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Houston Breakthrough, May 1979
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Houston Breakthrough, May 1979 - Page 11. May 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. January 28, 2021. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/630/show/613.

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 11. 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/613

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 11, May 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed January 28, 2021, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/630/show/613.

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.
File Name index.cpd
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Title Page 11
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File Name femin_201109_550ak.jpg
Transcript ■ IHI^HHHHHIHI shift of July 31 and she reported this to union officials in Washington, along with her charges of defective fuel pins. It was at this point that Karen was informed of the link between plutonium and cancer and the terrible dangers of contamination. Steve Wodka, | young union official reacted strongly to her charges. "If they were true," he said, "the consequences were very deep and very grave, not only for the people in the plant, but for the entire atomic industry and the welfare of the country. "If badly made pins were placed into a reactor without deficiencies being caught, there could be an incident exposing thousands of people to radiation," he warned. Karen was asked by union officials to document health and safety violations, which she did constantly. Her mother recalls Karen's boyfriend telling her that Karen dropped from 112 pounds to 94 during that time. But on November 5, things took a turn for the worse. After a day of working in the Metallography Lab, Silkwood was found to have contamination on her overalls of up to 20,000 disintegrations per minute (Kerr-McGee's limit is set at 500 d/m). She was taken to a shower for decontamination, a procedure that calls for scrubbing three times with a mixture of Tide and Clorox. "By Thursday," she told her friends, "it hurt to cry because the salt in my tears burned my skin." Fecal and urine samples taken Tuesday and Wednesday showed the presence of new levels of plutonium in her body. On Thursday, November 7, she brought in more samples that reached very high levels. It was decided to check her apartment for contamination. A team from Kerr-McGee took preliminary readings and found that the apartment was "hot." The highest levels of contamination appeared to be in the bathroom and the kitchen. And the hottest items of all were the bologna and cheese sandwiches in the refrigerator. After her death, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided that someone had contaminated both the urine samples and the items in the refrigerator. Kerr-McGee has used this point to try to prove that Silkwood contaminated the samples herself. They have accused her of being an unbalanced, hysterical young woman obsessed with her union work and willing to do anything to prove a point. But, Niami Hanson, a local anti-nuclear activist and member of the Mockingbird Alliance says, "The charges that Kerr- McGee made are ridiculous. Exposure to plutonium gives cancer and that is a painful way to die—no one would do that just to embarrass a company." The decontamination squad from the plant removed everything from Silkwood's apartment that showed signs of radiation —including clothes and personal effects— and stowed them in huge drums for burial. After the traumatic experience of seeing her house stripped bare of its possessions, Silkwood called her parents. "The child told me that she had been Karen's parents MERLE and BILL SILKWOOD of Nederland, Texas contaminated by plutonium and she was crying her heart out," her mother remembers. "I asked her what I could do and if she wanted to come home and I remember her saying, 'there's nothing you can do for me, it's a long, slow death.' There's no telling just what that girl had on her shoulders." Karen lived for six more days, but most of that time was taken up with officials of the NRC and Oklahoma State Health Department, who were trying to figure out the extent of her contamination. From November 10 through November 12 Silkwood, her boyfriend Drew Stephens and her roommate Sherri Ellis were flown to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where experiments were made to see how badly they had been contaminated. The doctors were able to put Karen's mind at ease, at least about the short-term effect, not about the long-term dangers, however. On November 13, the final day of Silkwood's life, she met with union officials at a local cafe to discuss contract negotiations. She told them she was on the way to meet union official Steve Wodka and New York Times reporter David Burham. In a sworn affadavit, one of the union officials stated, "Karen appeared to be somewhat weary on that day, but she was alert, speaking clearly and acting normally and it would never have crossed my mind that she could not drive the