’ve been threatened. They tried to get, my daughter tried to get me out one morning saying that my daughter had been in a car wreck at four o’clock in the morning. And so I went back and I checked in her room and she was in there. I’ve had some of the workers here, chick Lawson, whose house has got radioactive material in his house. He told me and my husband before he passed in 2018, that the plant had a meeting on site and his friend attended this meeting and that they want to find a way to get rid of me.

So I mean, this is in 2022, they’re still wanting to try to get rid of me. And one of the union workers wrote in one of the Ian papers saying if I was her husband, I would take out extra insurance on her. And I’ve had my wheel make tires. Well, the bolt had been taken off of one of the tires, and luckily it was when it wobbled, I thought I had a flat tire and I stopped and checked it, but it had no bolts on that tire. And so I got shunned in the community a lot people call thinking I’m a troublemaker, trying to shut down a plant, and I didn’t know what I was talking about. And as I researched and found out, we had piton that pipe them in the X 7 0 5 area, the E area where there’s an incinerator next to the building, and these workers were working an experimental job with piton.

They got so contaminated. Mr. Salisbury told me that he had colon cancer and they got so contaminated, they sent him to Oakridge for several weeks to get their body counts down. So you don’t hear these kind of stories because the workers, you know how men are, they go to work, they mind their own business and they go home. And so when they get home, they’re not supposed to tell their families anything about their jobs. And these workers told me that they had to get their body counts down because they worked in experimental capon at the site. When the compensation bill came down in 1993 in a public meeting, I told under an affidavit, I told them in 93 that they had plutonium at the site. So it’s in an affidavit and it’s in their documents that I told them in 93, they had plutonium. Of course, a lot of the workers, some of the workers knew they’ve had it since 1953 ever since they did the first production.

But it was 1999 that I was working with a lady named Mary Bird Davis with the institution of uranium wife. And she read the documents and she understood them, and she got a call and said, we’re getting ready to break a story about Paducah, Kentucky having Paton at the site. And she said, well, we had Patton at pipe. And she called me up and she said, viol. She said, I just got a call from reporter down in Lake Kentucky and they’re going to break the story in the morning about Theon at Tyson. And she said, the workers, three workers at Paducah must have filed a lawsuit and someone leaked it to the media and that’s how it got out. And so they knew that I always had mentioned the Paton at Python. So when they called Mary, she called me and she said, they’re going to break the story first thing in the morning one.

And I said, great, Mary. And she said, but the problem is they gave me credit and not you. I said, cares, you have a national group that you work with and who cares as long as the story gets out about the Paton? And so they broke the story the next day, and it was at the same time as Paducah. And they did one story about Paducah and Portsmouth breaking this story simultaneously. And so when the story broke, they didn’t want to put, they claimed that Piketon had one cylinder that came through that system that contaminated the plant with Piton. It was not a lie. And they down downplayed us. And then I pushed our representatives, I want to say thank you for Ted Strickland at that time, who was a Democrat and then joined the Barnovich up. He was a Republican up in Columbus. They all pushed, and especially Ted, he pushed to get us in that compensation bill.

And this compensation bill is called PEOI, CPA A, the Energy Employee Compensation Act. And they named 22 cancers in this bill. And if you have one of 22 cancers in this bill, you automatically get compensated for your cancers. And the bill was anywhere from 150,000 to 400,000. Well, they didn’t want to put ping in it, but we got ’em in there. And so we wind up being an SEC site, which means a spatial exposure cohort. And the reason they didn’t test us when we were getting tested all the time, I know they did a lot of tests on me, but some of the guys went years before they got a urine test. And in order to get a good test, you would have to take a test in the morning when you came and when you left, but they never did. They might’ve given one urine test.

Now, one thing that they made a mistake on with me was they put us in these in vivos because back in the seventies and eighties, women really didn’t work at the plant. So they put me in vivo. And when they did that, I didn’t get the records until just a few years ago that it shows that I have Neptune and a NEP magnesium and caesium in my lungs, and they knew and they never told me. So I’ve had my records locked up a few times and had to get ’em unlocked, and each time I get ’em unlocked, I get something in my records that I didn’t get before, and they eventually sent me these records on these three in vivos. And what they do, they measure your weight, they measure your neck, and then you lay in this machine like laying in an MRI, and it counts about body count of all of this radioactive radioactivity in your body, and Neptune is radioactivity and Maia is a radioactivity.

