TRYING TIMES

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Sept. 20, 1995

Fifteen environmental activists are charged with trespassing for their Times Beach protest

“It’s kind of easier to just close your eyes to what’s going, on” says Jillian Borchard. The thought causes her to do just that. She shakes her head, unfurling hanks of tousled brown hair. Traffic noise envelopes her laugh, which is lost in the chatter at the sidewalk cafe on Delmar.

The levity of the moment masks serious concerns the young woman has about her future. Brochard is a 22-year-old art student at Washington University . She is also a criminal in the myopic vision of the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office.

Last Friday, Borchard and 14 other environmental activists were formally charged with first-degree trespassing for their involvement in a protest that took place at the site of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator on July 27. On that day, St. Louis County police arrested the demonstrators who stepped past a gate at the Superfund site entrance. The maximum sentence for the offense is six months in jail or a $500 fine, or both.

Opponents of the incinerator say stack emissions will endanger public health by dispersing dioxin into the air. Officials for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contend that the plan is safe. Test burns may begin as soon as November, with the incineration of some 100,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated soil from 27 sites in Eastern Missouri scheduled to begin early next year.

Borchard and Sarah Bantz, another of the protestors who was charged, are members of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) at Washington University. Both suspect that the timing of the issuance of the charges was more than coincidental. In their opinion, the legal hurdles are being used to diffuse opposition to the project as the date of the test burn approaches.

Efforts to stop the incinerator continued last Tuesday, when more than two dozen opponents took over the agenda of the monthly Dioxin Monitoring Committee meeting. In addition, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent (R Chesterfield) met with four West St. Louis County mayors the preceding day. The elected officials discussed seeking a delay in the project. In the past, Talent has asked that the incineration be halted at least until the completion of a congressionally-sponsored study.

Neither Brochard nor Bantz have been informed by the county of the charges against them. Instead, they learned of their legal situation from a news account. “I don’t understand why the public knows about this before the person involved,” says Bantz.

Both women say they felt compelled to commit civil disobedience after other means failed. “Nobody wants this,” says Bantz. “It just seems like everything has been tried, and nothing works. It is not easy to get involved. You’re not expected to do anything except maybe vote,” says Bantz. “You reach this point,” she says, “where you have no option other than throw yourself at the authorities and say, `I am willing to put my body on the line to stop this.'”

Ten of the 15 defendants charged with trespassing at Times Beach are women. Organo-chlorines — including dioxin — have been blamed for increased levels of breast cancer. There is evidence women are at higher risk because dioxin-like chemicals are absorbed by fat and females naturally have a higher percentage in their bodies.

Bantz and Borchard have begun to decorate a wall of their apartment with the responses that they have received from elected officials, all of whom are males, incidentally. There are letters from the governor, the congressman and the county executive. “They’re just all the same,” says Bantz. “I’ve gotten so many responses saying it’s going to be safe — don’t worry about it.”

A benefit concert for the Times Beach 15 is tentatively scheduled for Oct 7 at Washington University. For more information on how to contribute to the legal defense fund call 458-5026, or write: P.O. Box 50, Clarkson Center, Suite 493, Chesterfield, Mo., 63017.

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