T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History
Impact of a chemical leak at Condea Vista, and the buyout of homes
Brenda Cole Jones by Stephanie Dragoon, 2016.
STEPHANIE DRAGOON: In 1980, Condea Vista announced that EDC [ethylene dichloride] had been leaked into the Mossville groundwater?

BRENDA COLE JONES: See I didn't . . .

DRAGOON: Do you remember much about that?

JONES: No I don't. The first I remember about the EDC situation was in the nineties when the class- action lawsuit came about. I didn't know anything about it before then.

DRAGOON: Were you surprised to hear that?

JONES: Yes I was. Yeah because like I said my mother was still living in the community, my in-laws were still there, and they didn't know anything about it either until this lawsuit came about. And that's around the time when the buyout came about in the late nineties, like '98, because my mother lived there until that time, and so did my in-laws. And I guess a lot of things that went on a lot of people wouldn't talk to me about it because maybe they felt, because I worked for the industry, that I would be biased if they said something to me about it, or to my mother. So I think that's the reason I didn't hear a lot of what was going on.

DRAGOON: Do you know anything about the effort to clean up the area? Did you hear . . .?

JONES: I remember, you know, that there was a big effort between the two companies Condea Vista . . . I think it was still Condea Vista at the time and maybe it was Sasol, I can't really remember, and Conoco to get that cleaned up.

DRAGOON: In 1997, I believe that's when they were doing blood tests and finding that Mossville residents had a higher level of dioxin in their blood?

JONES: I remember seeing that on the news and hearing about it, yes.

DRAGOON: Yeah. What . . . Do you remember what people were talking about during that time? Were people worried? Were you worried?

JONES: No, I wasn't worried. I remember people saying, you know, that a lot of that had come from the EDC leak and that's what had made the dioxins into their system. But my mother never was tested, so I didn't really have a clear understanding as what all was being done on a lot of that.

DRAGOON: Can you tell me more about the buyouts? The first buyouts.

JONES: All I can remember is that they got letters from Vista and they were saying that they were going to buy . . . Offering to buy them out. They had in there what they were offering them as the purchase price for their homes. And a lot of people, from what I can understand, they had a group that went to them and said, "Okay if you sign this paper you're going to get this amount of money." And they didn't really have a good understanding as to what a share was. Because I think, if I'm not mistaken, they were paid by the share and the people that had gotten them to sign up, when they did find out what amount they were getting, some were really disappointed because it was nowhere near what they thought they were getting.

I remember telling my mother not to sign if she wasn't comfortable with doing it, and she was really concerned that if she signed that might have some kind of effect on my job. And I said, "Honey, if they're going to let me go they're going to let me go whether you sign or not." I said, "Just . . . I just don't want you to be left by yourself back here. Everybody else is selling and moving out." Because it was going to be really deserted. So she kind of waited. She didn't sign up when she got the first letter. And I went with . . . My sister had come from Houston and she and I went to meetings so we could try to hear some of what they were saying. Judge Gray was there and he was telling the people to sign up and they could not . . . Sasol did not have . . . I think he called it Sasol, maybe it was Condea Vista, didn't have the right to force them, I think is what he said, for them to sign. So people then started I think getting a little more comfortable about receiving the letters and not feeling that this is something that they really, really had to do. My mother did eventually sign to move, but she was at the very last couple of days. She barely got in before they shut down the buyout date.

DRAGOON: And what happened to the home? Your childhood home.

JONES: They gave them an option. You could sell the house yourself. They would buy it, but then you could take the house and sell it, but you had to have it off the property by the time they gave you the money. So if you . . . The day you got your money, your check for your house and property, you had to be off the property. You couldn't go back. So, you know, some people were able to sell their homes and get a little extra money, and then others were not. So if you didn't sell to someone else, then they just went in and had somebody to tear it down. So you had to try to get out everything that you needed and wanted out of there before you accepted that check. Now they did pay additional monies for I think they called it water contamination. I'm not too sure, but I think they did pay that. So that was additional monies that they got.

DRAGOON: And that was . . . Who got that money?

JONES: The residents. And, like, if you had lived . . . had been a resident of the community, but you had to have proof that you had lived there. You had to have documentation for the number of years that you were claiming that you lived there. So they gave you a list of things that you could have for your documentation as having lived there for the number of years that you said. And you'd have to bring that with you when you would go to a meeting.
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