OVEC’s History and Successes

OVEC is people working together for a cleaner environment

OVEC formed in 1987 to mobilize citizen opposition to a proposed huge BASF chemical company hazardous waste incinerator near Ironton, OH. After OVEC’s successful eight-month long, three-state organizing effort, working closely with the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers’ international union, the proposal was canceled.

In 1989, OVEC uncovered and publicized evidence indicating toxic waste leakage at an Aristech Chemical company’s Haverhill, Ohio hazardous waste deep injection well. As a result of citizen pressure, Ohio and U.S. Environmental Agencies cracked down on Aristech with stiff fines and the company has agreed to close the well. In a letter to OVEC regarding Aristech, Dr. Richard Shank, Former Director of the Ohio EPA, said, “I hope OVEC continues the work the organization has started on Aristech and other environmental issues.”

OVEC protested the then unregulated burning of chemical wastes as boiler fuel at the BASF plant in Huntington. OVEC’s work on this issue was the subject of two articles in Chemical Week (December 27, 1989 and March 28, 1990), and led to additional state inspections at the plant. New federal regulations on boiler waste burning have since been promulgated.

In February 1990, OVEC members petitioned the U.S. EPA to investigate abandoned chemical waste dumps along the Guyandotte River in East Huntington for Superfund cleanup status. While EPA action lagged, OVEC pressure on West Virginia officials resulted in covering the surface of the dumps to reduce public exposure from contaminated dusts.

On Earth Day 1990, OVEC publicly issued a “Pollution Prevention Challenge to Tri-State industries” demanding that the “Toxic Top 20” industries implement pollution prevention programs to reduce their use and emissions of toxic and hazardous chemicals. Several companies, including Ashland Oil, Allied-Signal, Aristech Chemical, Armco Coke and Steel, Dow Chemical, Dupont, and Goodyear responded and most have since announced emissions reduction plans.

During the summer of 1991, OVEC members organized considerable pressure on the U.S. Forest Service to appeal a U.S. District Court ruling allowing strip mining in the Wayne National Forest in southern Ohio. Letters and phone calls from the citizens in three states persuaded the Forest Service to appeal the decision.

OVEC has organized community opposition to the City of Huntington’s solid waste management proposal, which includes garbage incineration.

Ashland Oil, Inc.

In 1983, aided by the efforts of current OVEC staff and members, a groundswell of widely publicized citizen outrage developed over serious pollution problems at Ashland Oil Inc.’s petrochemical refinery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. A new gasoline production unit, designed to process the most heavily contaminated oil, routinely spewed toxic and caustic material onto refinery neighbors’ property in Kentucky and West Virginia, resulting in health complaints of skin burns and breathing problems, and property damage from pitted glass and dissolved paint.

OVEC lead a ten-year battle over the pollution from Ashland’s Catlettsburg refinery. OVEC was extremely effective at raising public awareness about pollution problems at Ashland Oil, particularly as a result of successful work with regional and statewide media outlets. Our media work has increased public concern over air quality in the region.

OVEC educated members and citizens with regard to specific permit applications made by Ashland Oil and organized opposition to applications for increased discharges of pollutants, which would have kept an apparently leaking hazardous waste landfill open. Often, more than 150 citizens attended public hearings and many voiced specific objections to the proposals.

OVEC worked closely with the National Student Environmental Action Coalition to organize a march and rally to Ashland Oil’s corporate headquarters in April, 1991. Students demanded pollution reductions from the company.

OVEC organized letter-writing and telephone campaigns to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offices in Atlanta, Georgia, and to the Kentucky Division for Air Quality, demanding that the agencies hold Ashland Oil accountable for its violations of the federal Clean Air Act and that the EPA follow through on recommendations from their Tri-State air quality and health studies released in December, 1990.

OVEC members in Kenova, WV, organized a petition drive to U.S. Senator Robert Byrd and other Congressmen demanding they require the EPA to uphold the law and enforce environmental regulations at Ashland Oil.