And so my counts were going up each year that they did it. They did it from 82 to 85 and one thing they check your weight. I was always like 1 39 weight anymore, but I went to 235 pounds three months. I swelled up like a big balloon and so been hard still getting weight off. At least I’m down 30 or 40 more pounds, but it doesn’t come off of me. I think the thyroid and the radioactive material caused my immune system to do a lot of things to my metabolism. And the government has admitted that they gave me chronic RY disease. It’s a lung disease, it’s not curable. They have omitted that I have neuropathy. They have omitted that I have congested heart failure. They have admitted I have digital heart failure, nerve damage from the neuropathy. I have lung nodules just like many of these workers have, and I’ve had four tumors removed.

Total hysterectomy. I had a tumor removed from the back of my neck. Three were in my ovaries. And so at the age of 32, 33 is when I had to have a total hysterectomy. They removed the three tumors and later I had the tumor in the back of my neck and it was, we removed and we did, I don’t know if you knew Dr. Rosa bat from Canada, but she had my tumor froze and sent it to a doctor up in Canada to have it analyzed. But at that time, the doctor was checking the Batton and he didn’t think that the gas acid diffusion plant had batton in it because we weren’t supposed to. So he sent my tumor on a shelf and then he got confiscated with his work. So I don’t know where that tumor went. It’s like a nightmare. Then in the process of Dr. Rosa Patel was a nun and she was very knowledgeable on cancers and radiation. Then she passed away a few years back. She did a lot of work on, I met her through the Depleted Uranium Group when Gulf War.

They used armor piercing bullets and they even shot at a tank. And we have a kid here in McDermott that was in that tank and got burned up, and the government lied to his family about that. His name was Tony Applegate. He went to school with my kid, but he was in one of those tanks that was shot with these bullets. And eventually Senator Declan got the records for Tony’s family and they had to tell them the truth. He wasn’t burned up in the tank. The stories just go on and on about these communities and what you have to go through. My brother-in-Law, he worked at the plant. He had a wooden leg and he got his leg contaminated and they had to buy him a new leg. And so he had these nodules like I have, and the nodules, something happened and it went in into lymph notes and he got cancer and he died a horrible death, but he had cancer.

He’d give his wife cancer. His son Troy just passed away three or four months ago that worked at the plant. He had kidney cancer. But you just don’t understand the impact that these places do to families and they don’t really care. But it was a big deal in 99 because they didn’t compensate a lot of workers. But the problem is there’s a lot of workers and a lot of survivors out here right now fighting for the compensation for their families. We are not supposed to be dosed and dose means calculation of the chemicals that’s in your body and the job you was on. Well, they can’t do that to us because they destroy the record. Guess what? They are dosing families who don’t know anything about this just to turn down their families so they can’t get survivorship.

Maximillian Alvarez:

Let’s talk about this, right. There are two really crucial sort of threads here that I want to make sure listeners are following along with, right? Because there’s, like you said, your life changed in 83 when you filed that grievance and you were getting sick. You got really sick in 85. You lost your workers’ comp in 87, and it’s been a process ever since then to essentially learn what you and your fellow workers and your community were being exposed to by this plan. And then on top of that, there’s been the struggle for accountability, the struggle for compensation for people who were exposed to these things. Can we talk about that first one for a second and then connect it to the second part? Can we just go back to that, the mid eighties and that sort of period, what was it like trying to getting sick, feeling these effects, not knowing what was going on and then starting this lifelong process to try to figure out what was poisoning you and trying to get the government or the plant to admit that it was doing that?

Vina Colley:

The plant, I don’t think is ever going to admit it unless we get the Rica down, winders compensation bill, refund it back in June, June, and if they don’t refund that, then this is something to do with the uranium minor, the Trinity. The Trinity blast, and if the community gets it, it would be 25,000 to 150,000 for certain cancers, and they’re going to link fees to the workers’ cancers that they had. But with the workers’ cancers, like I said, these workers are still fighting for compensation. A lot of them are, I thought from 2002 until up 2000, maybe 15, to get my compensation. Like I said, they locked my records up several different times, and I was lucky that I was able to get compensation because during this fight, this company, it’s not cheap. I maxed out five credit cards and I couldn’t quit. I mean, it’s just like an obsession.