car safely." Yet in less than an hour, Karen was dead. In discussing whether Kerr-McGee officials actually intended to have Karen murdered, Diana Kohn, wife of Rolling Stone writer Howard Kohn, the first reporter on the story says, "People feel that she was definitely pushed off the road. "But, the culvert could not be seen from the road, so it was possible that the intent to murder was not there. However, there was enough circumstantial evidence to show that they knew she was going to a meet ing with those documents and it was probably a last ditch effort to stop her. The question is, at what point does the intent to harass become murder?" Remembering the terror and grief of that night, Merle Silkwood says, "We were all beside ourselves, if we'd really been on our toes we would all have flown immediately up there. But, we just did not know what she had been involved in." What the Silkwoods decided to do was send a telegram requesting an autopsy. But, Merle remembers that at 3 a.m. they were called by the mortician who, she says, "begged" them to fly up because the government was taking her body to a military hospital for an autopsy. "We had asked for an autopsy," she said, "but they just decided to go over our heads." In retrospect, Merle Silkwood also regrets that they did not take pictures of the place where Karen's car went off the highway. "There were skid marks where Karen's car left the road. It wasn't two weeks after she died that we passed the spot and saw the county paving over that tiny section of road. The county officials said they had the repairs on the books for two years, but I find it hard to believe they just wanted to fix that little spot." National attention was focused on Silkwood's mysterious death almost immediately and supporters gathered around the Silkwood family. In November 1976, after Justice Department and Congressional inquiries foundered, Silkwood's father filed an $11.5 million lawsuit which he hoped would resolve many of the unanswered questions around his daughter's death. The suit charged that Kerr-McGee's negligence resulted in Silkwood's contamination which would have eventually led to her death. Further, it accused Kerr- McGee of conspiring against the Civil Rights Act by violating both her personal rights and her rights as a union member. The last two counts have been sent to the 10th Circuit Court on appeal and the decision on that will be handed down in a year. But, it will definitively answer whether a union member can be protected under the Civil Rights Act. To date, Kohn says, it has been used to protect minorities and women, but not unions. Before the Silkwood-Kerr-McGee trial even came to court, two judges had been disqualified. Luther Eubank was disqualified because, Kohn said, he made "outrageous statements" and Luther Bohan- non was once Senator Robert Kerr's (of the Kerr-McGee Corrj.) campaign manager. However, the Silkwood camp seems to be pleased with Wichita judge Frank Theis, whom they say is "good on the law." The trial opened last March 6, in Oklahoma City. "The Scopes trial (on the theory of evolution) looks like a game of scrabble compared to this. Clarence Darrow was talking about freedom of thought to explore ideas. This trial is for the survival of the species," said Garry Spence, one of the Silkwood lawyers. The trial is currently in its 10th week and in mid-May the opposing lawyers will present their cases to the jury before it goes into deliberation. No one knows how long that will take because the Silkwood and Kerr-McGee lawyers have been "so far apart on so many issues," say those close to the case. The difference between the two teams of lawyers is another interesting aspect of the trial. On the Silkwood side are four lawyers, Danny Sheehan, Jim Ikard, Art Angel and Gerry Spence. Sheehan has . been on the case from the beginning and has mapped out the basic strategy and been responsible for recruiting the other members of the team. A one-time protege of F. Lee Bailey, the 33-year old Sheehan is a veteran of the Pentagon Papers trial. "I love this case," he says, "I know it's a landmark trial, but it is just one in a series of cases that have to be tried for the public's good and well-being." Art Angel was the Federal Trade Commission prosecutor in a 1977 funeral home scandal and local counselor Jim Ikard has been able to thwart Kerr-McGee's numerous attempts to get the case dismissed. These three young lawyers were responsible for recruiting Gerry Spence, a Wyoming trial lawyer well-known for his success in personal injury cases. He is also famous for his flamboyant courtroom techniques, including his flaunting of a brown stetson. At first a skeptic, Spence was dubious about getting involved in a "nuke trial" but as his comment on the Scopes trial indicates, he is now totally involved with the case. Kerr-McGee's chief counselor Bill Paul, is the past president of the Oklahoma Bar Association. He and the six other lawyers on the case have been termed the "men in gray" by Gerry Spence. And according to Merle Silkwood, her husband Bill says, "There is nothing more boring than Houston Breakthrough 11 May 1979