T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History
The Bucket Brigade and dioxin contamination
Haki Vincent by Chelsea Arseneault, 2016.
ARSENEAULT: But I wanted to ask you when did you first become aware that there was pollution in Mossville?

VINCENT: I would say in the '80s. I would . . . Around the middle '80s.

ARSENEAULT: What specific event kind of . . .

VINCENT: Well, they had some spills, toxic spills, and the people in the area where it spilled across the tracks were concerned about their health and the conditions. So that's when it really kicked off.

ARSENEAULT: When you say "across the tracks," what does that mean?

VINCENT: That was east of here. When I say "across the tracks," that's the east part of . . .

ARSENEAULT: You mean like Bel Air?

VINCENT: Yeah, Bel Air area and the east part of Mossville.


VINCENT: That's when we were contacted by some people who were interested in exposing it. And they started what they called the Bucket Brigade. So we were empowered with the knowledge of how the Bucket Brigade worked. We were empowered with . . . See at that time they had those . . . what did they call them?

VINCENT: We started off with pagers. So people would call a certain number and let us know that they smelled whatever they smelled. Shirley and myself were the principal persons who checked on calls that we got from a pager about conditions somewhere in the community. So whenever they called, we would go out to that area and take a sample. We had our buckets, and we would take a sample of whatever we smelled. The sample was mailed to California, to a lab in California, and they would check it and send the results back. So that would go on any time of night or day that we'd get a call. We'd have to run out and check and send the samples in to the lab. So that's how we started. A lot of times the company that we were checking on would call the cops and the cops sought after us or send some of their security out to try to chase us off to keep us from getting samples of the mess that they were dumping. So that would go on on a regular basis quite a bit. We were getting a lot of good samples and a lot of results, and they were getting real shaky about us doing what we were doing. So that was the beginning of the Bucket Brigade.

ARSENEAULT: I definitely want to ask you more about that. But back to like the 1980s. What was spilled [loud cough] that first time?

VINCENT: I think it was dioxin and a lot of other chemicals that they were not revealing what they were. So it was quite a bit that we don't know about.

. . .

ARSENEAULT: What is dioxin?

VINCENT: It's a deadly chemical that’s dealing with plastics. That's the main thing. It's a deadly plastic chemical that's produced for many purposes around here. So that's in the air for the people to breathe.

ARSENEAULT: When did the community first find out that there . . . that it was here in the air?

VINCENT: During the Bucket Brigade investigations, which was quite a few. That's when it was found out.

ARSENEAULT: What was the reaction?

VINCENT: Well, disbelief from a lot of people. Lies from the refineries, mainly through employees that worked for them who don't want to lose their jobs. So that's the basis for their so-called investigations and lies about it not being poisonous and all of this. They even lied to the employees. They don't tell them what they're handling a lot of times. They don't need masks and stuff like that. So a lot of these employees didn't live long after they were exposed. A lot of them have passed away.

ARSENEAULT: If you don't mind me asking, you know what causes . . .

VINCENT: Have what?

ARSENEAULT: Causes of death, do you . . .

VINCENT: Oh, it's a lot of different causes . . . endometriosis . . . it's a lot of names that I can't recall at this time. But there's plenty that we don't know about, too. All we know is that people are disappearing because of the ailments that they're getting . . . receiving from these refineries. A lot of people bring the poison home with them in their clothes, because they handling all of this poison and they don't change their clothes when they leave the refinery. They'll wear them home and expose their children and their family to them, and before you know it they're sick. So a lot of that's happening, too.

. . .

ARSENEAULT: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Bucket Brigade, kind of how it started. VINCENT: Well they started . . . I don't remember the names of the people who were involved. But they started with a group in California. They designed the buckets and the strategy on getting the information. So they came here and gave classes to . . . I think it was about three or four of us on how to operate the buckets and what to do with the material once you gathered the intelligence,

And the lab sends the results back to MEAN [Mossville Environmental Action Now], the organization that's representing Mossville. Then they would determine what it was that we picked up, what time it was, where it was, and the like. So we would be gathering all that information to prove that one refinery or another were dumping poison on the people.

But we're making quite a bit of progress. The refineries were getting really upset because of the information we were gathering. So they started doing more crooked stuff . . . More lies and more deceits.

ARSENEAULT: When they saw y’all out there with the buckets, what would they do?

VINCENT: They would panic. They would get their little crew out, some of their agents. They would call the police, sheriff department. But by that time we would have our sample and gone, because we had strategies set up to find out just where it was coming from, how to go in and get the sample as quick as we can and gone. So that's the way that would be working. We would move pretty fast.

ARSENEAULT: So y’all had a plan beforehand?

VINCENT: Yes. We had a working plan. Most times it would be at night, because that's when they would dump their poison, at night, like a rainy night . . . stuff like that. So we would be out there in the rain and cold and whatever it took to get those samples. So a lot of times we would move, it would be mostly me and Shirley. The way we would do it is she would let me out at a certain spot and she would go down the road. By the time she'd go down the road, turn around and come back, I would have the sample and all I would have to do is just jump in the car with her and we'd take off and get it mailed off to them.
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