You just can’t quit until you ask them at the meetings, you say, tell us what’s there. Tell us what you’ve done to us because maybe we can help you. Maybe we can give some suggestions or something, but we can’t do anything. We don’t know what we’ve been exposed to until you tell us, be truthful and be transparent. We can’t help if they would’ve been more truthful and would’ve listened when I said, Hey, 93, we got pian here. What can we do? The community would’ve been willing to work with them on this, but no, they’d rather just cover it up and pretend like you’re somebody crazy trying to shut the plant down. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

They have people who you used to talk to don’t talk to you because the company tells them that you’re crazy. You don’t know what you’re talking about. But now those people are realizing, I do know what I was talking about, because they’re all losing family members. And so the compensation bill is a good thing, but it needs to be fixed because there’s workers who are still fighting for illnesses that they shouldn’t be because they are a spatial exposure cohort site. But it’s like a nightmare. And I’ve learned so much and so many different stories that sometimes I think I’m crazy myself. Who in the world’s going to believe you with all these things that you’ve learned in these 40 some years about that plant? Who’s going to believe it that I believe now? I mean, the workers appreciate me a lot more. They ask for their help, and I help.

I don’t charge anybody, but I help put their records together if they need it. And then I have an attorney out in New York Hug Stevens who works on the E-E-O-I-C-P-A Energy employees compensation bill. And so if the workers don’t have the right paperwork before they file, they’re automatically going to get turned down. So it’s best that they know what they need before they fail an application, because once you get turned down, it’s hard to have it overturned. It’s not impossible. I’ve overturned my case many a times, and so it’s not impossible and it can be done, but you have to have the right paperwork and you hire an attorney, and the attorney can only make 3% to 10% for helping these workers, which is a good deal. I mean, it’s not like some attorneys who charge you 33% and take a lot of your money and you don’t get the money, but these workers will get the money if they get the right representatives to represent ’em.

But then I go back and I think about all these releases I was working there and they never told us. And one of the problems at piping is we have uranium, hexa, fluorides. Fluorides is a very dangerous problem to your bones, to the animals, to the humans. And we released this for 70 years. And my process, I felt like the fluorides, the plutonium, Neptune eria all of these products on together with the fluorides, and that’s how I think a lot of it went off site in the air. This is not counting creek and the storms, storms and all the C creeks that they dumped into. And the 78th spill went down nursing home road and went into one of the cricks that emptied out into the Scio River from the Scio River, 20 miles or less. Down stream is the Ohio River, so the side river from here, where this plant’s coming is going to the Ohio River, and from the Ohio River, it’s going all the way down to the Mississippi.

So whatever is being dumped at Python is going all the way down to the Mississippi. So people all along this area will be affected by this plant and not even know it. There’s a direct pipeline that I found that went from the plant into the S river for 70 years, and this pipe is being used again for whatever they’re doing at the plant. What they want to do is sell off this 80 acres of the land and claim that it’s not contaminated. They want to give it to the community reuse group, and they want to put two small modular reactors out here, and once they get the two small modular reactors back here, now we are going to be, guess what? We are going to be reprocessing or recycling, whatever you want to call it, transics from all of the sites in the United States and foreign countries.

So it makes absolutely no sense to me to spend billions of dollars to clean up a plant and turn around to do this very same thing. But they’re given 80 acres to put these, what they’re calling powerhouses in to s and satellite is going to sell this 20 acres at a time, $20,000, and they’re going to make a hundred and some thousand dollars off of this free land that they’re getting. I’ve offered to go out and take samples to see what’s in the land, but they won’t let me do that. They won’t let me have the dirt. And why I’m thinking about piss all these years, people think that these facilities, that the NRC and the CDC and NIOSH and all of this is on plant side and the EPA and they come in and they take samples and take it home to study ’em.

But no one takes samples of the radioactive material at that plant other than the DOE and the DOD. What they do, they give all these agencies, people, NIOSH and OSHA people, and they try to do by the book of NIOSH and osha. So none of these agencies have any jurisdictions over these facilities. So all these years I thought they had OSHA and niosh. They hire their own people for OSHA and niosh. The EPA does not come in, dig up the dirt and take the samples at the plant. The plant gives them paperwork and they read that paperwork. So who knows where they get the samples from because you cannot trust people, the DOE, nor as contractors because they don’t tell ’em.

We had one group here, I remember Owen Thompson and I, he was 42 years old and he died of a brain tumor. We went to a construction company here called Bo Coleman Construction. We talked to his secretary, Kathy Coleman, who’s now a commissioner in Portmouth, Ohio. We told her that Boone Coleman’s workers were taking trucks into the plant. They were loading the contaminated dirt on the trucks, had a plastic miner in the trucks. PI workers were suited up in their hazmats. The truck drivers were wearing nothing. There was either 17 or 19 family members of Boom Coleman Construction who died of cancer. Some were compensated, some were still fighting the plant for compensation. So right now today I talked to some truck drivers who are going in there. They are not suiting them up, so they do not learn from what they did in the past.

