Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Infant Mortality Redux

All I can say is "It's about damn time".

If anyone affiliated with the municipal government read Aimee Edmondson's award-winning series for The Commercial Appeal about the high infant mortality rate in the 38108 ZIP code referenced here, there's been no evidence of it.

Ditto for the county government. Ditto for the state government. And don't even get me started on the feds.

So it was nice to see this on the Action News 5 website today:
A class action lawsuit claims to prove that there is a link between the infant mortality rate in one Memphis neighborhood and the chemicals that polluted a nearby creak.

Okay, it was less nice to see that whoever wrote the copy for that story can't spell the word "creek" properly, but the news is good.

The case will be tried by Javier Bailey, recent candidate for Chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee, and focuses on one company, Velsicol. The suit alleges that the high infant mortality rate is the direct result of chemical spills into Cypress Creek.

I don't know that there's only one factor, and I don't know that Velsicol is the culprit. Every time I've wondered about the infant mortality rate there, my thoughts have run back to the North Hollywood Dump, a former Superfund site allegedly cleaned up in 1997. Of course, it was in such nasty shape that the dumping that took place there in the 1930's and 40's was still considered to be a problem in the 1980's and 90's.

There are many other factors that could lead to a high infant mortality rate as well--- Lack of prenatal care, high teenage birth rates, and abject poverty, among others.

Those require a lifetime investment in time. And these communities need to elect leaders that are willing to work on those problems. If they can't speak to the issue, then don't give them the job, ferchrissake.

If there's an outside factor that is causing that rate to go up, the people deserve to know. And lawsuits such as this one are how that happens.


PeskyFly said...

Yes, it's important not to make a polluted creek the scape goat--- at least not until all the facts are in.

Freedonian said...


I still keep thinking about the North Hollywood Dump. How many generations were poisoned before that was cleaned up? Pesticide, heavy metal poisoning... And 10,000 people within a 3 mile radius.

Wanna bet there's nothing hazardous being buried at the Frank Road Dump in Collierville? No one risks the lawsuits in areas where people have resources...

Desi Franklin said...

All these sweet little lives that have been cut short deserve the highest quality investigation into why. It's a shame a well respected lawyer didn't file the case - or maybe that's because there is more to it and those who one would think might do this, e.g., Rich Fields, don't think this is a great case.

Who knows?

Anyway, here is the website info for the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, where one can easily find publicly available information on the status of Mr. Javier Bailey, Esq.'s law license, which is suspended (he's on probation) until 2009 - for the second time in 10 years.

(Thanks for the info on how to link, etc., Freedonian, but I haven't had time to master it.)

This situation really is vitally important. Hope this effort at litigation isn't just insult to injury.

nut-meg said...

How many times have we talked about this issue! And I'm still FURIOUS about it!

I'm sure the pollution in the creek could EASILY be a big part of the problem. Plus, lack of access to health care, lack of education etc. It's just making me scream.

Freedonian said...


The link didn't work, but I did a little digging based on what you told me, and I was not at all pleased with what I found here, here, or here.

I'm largely taking your word on who the most qualified attorneys in the area are. I don't really know myself.

Do you think it's actually a case of the more reputable attorneys passing up on it, or is it that an attorney with the serious need for some image rehab saw a chance to get some headlines?

I want to see the facts in this case established and argued in a court of law. Think we can talk David Holt into trying it in a couple of years?

PS: You're welcome, and take your time.

Good talking to you, Desi.

Freedonian said...


I think there are probably at least five key factors contributing to this. The pollution in the creek is one, I'm convinced. And may of the others quickly devolve into a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"-type of discussion.

Did Velsicol dump there because the people were poor and couldn't fight against it? Or did people gravitate there because they were poor and real estate around a toxic dump is cheap?

Which way you answer that leads you in two different directions as you work toward finding the root of the problem. There's not a day since I first found out about this that it hasn't been on my mind in one capacity or another, and I've absolutely run myself in circles on it.

I'm too tired to be furious about it. Just terribly, terribly sad. Any one of those children buried in our local Potter's Field (Ironically located in the shadow of Wolfchase Galleria, our most splendid shrine of commercialism) has the potential to grow up and become a leader of tomorrow. A child breathing in toxic fumes in 38108 today has the potential to grow into an adult that can come up with a solution to the world's problems. And we squander that potential every day that we do nothing about this.

Desi Franklin said...

Regarding the lawsuit, I'm about to show my large law firm corporate lawyer slant. In my experience representing large corporations, class action lawsuits most often benefit no one except the plaintiffs' lawyers, and the named plaintiffs are frequently never to be seen or they are paralegals in the attorneys' offices. I'm talking about situations I have worked on.

Now this is of course not always the case. But typically one mandatory element of any settlement of a class action is that the plaintiffs' attorneys get anywhere from $100,000 on up for their fees - and this is for settling early in the case long before trial. I've consulted on cases with the defense where the court actually approved a fund to pay the attorneys fees - out of the funds that were supposed to go to the plaintiff class members.

So I'm fairly cynical about plaintiffs' class action lawyers. But I know there are cases that have merit and all. I just imagine Mr. Bailey would love to have a lawsuit against a deep pocket unsympathetic chemical dumper. The prospect of who will get enriched here cannot be dismissed, and I'd be shocked if any of the class members got anything that really approached their damages.

So call me a Republicrat.

There are reputable public interest lawyers here - in addition to Rich, Dan Norwood comes to mind. Javier Bailey does not.

And my favorite thing about his character and honesty is the email he wrote to all of the Dem executive committee members when he was challenging Matt Kuhn for chair and claimed that his suspensions were due to a run in with a racist judge who filed a complaint against him.

Lawyers Helping Lawyers is for lawyers with substance abuse problems, not racism/martyr problems.