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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Living on Earth Profile #5: Lisa Crawford...Citizen Turned Anti-Nuclear Weapons Waste Activist

Air Date: Week of

Once a quiet Ohio housewife, Lisa Crawford is credited with helping expose the lethal dangers created by the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, starting with her own neighborhood. Lorna Jordan met with Mrs. Crawford and spoke with her and some others who know her, in this Living on Earth Profile Series report.


CURWOOD: As part of our series on 25 people who have made a difference for the environment, today we meet Lisa Crawford. She says she was a quiet housewife in southwestern Ohio, when she discovered that a nuclear bomb factory in her neighborhood had poisoned her drinking water supply and perhaps her family. She joined a community group and began trying to find out just how much the making of nuclear weapons had contaminated her town. Today, thanks in part to her work, the Department of Energy now admits it may cost as much as a quarter of a trillion dollars to clean up the atomic mess left by the cold warriors in bomb making plants around the country. Lorna Jordan of member station WVXU in Cincinnati has our story.

JORDAN: Lisa Crawford decided to join the Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health, or FRESH, after learning that the well which supplied her family's house with drinking water was contaminated from the Fernald uranium processing plant next door.

CRAWFORD: And I was just so horrified by that. I could not, I just couldn't fathom why something like this could happen, you know, to this Midwest American family who had never done anything wrong except pay their taxes and be good citizens.

JORDAN: Crawford says concern over the effect the radiation exposure may have had on her son led her to get involved. Fear of those effects also stopped her from having any additional children. Ten years ago, Crawford knew little about the bomb plant which stood near her tiny white clapboard farm house outside Cincinnati. In fact, she thought the checkerboard water tower meant they made dog food at the facility.

CRAWFORD: People laugh when I say this. I was this really quiet little housewife who went to work every day and took care of her child and, you know, cleaned my house every Saturday, and always came home and cooked dinner. And I never thought that I would testify before Congress. I never thought I'd fly in an airplane, and now I just fly all the time. I never thought I could stand up in front of a room, you know, with 3- or 4- or 500 people in it and speak. You know, if somebody would have told me, you know, 15 years ago that I was going to do this I would have told them they were a damn liar.

JORDAN: And today Crawford is serving on a committee established by the Department of Energy to monitor the clean-up. In those early years, Crawford was part of a burgeoning movement of people scattered across the country who'd become concerned about pollution at local nuclear weapons plants. Soon they realized the need for a national group, and Lisa Crawford was among the people who helped to form what is now known as the Military Production Network. Bill Mitchell, the original president of MPN, says the fact that Crawford wasn't a long-time activist proved to be an asset.

MITCHELL: Lisa and the experience of the people in Fernald and the group, the FRESH group, was really kind of very important because not many people had had, oh, their well water contaminated, had their concerns about their kids and their communities so immediately pushed in their face. And had had the Department of Energy obfuscate and lie to them about what was going on.

JORDAN: Crawford helped transform the Military Production Network into an influential lobbying group. Senator John Glenn tells the story of getting letters from Crawford's group and thinking the problem couldn't possibly be as bad as they said. But a visit to the plant convinced him the pollution was actually worse.
He says Crawford deserves a lot of credit for bringing the contamination to national attention.

GLENN: You know, we can deal with with nuclear radiation experts and toxic waste experts here in Washington. We can deal with them here and they have a lot of expertise and so on. But it's even more impressive to me, and I think most other people, when you have people out there in the communities and they can tell you first-hand their experience with them and their children and what it's like to live next to a plant like that, where they're trying to get things cleaned up. So I think they perform a very valuable function when they come in like that.

JORDAN: In addition to bringing the problem to the attention of Congress, Crawford used the legal system as an ally. She spearheaded an effort to sue the Department of Energy for diminished property values and emotional distress. That successful lawsuit has become a model for other groups suing the government over radioactive contamination. While Crawford worked within the system to change the laws and attitudes, she is still angered by the government's conduct in building its nuclear arsenal.

CRAWFORD: For 40 years they built these weapons. They contaminated the land, the water, the dirt, the soil, the air, everything. And they never used them. You know, and I really believe, I feel like they were used on the American people.

JORDAN: And that's why Lisa Crawford says she'll continue her fight against proposals now in Congress to drastically cut back the clean-up of the nation's nuclear weapons plants. For Living on Earth, this is Lorna Jordan in Cincinnati.



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