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Houston Breakthrough, May 1979
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Houston Breakthrough, May 1979 - Page 10. May 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. January 22, 2021. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/630/show/612.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(May 1979). Houston Breakthrough, May 1979 - Page 10. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/630/show/612

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough, May 1979 - Page 10, May 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed January 22, 2021, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/630/show/612.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough, May 1979
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date May 1979
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women
  • Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
  • Newsletters
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Text
  • Image
Original Item Location HQ1101 .B74
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the UH Digital Library About page.
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Title Page 10
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File Name femin_201109_550aj.jpg
Transcript %!%!• vs. the nuclear industry by Barbara Farrar Karkabi Environmentalists, feminists and anti-nuclear groups all over the country are anxiously awaiting the outcome of a trial in Oklahoma City that has been called, "the trial of the century." It is the $11.5 million suit by the estate of the late Karen Silkwood against the Kerr-McGee Corporation of Oklahoma. Supporters of the Silkwood case feel that the outcome will affect the development of the nuclear industry in the U.S. The decision will be handed down in a matter of weeks,,if not days. As Judge Frank Theis said, when he was introducing himself to the opposing lawyers in a February 1978 hearing, "There are a lot of ghosts in this case and I'm either going to bury them once and for all, or they're going to get up and walk." The "ghost" in question is Karen Silkwood, a factory employee at Kerr-McGee's plant. She died almost five years ago on Oklahoma State Highway 74 when her 1973 Honda went off the road into a culvert killing the 28-year old driver instantly. Silkwood was on her way to an interview with a New York Times reporter and was allegedly carrying documents concerning the health and safety conditions of the Kerr-McGee Corp.'s Cimarron River plant, almost 30 miles north of Oklahoma City. She was also carrying proof of the production of defective nuclear fuel rods at the plant. The documents Silkwood was carrying were never found, although the last people to see Silkwood alive recounted in a sworn affadavit that she was carrying a brown manila folder and a large notebook. There is no substance more dangerous to humans than plutonium. Exposure to high doses can sicken and kill and even small doses can lie dormant for years and produce cancer as much as 20 years later. The lack of safeguards at the Kerr-McGee plant was the cause of Silkwood's concern. According to reports by the Oklahoma State Police, Silkwood fell asleep at the wheel and her car veered off the road accidentally. Silkwood supporters and many other people around the country believe she was forced off the road. After the accident, nationally known auto-crash expert A.O. Pipkin Jr., of Dallas was hired by the union of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International (OCAW) to investigate the crash. Pipkin, an accident investigator, has done more than 2000 investigations and has testified in 300 court trials. Pipkin's report says that a small, fresh dent on the rear bumper, indicated to him conclusively that the car had been struck from behind by another vehicle. The highway patrol disagrees and says that the dent and scratches occurred when the car struck the concrete culvert while it was being moved by a wrecker. Pipkin says that is not possible. Although the mystery of Silkwood's death may never be solved, many other questions will soon be answered when the KAREN SILKWOOD February 19,1946 - November 13, 1974 trial comes to an end. It is not a question Silkwood supporters say, of Silkwood vs. Kerr-McGee, rather, the whole nuclear industry is on trial. The story began many years ago, in Nederland, Texas, where young Karen Silkwood grew up surrounded by the giant Texaco, Mobil and Gulf oil refineries that produce 10 percent of the nation's oil supply. It is the story of a family's fight to prove that their daughter's death was more than just bad luck. It is a story of a small core of supporters that resolutely refused to give up and over the years gained nationwide support. And lastly, it is the story of a brave young woman who had the courage to take on Kerr-McGee, one of the leaders in the nuclear industry. ation than anyone at the plant," Merle Silkwood recalls. "He also said that he wouldn't work at a nuclear plant for a million dollars, because the government just didn't have enough controls." Karen was also placed in an accelerated chemistry class, one of three girls among 32 boys. The other two girls could not keep up their grades and dropped out causing Merle Silkwood to feel that "it wasn't right" for Karen to stay alone with the boys. But Merle says she was persuaded by the chemistry teacher to let Karen continue. Silkwood went on to college and studied medical technology, but after her first year, eloped with Bill Meadows, a young man she had met in Kilgore, Texas. They subsequently had three children and di- 'There are a lot of ghosts in this case and I'm either going to bury them once and for all, or they're going to sit up and walk." —Judge FrankTheis According to Merle Silkwood, Karen's mother, you can smell the chemicals in the air when you wake up in Nederland. Over the years they cause the paint to peel on houses and cars. "The other day," she says, "one of our neighbors was telling us that we were polluting the atmosphere because we had a small fire behind our house and I told her it couldn't possibly make any difference to our air, it's already so bad." Nederland is the kind of place that would create both a belief in technology and the potential for later disillusionment. Silkwood was a serious student in high school and excelled in science. Merle Silkwood adds that she took a course in physics her senior year in high school and was especially interested in nuclear physics. "I was talking to her high school radiation teacher recently and he was saying that she probably knew more about radi- vorced six years later. Silkwood gave her husband custody of the three children, saying they would have much more security in her husband!s new marriage. In 1972, she moved to Oklahoma City and began to work at the Kerr-McGee plant. Her parents and friends remember that she was determined to make the plant her career and all appeared to go well for the first 20 months. Shortly after, she was employed Silkwood joined the union, unlike the majority of the plant workers. Her mother feels she may have done this out of the memory of her grandfather's stories about the early organizing days of the OCAW in the Nederland-Beaumont area. In the late spring of 1974, Karen was elected one of three governing committee members of the OCAW local. It was at this point, her friends say, that her life changed and would never be the same again. She became concerned gradually and then completely with the health and safety of the workers at the Kerr-McGee plant,, "She was just like that," her mother recalls, "even as a young girl, she was the type of person that was trying to help others." One of her concerns was the fact that Kerr-McGee would hire high school students with no training and send them to work at the labs. "I'm sure that must have upset Karen," her mother says, "she was such a hard worker and perfectionist herself. She wouldn't like to have anyone working with her that didn't know what they were doing." In the four years that the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant had been in operation, there were 17 contamination incidents involving 77 employees. According to a member of the Silkwood investigation team, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has 75 violations listed in their files. The Silkwood trial revealed that, although the link between plutonium and cancer has been known for years, the word cancer was mentioned only once in the plant's handbook. Most of the workers at the trial testified that they were unaware of the dangers. Holes in workers' gloves were not uncommon and on several occasions contaminated workers left the plant without going through the process of decontamination. In the summer of 1974, Silkwood and others began to notice a production speedup and a lowering of safety standards. She also noticed a rapid personnel turnover, which was attributed to long (12 hour) shifts. It was at this point that she began to take notes on various incidents inside the plant. But, it is specifically the last nine days of Silkwood's life, from November 5 to 14, that concerns the Silkwood-Kerr-McGee trial. Sometime during that period, she was contaminated by, what the Silkwood lawyers claim, was enough plutonium to have made her death by cancer inevitable. Silkwood had already received a small amount of contamination on the night' Houston Breakthrough 10 May 1979