They just continue to do whatever they want to do. Same that they have all these years that these new truck drivers, Harry and dirt, I’ll, I’ll tell you where the dirt goes. We fought not to have waste on site. We did not want to be a nuclear waste site. So the community didn’t want it. 300 people showed up, packed his room down at Shawnee State, 25 miles from the plant. We packed that room. We did not want this waste. They let it lay for a couple of years thinking everyone would just forget about it. And then they took all of our surrounding county commissioners, these areas surrounding county commissioners, gave them permission to put this waste on piped in site. So now we have 12 waste cells out here, 12 of them. They disassembled the 3 26, the high assay building and open air, nothing on it, no canvas, nothing, just open air.

All this stuff is going into the air, into the community, into the surrounding areas. They took this stuff over and put it in one of those waste cells. Now they’re getting ready to tear down the three 30 building, the building that I was in in that golf cart. They’re tearing that building down and they’re going to put it in number two waste cell. We have 12 waste cells on site thanks to our county commissioners, no public input. They let the county commission. So it’s important who you elect in your communities because these people make an awful lot of decisions that you don’t like. We don’t like it. We should have never got it. Now all of them are pushing for these small modular reactors where we are going to be probably the largest hub. The nuclear waste that gets back to the railroad workers. They ship this stuff in and out.

They’re not protected. I had workers tell me we got 25,000 depleted uranium cylinders on site that give off neutron exposures, bedding outside DK stacked two or three high if the whole plant. They cleaned up some other sites like Oak originally thing and sent all this stuff to Python, 25,000 depleted uranium cylinders. They’re trying to convert some, I’m not for sure if they’re successful with it or not because they don’t talk about the production still this day. All that was still supposed to be a secret, but they’re storing these outside in the rain, rusty old, and we’ve had the most breaches with these depleted uranium cylinders than they had in Oak Ridge or Paducah. We had the most here in the Portsmouth site

Maximillian Alvarez:

Depleted

Vina Colley:

Uranium cylinders. They’re huge cylinders and they’re sitting outside stacked. They were stacked on the ground. So when we kept complaining about it, they finally brought ’em up on railroad ties or something and took them off the ground and painted some of them and stacked them up. Well, now they’ve got ’em all over the outside of the plant just sitting there and the cave and they give off neutron exposures. Railroad workers told me they would sit on the train with these cylinders sat on top of these cylinders. So one of my friends didn’t glaze. He told me that it was his job. He was loading, unload the cylinders, and we probably sat with the cylinders all day long. He died of cancer a couple of years ago. So the railroads not taking safety precautions for their workers. And then I listen to the ones up in East Palestine, these workers, they want to lay a bunch of them off and who’s going to be overseeing that? These trains are equipped with workers who know what to do in case of an accident. It’s horrible.

Maximillian Alvarez:

And I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s kind of the same principle, right? That the workers who were on that train that derailed in East Palestine, the first responders who were coming in from not only East Palestine but the surrounding area because it’s, again, this is a small town America, you need people from all over the place getting there. I mean, those were people rushing headlong into help. And a lot of them didn’t know what was on that train and what sort of fumes they were breathing in. Just like the town knew very little about the contents of those cars that were going to be vented and set on fire three days after the derailment. And as I hope people listening to this can hear, and Vine is doing such an incredible job pointing out it’s not just that workers at this plant like we’re being poisoned and it sounds like knowingly or recklessly exposed to all of these things that we’ve been talking about for the past hour and a half.

But also this is not just staying there. I mean this concerns all of us in terms of the contamination that we may have already been exposed to for basically our whole lifetimes. I mean, everyone listening to this, we’ve got PFAS in our bodies. We’re basically half plastic at this point. This is this kind of stuff that accumulates in your body and your environment in your community, and by the time you realize what’s happening to you, it’s already too late. And I wanted to stress that for folks because that’s what we were talking about in East Palestine. We said, we can’t wait until a train derails in our backyard or a company admits they’ve been poisoning us. When everyone starts dying of cancers, we need to start banding together now and fighting to protect ourselves against all of this. And we got to band together as a class to do that and to see each other as human beings who don’t deserve this, whether it’s because of the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, or whether it’s because of a private corporation like Norfolk Southern people’s lives, our communities, our safety, our health that matters.

