Ponca Tribe members file complaint against Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality

Tuesday, August 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PONCA CITY, Okla. (AP) -- Members of the Ponca Tribe have filed a civil rights complaint against the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality for not investigating their allegations of pollution.

Representatives of about 11 households adjacent to the Continental Carbon Co. site said they filed the complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday.

According to the complaint, the DEQ violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not investigating claims made by the residents who are tribal members.

"Unlike the predominantly Caucasian and more affluent families living further from the plant, members of the Ponca Tribe do not get their polluted properties cleaned at the company's expense," the document states.

"The officials of Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality have allowed members of the Ponca Tribe and others to be subjected to dangerous pollution that would never be tolerated in their own communities."

DEQ spokeswoman Monty Elder said the agency hadn't received notification of any action by the group.

"However, we believe the record clearly reflects that we have taken action to evaluate and address the environmental issues at Continental Carbon, including those raised by the Ponca Tribe, and we will continue to do so as needed," Elder said.

Area residents have suffered because of pollution coming from the site that produces carbon black, which is used to make hoses, tires and other rubber products, tribal member Jeffrey Lieb said.

A fine black soot enters their homes and bodies, Lieb said.

"Every time our children go out and play in the grass, their shoes are all black, their hands are all black," he said.

Lieb, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1974, said his family has suffered respiratory ailments. Neighbors also are worried because recent research indicates the dust can cause cancer, he said.

The agency and the EPA conducted a joint inspection in June and will take any appropriate action after the inspection report is evaluated, Elder said.

The state agency has worked with the company to resolve issues raised in three notices of violations in 2002, as well as others in previous years, she said.

Blake Lewis, Continental Carbon spokesman, said company officials believe the latest complaint stems from a long-standing labor dispute with the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union.

"For the past two-and-a-half years the Ponca City plant has had numerous inspections from the regulatory agencies as a result of allegations of violations by PACE (the union). At no time has any regulator sought to prevent CCC from operating," he said.

Representatives of the residents have said the union has been involved in raising environmental concerns because its members also want to make sure the company is operating safely.