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the T.D.A. main office in Austin, and one with the field investigator. Moreover, most of the information collected by Fisher had already been released to the public by Fisher’s superiors in 1991, against his wishes and normal protocol. “That gave VPG a chance to counter everything before I had even finished my investigation,” Fisher said. Documents released included the names and addresses of all of Fisher’s confidential informants. Fisher also claims his personnel records were released to VPG officials by the Perry administration, apparently in an effort to discredit him. “They wanted information on my health status, my adopted son, everything,” Fisher said. Fisher decided to take his file to an attorney in Paris and have a copy made before turning it over to his supervisors. After the meeting in Tyler adjourned, E.W. Wesley asked Fisher if he had brought his VPG file. Fisher retrieved the file from his truck, and handed it to Larry Beauchamp. “Larry opened it up and looked at it and said, ‘You can just shitcan this investigation,'” Fisher recalls. Then, he says, Wesley asked the Tyler office secretary, Sue Ramsey, where the district’s pesticide complaint file was kept, and she directed him to a bank of filing cabinets. “Most of your pesticide complaints, you had one file folder this one [VPG] had four. And instead of putting it in manila folders, I put it in white folders, with big thick rubber bands around it,” Fisher explains. That was how he recognized the file Wesley pulled from the cabinet. “He stuck ’em under his left arm, he walked right out that front door between Miss Sue and me, and never said a word to nobody.” Beauchamp and Wesley then drove off with two of the three official files on Fisher’s investigation, the third being in Austin. Fisher’s Xerox copy of the file is now in the possession of the Houston law firm of McClanahan and Clearman, who are representing several plaintiffs in VPG related suits. COMMERCE AND RIDGEWAY Just what was in those files? They contained all of Fisher’s field notes from the Bonham investigation but Fisher hadn’t stopped there. He had also begun investigating arsenic contamination at VPG-related sites in Commerce and Ridgeway. VPG Superfund site, Commerce During Fisher’s first visit with VPG president Mike Smith, Water Commission investigator Hayes brought up the subject of a child who had been poisoned several years earlier, while playing near VPG’s original plant site in nearby Commerce. “He jumped up and commenced to cussin’ , saying that was nobody’s business,” Fisher recalls. His curiosity piqued, Fisher decided to visit the old Commerce site, which had been ordered closed by the state in 1972. Again, he took samples. A safety limit often used by the Environmental Protection Agency for arsenic is 20 parts per million. One of Fisher’s samples registered 22,000 ppm. VPG’s original Commerce plant was located in a black neighborhood called Norris. Although few had heard of the place in 1989, Norris became Texas’s version of Love Canal. The original plant was shut down by the state after the Houston Post revealed that the company had routinely dumped its arsenic waste, along with other toxic materials, into Sayles Creek, which ran through one side of the property. Runoff from the plant site had thoroughly contaminated the surrounding neighborhood, exposing hundreds of residents to arsenic, which many now blame for the high rates of birth defects and cancer in Norris. VPG was up and running again in Bonham in only four months time, but the old Com Nate Blakeslee merce site was never cleaned up. Although the state had known about the contamination as early as 1961, residents were not informed of the danger, by either the company or state agencies, until the early 1990s. The site was finally cleaned under the Superfund program in 1995. Workers in contamination suits removed about six inches of topsoil from the yards of dozens of houses surrounding the site. Sayles Creek now has a seven-foot barbed wire fence along both sides of its entire route through town. While Fisher was in Commerce, a longtime resident tipped him off about the location of a third site, this one near the unincorporated community of Ridgeway, about ten miles from Commerce. After the closing of the Commerce site, the company had purchased a piece of land on top of a hill, dug several evaporation ponds, and dumped arsenic-laden waste into the ponds. The idea was to allow the arsenic to precipitate out as the water evaporated, then backfill the ponds with soil. Heavy rains caused the ponds to overflow, however, and runoff began damaging neighbors’ livestock. Eventually, the site also apparently contaminated the underlying aquifer, which supplies all of the water for the roughly 4,000 residents of Ridgeway. In his investigation, See “Rick Perry,” page 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7 OCTOBER 23, 1998