And yet we live in a society that just so routinely throws us aside, puts us in harm’s way, tells us to shut up when we’re developing these health effects and then just buries us and forgets us when we die of the cancers we were suspecting, we were developing the whole time. And vina, I have two questions I wanted to ask you. Thinking so many things, and there’s so many more things I want to talk to you about, but I have to ask because you mentioned this and it’s like my heart was breaking hearing you talk about this, but as someone who yourself, you’ve lived in this area your whole life. You were a former electrician at the Portsmouth gaseous diffusion plant in the early eighties. It felt like a good job, but then you went through this horrible experience you developed, you were developing all these health effects, you were exposed to all of this radiation and just all, God, I can hardly rattle off all the things that you were exposed to. And then for four decades you’ve been fighting to tell the truth, to get accountability and justice and compensation. And it just feels so sad that now decades later, after you’ve been ostracized, after you’ve been threatened and people have been saying that you’re a troublemaker who’s trying to close the plant. Now some of those same people are coming to you years later asking you for help for applications because they are getting the cancers you were warning them about.

How does that feel? I can’t even imagine what emotionally that’s like to deal with to still, I mean, it’s incredible that you’re helping folks and you’re still fighting this fight, but I just can’t imagine what it must be like to have gone through this to be raising the alarm and ostracized for it. And now years later, it’s like people are coming back to you saying, you’re right. But what is it? You’re right because everyone’s dying and so many people in your community are dying of cancers at early ages or bizarre cancers. What is that like for you?

Vina Colley:

When I hear of a kid has cancer, he would give me flashbacks of a little boy. Last name was Ross County. Ross and I remember his sister sent me a couple and I still have a letter, a 50 post letter about her little brother and he passed away. And every time I feel like giving up, I think about the kids. There’s a little girl out there right now that’s got leukemia, two years old. Think about the kids. So you don’t think about all of the negative things that people say to you or whatever because they’re going to find out sooner or later they’ll find out. And what the workers say to me, doesn’t bother me, used to bother me because my brother-in-Law would tell my husband I was shutting down the plant and he wouldn’t have a job. So my husband, they used to play cars together all once a week and he got, so he couldn’t even go over there because Gary felt like I was shutting down his job.

But there at the end, Gary said I was right the whole time. So it gives you a good feeling that people tell you that what you’ve been saying is right. But then on the other hand, you have mixed motions because they’re dying. People are dying because the government doesn’t care. My government doesn’t care. You don’t know how I feel because I’m very patriotic. I have such a military background in my family. And so to hear that the government doesn’t care. Last night I went to a meeting in Pipe. It was supposed to have been a training session, but it wound up being a meeting and they were doing these forever chemicals and they have a huge problem there. And I told them last night, they talk about the plastic in your body and all this, but they had a huge problem with it off site.

And I let ’em know that I took two samples out of the crick on Wakefield Mound Road and one of these samples showed positive for the pfas. I said, it’s in one of the cricks on Wakefield Mound Road. And we had a problem. And then the commissioner was there from Portsmouth, Ohio, Brian Davis and I, him, I said, you all have a lawsuit in Portsmouth over the chemicals and you never told the community. To this day, they have not told the community. And I found a newspaper article and I put it on my Facebook and I told him last night, not only are we in Portsmouth, Ohio drinking this contaminated water, but we are piping it over to Kentucky because they had trouble with their water. And I said, you’re giving them contaminated water and it’s because you haven’t told the people that you foul a lawsuit over this and they’re drinking this forever. Chemicals and how do they get to these officials? They just don’t seem to think. They seem to think they’re invisible. They’re not doing it. They’re not. It’s unbelievable.

Maximillian Alvarez:

It really, really is. And again, this is what brought us all to East Palestine and that’s also bittersweet. And like you said, the motions are very mixed because while as I’ve expressed on this show, I was so inspired and heartened to see everyone there, including you and the folks, also folks from West Virginia who are being poisoned by fracking coal mining people like poisoned by algae blooms in Ohio, from the runoff from the hog factories, the CAFOs that we’ve reported on people in San Francisco who are getting radiation poisoning cancer alley in Louisiana, the uranium mining and Navajo nation. The very concept of a sacrifice zone is pretty horrifying in and of itself. And yet I think in a just society, the very concept of a sacrifice zone would not exist. And yet I feel like what brought us out to East ine, which is pikes in Portsmouth, so many other parts of the country, Curtis Bay here in Baltimore, these are sacrifice zones, zones that are being sacrificed, IE, the people are being sacrificed, the environment is being sacrificed because of government negligence, corporate greed or some cocktail of both.

