USA Today Tells the Sad Story of Venice, Illinois


Back in January, Riverfront Times published "Meltdown in Venice," a feature story detailing the  many troubles of Venice, a tiny, rundown industry town just across the river from St. Louis in southern Illinois. Hundreds of people there -- almost all of whom are poor and black -- suffer from cancer or lung ailments. Many blame their health problems on a factory that once processed uranium and other radioactive materials for the U.S. Government.

Led by a former factory worker named Larry Burgan -- who himself suffers from a variety of bizarre maladies -- the residents of Venice are attempting to file a lawsuit against the Dow Chemical Company (the former owners and operators of the factory) and cajole federal health officials into testing the village's soil and water to determine if the area is still toxic.

At the time we visited it was impossible to determine whether or not the sickness in the town was actually caused by the factory. Scientists, public health experts and legal scholars said that, although the people had ample reason to suspect they had been poisoned, there was little chance of actually discovering a direct link and winning in a court of law.

Yesterday, USA Today filed their own dispatch from Venice. Here's an excerpt:
In June 2009, the committee petitioned the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, to investigate. Spokeswoman Vivi Abrams says there "isn't enough data at this point to adequately evaluate exposure to residents." The agency is discussing options with the Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies, she says.

Gail Renshaw, a lawyer working with the group, is "convinced there's a cancer cluster" in Venice that was caused by the plant: "Proving it is another story, so we need the testing."

If a link is established, those affected might be able to sue for damages, says Patti Goldman, vice president for litigation at Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm.

People here just want answers.
Click to read the whole story: "Neighbors suspicious of factory, blame ailments on it"

And click here to see RFT videos of Burgan and Venice Mayor Tyrone Echols.

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