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

On Hunger Strike: A Fisherwoman Takes on DuPont

Air Date: Week of

Diane Wilson of Seadrift, Texas has gone on a hunger strike in the hopes of winning an agreement to let an independent water feasibility study take place at an industrial plant that sends its waste water into the river where she earns her living as a fourth generation shrimper. Steve Curwood speaks with Ms. Wilson about her strike.


CURWOOD: In Victoria, Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico, there's a Dupont nylon plant that dumps 8 billion gallons of wastewater into deep wells each year. Some local residents fear that toxic chemicals could leach out of the wells and contaminate their ground water. So Dupont has drawn up a $100 million plan to clean its wastewater and reduce its hazardous waste emissions by 98%. But not all local residents are satisfied. Along with the other changes, Dupont wants to pump its treated wastewater into the Guadalupe River. Diane Wilson, a fourth generation shrimper from Seadrift, Texas, fishes in the Guadalupe. Ms. Wilson doesn't want Dupont discharging any waste water into the river, and she's been on a hunger strike since June 5th, demanding that Dupont look into a zero waste water discharge system. Hello, Ms. Wilson.

WILSON: Hello, there.

CURWOOD: Dupont says they've already studied zero discharge technology. They say this approach is environmentally superior. And that because you're so short of water down there, they figure look, they use 16 million gallons a day, their method will give back 12 million gallons a day.

WILSON: Well, first of all, they have refused to give us the study to show what they did with the zero discharge technology. And secondly, about the water use, is by studying zero discharge technologies, you end up finding ways to conserve the use of water. We don't want Dupont's leftovers. We would much rather them not use as much river water and recycle their own waste.

CURWOOD: We asked Dupont why not reuse their processed waste water if they thought it was a good process, and they say they can't because there's too much salt in it, that when the water gets heated in the plant some of it evaporates and what's left is saltier water. So they're saying the water's too salty for them but not too salty for the river.

WILSON: [Laughs] Yeah. Well I'll tell you what. Salt can be one of the worst things you can have for a bay system, because shrimp follow salt gradients, and they know where to go to an estuary to get their food because they're following how it gets saltier and then fresher. And when you've got something that is pouring nothing but salty water into a bay system, what you've got is this whole species that won't even go into the nursery area. So they're in this much wider basin where there is not the food, there is not the protection. And what you end up doing is killing off a whole crop, a whole species.

CURWOOD: This is not your first hunger strike.


CURWOOD: You also went on a hunger strike against Formosa Plastics.

WILSON: Right.

CURWOOD: What happened there?

WILSON: Well, the first time I went on a hunger strike with Formosa, it was because they were bringing in a $2 billion operation and the EPA administrator said Formosa would not have to do an environmental impact statement. And when I heard that it was like, what can you do? What can you do when you're just real average, you got no money, and so you end up doing the only thing that you have at your disposal, and with me it was myself. I'm not a natural leader, I'm not a natural speaker, I have not had training in being this activist that I've become. It's just a development from the things that have happened down here, and I just refuse to allow them to get our whole bay system.

CURWOOD: Tell me a bit about your hunger strike. What exactly are you consuming?

WILSON: Drinks and water.

CURWOOD: How do you feel?

WILSON: [Laughs] I'm tired. I'm tired.

CURWOOD: How long did you have to go on a hunger strike with Formosa Plastics?

WILSON: Well see, I've done 3 of them. The first 2 it took 2 weeks and the third one it took me 30 days.

CURWOOD: And what's happened as a result of those hunger strikes?

WILSON: Well, the first one, the EPA changed their decision and made them do an environmental impact statement. And then the second one, I did a hunger strike to stop the construction until they completed the environmental impact statement. My attorney got up a pretty good agreement with them. My third one that took my shrimp boat, 42-foot shrimp boat and attempted to sink it on top of their discharge point because they were discharging without their permit. It was a violation of Federal law. It didn't matter.

CURWOOD: Now, you're a fourth generation shrimper.

WILSON: That's right.

CURWOOD: Tell me how the river and the shrimping business has changed since your childhood. Or has it?

WILSON: Well, it's dramatically changed. Being a shrimper is kind of like being a gambler. Sometimes you have good days, sometimes bad days. But you used to make a decent living. You could support your family and your children wanted to go into it. And now, what we have is a town that is dying. The shrimpers, they work all year long trying to make a living. They in oysters, they tried in fishing, they tried in bait shrimping, bay shrimping, Gulf shrimping, and they are not making it.

CURWOOD: Why is this? Pollution, or over-fishing, do you think?

WILSON: I'd say it's a combination of both. What you get is this vicious cycle. You get all this pollution. You get all these fishermen trying to make a harder effort at it. And what you get is a crisis on the bay.

CURWOOD: What will it take for you to end your hunger strike against Dupont?

WILSON: It will take Dupont agreeing to a zero discharge study of how to recycle their waste stream. That's what it will take. That's the only thing it will take.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

WILSON: Well, I sure appreciate you all calling.

CURWOOD: Diane Wilson is 4th generation shrimper in Seadrift, Texas.



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