And even though these horrifying instances shock us and scare us, I think what we were all there to and recognized in East Palestine is like this is what they have in store for all of us. This is where the future is going for working people under this sort of just regime of letting corporations do whatever they want, letting government ignore its own citizens even when they’re shouting for help and are fighting against being industrially poisoned. I mean, this is how bad things have gotten. And maybe that’ll finally get us to realize that the things that we think divide us are not important and they don’t actually divide us. The things that really unite us, like our right to breathe the air and drink the water and have our kids play in the grass without worrying that they’re going to be developing rare cancers because of some corporation that set up shop down the road.

We want to build a life for ourselves and our families and our communities. And if we can’t band together on that basic human level, then I don’t know what hope there is for us. But I saw that hope in East Palestine and I see it in your fight that you’ve been waging for decades and the fact that you’re still going out there to these other communities to warn them and to help them use the knowledge that you’ve developed through so many decades of struggle, you’ve done more than one human being should ever be asked to do, and yet you have done it and we are all grateful to you for it and we would not be able to build what we’re trying to build out of East Palestine. Now if it wasn’t for folks like you fighting this fight for so long, and so I just wanted to say that on this recording and really encourage folks out there to learn everything you can about Vina, learn everything that you can about this diffusion plant, read up on Three Mile Island.

We got to start connecting these dots and bringing ourselves and our communities in touch with each other so we can talk about how to fight this so we’re not fighting it alone in our own communities like East Palestine or Piketon and Portsmouth. I mean none of us can bear that load on our own, but if we all come together to help and speak as one, we may actually be able to break through. And so I just wanted to turn that into a final question, Vina, because again, we’re going to have to talk more because I could talk to you for days, but I’m so grateful to you for your time and for laying all this out for us. And just I wanted to ask a final question. If you could talk to listeners out there, why did you go to East Palestine? What do you want folks to know about what your experience, why they should care about what we were all talking about there in East Palestine and what you have been fighting for over there in Portsmouth for so long?

Vina Colley:

When I heard about the story of East Palestine, it broke my heart because this is a community and it was obvious, so obvious to the eye and to the ears listening to it that this train ran and it was like in a bomb that went off in this community and it’s a year with no response from the officials. That’s horrible. These people are suffering. I mean, I just saw a video where the girl was walking in the water and you could see the oil stuff come up out of the water and they’re breathing this chemical and no one’s doing anything about it. They should not have gone a year without help insurance, without help for cleaning up this mess and getting those people and relocating them somewhere until they can make their homes safe again. Instead they’re letting them there. They’re getting sicker. They’re losing their homes, they’re losing their family, and the railroad doesn’t care.

Neither does it sound like any of our representatives care. It’s time that they help these people. It just breaks your heart really. I mean, I’ve lived it for 40 years. What they’ve done to my community people, this was a day something that they couldn’t help. And this railroad workers, I mean they were exposed too. This train just wrecked in a community that was unprepared. They had no training or hama training, how to protect yourself. And we let them as a government, as a nation live in that for over a year without helping them. It’s just heartbreaking. I think about piping and what they’ve done. They’ve done it to us for 70 years, but this is a DOE and a DOE site and it’s much harder to break them. It shouldn’t be this hard for those people there in East Palestine, not at all. And so it’s criminal what they’re doing.

And I want to warn that these people, there’s people like Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry that comes into your community and they’re going to do all these studies, studies, but these studies are bogus. We just got a released yesterday from A SDR about Python and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing this study. They looked at everything they could look at that they knew they wouldn’t find nothing in certain places. They left out a German did an epidemiologist study of PI and the surrounding county. We are the highest in the state of Ohio for cancers. Out of the 88 counties we are the highest and out of nation we are with a cancer rate there percent higher and nationally we’re almost 80 some percent higher for cancer here. Government knows it and they’re ignoring it. And then they release this paper that should have been thrown in the trash because this is the second time this group has come here and they were caught in lies. They don’t look for what, they look for places where they’re not going to find anything.

And here we would probably be stuck with this report, but we’re not going to sit back and take it. We are going to bash them. They need to know that they can’t come into communities anymore and try to keep their jobs and do what these corporations want them to do. The first time they came in here, they were caught in lies by the attorneys for the first lawsuit that took 21 years to settle. And so I still have that letter and I’m using that letter and they got caught up in lives then and they’re lying now. So we haven’t quite figured out because we haven’t went through the 90 some page report yet. But what we found in the first part of it was enough to say, Hey, don’t move this. Just throw this garbage out.