A 1991 telephone and letter-writing campaign to the West Virginia Air Pollution Control Commission resulted in placement of a carbon monoxide monitor in Kenova to monitor emissions from the refinery.

OVEC organized citizens to put pressure on Kentucky’s environmental agency to require the phase out of hydrofluoric acid (HF) at Ashland Oil, and to implement strong interim safety standards for HF, similar to those adopted in California. Many refineries use sulfuric acid instead of HF. HF has the potential to kill or seriously injure refinery workers and neighbors in the event of an accidental release.

Specific successes resulted from OVEC’s Ashland Oil organizing efforts, including the installation of new pollution control equipment at the refinery and a decrease in the frequency of fallout episodes. OVEC efforts helped stimulate the U.S. EPA to conduct in-depth inspections relating to air, water, and hazardous waste pollution at the refinery.

Finally, in response to persistent (ten-years) and intense pressure from OVEC members and the organized surrounding communities, the US Department of Justice fined Ashland $5.8 million, and forced them to put aside over $30 million to bring their three US refineries into full compliance with pollution laws. Ashland was forced to install video cameras linked to regulators’ offices for pollution monitoring-the first such action taken in the United States. The neighborhood air is much cleaner now!

In 1990, Hisham Saaid, then acting Director of the Kentucky Division for Air Quality, wrote in a letter to OVEC: “I was impressed by the thoroughness of OVEC’s reports and your understanding of the factors affecting air quality in the Tri-State area.”

OVEC’s Director was the local coordinator for a health study funded by Vanderbilt University and Stanford University Medical School. Results found very high illness rates in Kenova, WV, immediately downwind of Ashland oil’s refinery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. Illness rates in Kenova were significantly higher when compared to residents of Milton, WV, a town 1-5 miles east of Kenova that is not highly impacted by pollution. Study results were released in early 1990.

OVEC researched and released a 1991 report based on EPA Toxic Release Inventory data which implicates Ashland Oil as the major emitter of hazardous pollutants in the Tri-State. This was publicized by newspapers, TV, and radio in three states.

In January 1992, OVEC completed a comparison of Ashland oil’s air emissions with those of the 27 other largest U.S. refineries. The in depth research documented Ashland as being one of the heaviest polluting refineries in the country. OVEC’s research was front-page news in five newspapers, was carried on state-wide radio in West Virginia and Ohio, and featured in TV news reports.

OVEC is people researching and publicizing regional environmental issues

OVEC members have testified before the West Virginia Air Pollution Control Commission and West Virginia legislative committees on the need for stronger air pollution control regulations and toxics use reduction laws. An OVEC representative was invited to speak before a Congressional subcommittee on wetlands regulation.

OVEC staff and members are frequently invited to participate on panel discussions, speak at symposia, or serve on important committees such as the Tri-State Ozone Policy Oversight Committee, National Institute for Chemical Studies Toxics Reduction “Scorecard” Advisory Committee, and Cabell / Wayne Local Emergency Planning Committee, and many, many more.

Apple Grove Pulp and Paper Mill

In 1997, OVEC won a nationally significant victory, after organizing and coalition building for over eight years, preventing the construction of the continent’s largest pulp and paper mill, after the company insisted on using heavily polluting technologies, and refused to use less – polluting technologies in a low-income, already polluted area. State economic development officials had promised the pulp mill company over one billion dollars in various forms of corporate welfare, even though the company would not commit to hiring West Virginia workers. We stimulated major public discussion on the issue of sustainable and just use of taxpayer dollars on economic development in West Virginia, and this attracted a broad range of constituencies to join in our struggle. OVEC’s fourth “Stop the Pulp Mill” rally at the state capitol drew over 1000 participants.