I want to say that in 2017 we had a school in Zion’s Corner that was shut down because with the company’s own air monitors, n Tanium and AMIA has been found in the school. Five or six kids at the school had cancers and they shut the school down. And would you believe today the school has got a ling fence around it? It’s still there, but ton’s going to get money to build a new school. This is one school. Do you know how many other schools are in within the two to three or four mile radius that they never have checked And the other monitor that belongs to the company, this is a company monitor around this school that they shut down. The other monitor is in a place called Radan, Ohio, 14 miles from the plant who picks up the same REIA and a Neptune that this little school did.

And there’s several schools in this area like Valley Northwest are in the air path of that air monitor. Anna White, the Secretary of Energy, knew about this other air monitor, went to Washington dc She tried to get help for this community and they fired her. I know personally people that was in the office when she came of that office crying, they fired her because she wanted to help pipe them. They don’t wanted her to help pipe them. And so not only in 2017, but a couple of press members, their names were Floyd and Donna Music both have passed since then. They came to a meeting at press and told us that those AA reports, the company reports showed that that school in that corner was radioactive. And so they went to the government agencies and they come out and told them that they didn’t have any problems and there was no problem at that school.

This was years and years ago. And somebody read the A report again and found that that air monitor was contaminated. I’ve had experts in here. I’ve had Dr. Michael Keer, he’s taking samples now. I’ve had him in the creek and he’s in the University of Arizona and he comes and he’s taking samples and we’re finding a lot of contamination off site of ton. Dr. Joe Menno did an epidemiology of this area and found a high rate of cancer. And he told me, he said, Voina, I feel sorry for your people. In all my years I’ve done this. I’ve never seen anything as bad as ton.

The other thing that’s going on right now is the compensation program. It’s about to run out of money. Someone put in Oak Ridge and Paducah, and this is the Uranium Miners bill and the Trinity Bill for the downwinders of the fallout. And they were trying to expand the compensation bill and these ladies down in St. Louis that live around a landfill trying to get added to the bill and they want to add Oak Ridge and Paducah, but guess what? They want to leave Portmouth out again. So when I heard that was coming down, I immediately had a petition put on by Jim, by Sally, Jason, Sally. And we got 300 and some names on it in my ground office and told him what was going on. And I said, they’re having a hearing right now in the Senate and they’ve left out the Portsmouth site.

And so his office said, send me all the dock that you can send me in a half an hour. And I said, A half an hour, I’m getting ready to go for a doctor’s report. But she said, yep, we need them in a half an hour. So Senator Brown got Senator Vance and they went over to the hearing that was going on in the Senate. Portmouth was not on the write-up of the bill yet. But when Mexico Senator said, I’m talking to Brown and Vance and we are working on adding Portsmouth to this, but Senator Brown and didn’t know about that. They were going behind our backs and pushed for Oak Ridge and Paducah the same way that they did with the workers’ compensation bill. And when I found out about it, I was able to get to our senators in. So it’s just overwhelming.

And we still don’t know if Portmouth is going to be added to this field because the Bill Gates and all of these corporate people have other plans for Ton. So we’re hoping council wrote a letter in support of Rica for the Python community and pipe and board of commissioners have wrote a letter. The Community Reuse organization wrote one and shocked me to death. And the United Steel Workers, the Union have wrote a letter and I asked the the Portsmouth County Commissioner Brian Davis last night to please write a letter of support on behalf of the people here in Scioto County. I live 10 11 a miles. I’m in Scioto County, I’m not in Pike County, I’m in Scioto County, but I’m 10 miles from that plant in the air miles. So they want to wipe out Scioto County, they want us to be a nuclear hub and they don’t want to focus on Piketon.

Someone nationally was deliberately leaving Python off this compensation bill. And so we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t even know if they’re going to, if Congress by now, it went through the Senate and it’s in the house. So if any of your listeners know any of the representatives that we have in the house, bill, I’m talking to Jim Jordan and I don’t know all the members of the house, but if anyone in your listening area knows anyone that’s in the house to please ask them to vote for the Rica bill and especially ADD and Scioto County and the surrounding counties from the A plant. And so I think a petition really makes people move. I mean, this is the first time that other than the compensation bill, our representatives had paid any attention to us. And it was with that petition. Maybe if the people of East Palestine put the line and it doesn’t have to come from them.