During the struggle, OVEC researched the plans of Alabama River Pulp and Paper, a British owned corporation, to build the largest pulp and paper mill in North America in our region. OVEC has written and distributed fact sheets on the company’s plan to use an outdated and heavily polluting technology, chlorine bleaching, and on the potential impact to our region’s forests.

Several OVEC members testified at a West Virginia state hearing on a dioxin water discharge standard sought by Alabama River Pulp. Despite testimony from environmental and labor groups, a dioxin standard 90 times weaker than EPA recommended levels was recommended by the WV Water Resources Board.

OVEC worked with other environmental and labor groups to prevent this weakened standard from being enacted into law during the 1992 West Virginia legislative session.

OVEC is people educating the public on environmental concerns

OVEC members attending the Ohio University Southern Campus’s first in a series of symposia on business and environmental concerns organized opposition to the pro-business composition of the 1990 panel, hostility towards environmental concerns and undisclosed financial backing of the symposia by industry. As a result, the format of subsequent symposia was changed to include legitimate environmental panelists, financial supporters were publicized, and OVEC Director Dianne Bady wrote a lengthy chapter in the high school curriculum which resulted from the symposia. This curriculum was distributed to 16 regional high schools in 1992.

In 1991, OVEC organized a state-wide “Bring Your Own Toxics / Trash” rally and march at the West Virginia Capitol to bring attention to environmental contamination and the need for strong toxics use reduction policies. Citizens from over 20 West Virginia counties attended and West Virginia’s Governor and Attorney General spoke at the rally.

OVEC Director Dianne Bady and Dr. Richard Bady were funded by the West Virginia Humanities Council to research and write a “History of West Virginia Environmental issues” which will be included in a book to be published in December 1992.

Over the years, OVEC has developed a series of educational Fact Sheets dealing with area environmental problems. Fact Sheet topics include the health effects of specific pollutants on, analyses of health and air quality studies conducted in the area, lists of environmental regulatory agencies, and issues surrounding the Ashland Oil refinery, the proposed pulp mill, mountaintop removal and more.

OVEC representatives have spoken to grade school, high school and university classes, civic groups, church groups and more.

OVEC works with other organizations to promote a cleaner environment

During the Ashland struggle, OVEC was part of a nationwide “cluster group” working to improve U.S. EPA regulation of petroleum refineries.

OVEC is a participating organization in the Clean Air Network, a coalition of local, state, and national groups working on implementation of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.

OVEC joined with the United Steelworkers Union, and several national and state environmental groups, in a 1992 news conference to publicize the Ravenswood (WV) Aluminum Corporation’s irresponsible dumping of toxic chemicals. Subsequent state and federal inspections found that the company’s practice of dumping untreated cyanide into the Ohio River had ceased.

OVEC’s Research Coordinator was funded to speak about OVEC’s Toxic Release Inventory research at a 1992 Washington DC conference sponsored by U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

OVEC joined with the West Virginia Environmental Council and the Ohio Environmental Council in a resolution opposing chlorine bleaching at the proposed huge pulp mill in Mason County, WV. (1992)

OVEC joined with the Affiliated Construction Trades Union in urging West Virginia to adopt a “non-detectable” dioxin drinking water standard. (1992)

OVEC cooperated with the Natural Resources and Defense Council’s 1992 efforts to force full regional enforcement of the federal Clean Air Act.

OVEC worked with the WV Environmental Council to organize citizens in McDowell County, WV, to oppose large scale garbage importation and disposal, and to influence West Virginia’s statewide solid waste policies.

As a founding member of the People’s Election Reform Coalition, OVEC works with to build an ever-increasing and diversified coalition of groups supporting Clean Money, Clean Election initiatives.

OVEC works with organizations opposing mountaintop removal including Coal River Mountain Watch, WV Rivers Coalition, WV Highlands Conservancy and others.

In response to OVEC’s extensive outreach, five statewide Christian denominations in West Virginia passed resolutions calling for a halt to mountaintop removal.