They can come from all these national groups. I’ve joined all kind of national groups just to get the word out about piping because we were not even on the map when I started this. And I brought to a big group called Alliance for New accountability work on people living in the shadows of these facilities. And so I did belong to a military toxic project. We worked on the depleted uranium and the Gulf War syndrome. So I’m begging your listeners to please help us get mentioned on this house bill and for them to re-up to pay the uranium miners and the Trinity. And we were a big part of Ohio was a big part of the Manhattan Project, but you don’t ever hear about that. New Mexico started in 1943 and I found out that Mount facility in Dayton, Ohio also started Manhattan Project in 1943. But for some reason nationally they don’t want to talk about Ohio. And Ohio played a big part, played a big part in the Manhattan Project. They just did that movie Oppenheimer, not one word was mentioned about the Manhattan Project, Ohio being part of it. One word. So if we’re going to tell the story, we need to tell the whole story, see the whole picture because we can’t get help until we know the whole thing, the whole truth.

I testify for human experimentation. I testified in Washington DC and I testified in Cincinnati. They had a doctor in Cincinnati. People would come into the hospitals and I have a list of all the hospitals that were involved. I mean there was a Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus hospitals, the Dr. Sanger people come into the hospital, he would inject them with the baton to see how much they took and the government paid him to do this. Sad part about it is the government took away his money and he continued to experiment on people like you and me go into the hospital, we would inject you with plutonium. And so he continued to do that. So when they finally paid these people money, government would only pay the ones that they paid for him to experiment on. And all these other people that he did on his own got no compensation. He winded up dying of cancer himself. Dr. Sanger did. And the state of Ohio used this quack for compensation to evaluate workers. My friend Owen Thompson went to him and he told him that he had a cancer or a tumor, but it wasn’t big enough to be caused from working at the A plant. No one died, like I said, 42 for cancer. Dr. Sanger said he didn’t have enough exposure for his brain tumor to be related to the plant.

God has a way of taking care of people who don’t take care of their own. And Dr. Sanger was a doctor who was to treat us and to take care of us. He did not take care of the people he experimented on. He even had a young attorney here in Portmouth, Ohio that went to one of the hospitals. He was in his thirties and he was experimented on and he also died too. But I have a list somewhere of all these hospitals that did human experimentations and if you remember the OJ Simpson case, you remember when they were chasing him in this Bronco all over the place. The president came on national TV and apologized to these radiation victims and it was like a five second board. And then all day we watched a blanco run around the streets by these people who were experimented on Got a five second.

I’m sorry that we did this to your people in society. We just got everything mixed up in her heads or something. Our priorities. I remember our priorities of being a young kid was the family, the dinners and leaving our doors unlocked. We never locked our doors. People got along so much better, but we just seemed to be so much so corrupt now that we don’t care about our families and our neighbors. And I took care of my mom. I took care of my dad. I took care of my uncle. I took care of a few of my aunts people that were sick. They never paid me to do this. I didn’t because they were my family. Nowadays, you can’t hardly get people to help your family. My kids, they helped me. I don’t want for nothing. A lot of families aren’t like that anymore. I miss that. I miss that. I miss that.

Maximillian Alvarez:

All right gang, that’s going to wrap things up for us this week. I want to thank our amazing guest, Vina Colley, and as always, I want thank you all for listening and I want to thank you for caring. Be sure to follow the links in the show notes if you’d like to learn more about Vina Struggle and about the current fight to pressure policymakers in DC to include Ohio zip codes adjacent to the US Department of Energy site in Piketon, Ohio in the Federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or Rica program. According to a march press release from Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown’s office, Rika enacted in 1990 provides a one-time benefit payment to individuals who have gotten sick or died as a result of exposure to radiation from atomic weapons testing or uranium mining. Milling or transportation. Rica is currently set to expire in June, 2024. Absent congressional action, Senator Brown was able to secure a commitment from the bill’s sponsors to work to add impacted communities in Pike and Scioto County to rka adding zip codes in Pike and Scioto County to the bill’s nuclear storage exposure provision would ensure workers and residents in Ohio adjacent to the US Department of Energy site and Piketon Ohio are also made eligible for compensation resulting from the improper storage of radioactive material.

So that’s going to do it for us this week, y’all. We’ll see you guys back here next week for another episode of Working People. And if you can’t wait that long, then you know what to do. Go subscribe to our Patreon and check out all the awesome bonus episodes that we’ve got there waiting for you and our patrons and of course, go explore all the other great work we’re doing at the Real News Network where we do grassroots journalism, lifting up the voices and stories from the front lines of struggle. Sign up for the Real News newsletter so you never miss a story and help us do more work like this by going to the real news.com/donate and becoming a supporter today. I promise you it really makes a difference. I’m Maximillian Alvarez. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Solidarity forever.

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