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#233 - Toxics Activist's Home Is Torched; Despite Setback, Her New Report On Hazards Of Incinerators, 14-May-1991

The home and office of long-time environmental activist Pat Costner
burned to the ground the night of March 2; last month an arson
investigator confirmed that the one-story building in Eureka Springs,
Arkansas, had been torched by an arsonist who spread gasoline
throughout the interior before setting it afire. Costner was away from
her home at the time and no one was physically harmed by the blaze, but
the home-and-office was reduced entirely to ashes in less than two
hours. A chemist and environmentalist for nearly 30 years, Costner's
library of technical books and reports, and her extensive computer
files of quotations from scientific documents, were destroyed in the
blaze, along with all her personal possessions. Costner, 50, and her
three children had built the home with their own hands over the past 17
years. "I was left, literally, with the clothes on my back," she said,
adding with a wry smile, "But at least I still had those." Her computer
was insured but her home was not.

Costner is perhaps most widely known for her early book, We All Live
Downstream, which she wrote while co-director of the National Water
Center, which she founded with Barbara Harmony in the mid-'70s in
Eureka Springs. The book advocates what was at that time a new approach
to water and wastewater management, emphasizing the benefits of dry
composting toilets. For the past five years, Costner has served as
research director for the toxics program of Greenpeace U.S.A., the U.S.
affiliate of Greenpeace International. Among toxics activists, Costner
is known for her dry humor, her strategic thinking on toxics use
reduction, and her kindness. She reserves her most biting wit,
bordering on contempt, for scientists who lie and for companies who
poison the poor.

"Pat has been an intellectual leader in the toxics movement throughout
the '70s and '80s," says Bill Walsh, director of the Greenpeace Toxics
Program. "Pat was the first person I ever heard say we needed zero
discharge of toxic materials. She has helped the grass-roots movement
carry out its strategy of 'stopping up the toilet' to make waste
disposal scarce and therefore expensive. The aim is to discourage waste
production. Pat has an awful lot of friends in the movement, but
naturally she's made some enemies in industry over the years."

A native of Arkansas who left after college, then worked as an
industrial chemist before returning home in the early '70s, Costner
established an independent analytic laboratory in Eureka Springs which
she ran for about 10 years to support her environmental work. Before
that she was a research chemist for Syntex in Colorado and for Shell
Oil in Texas.

In recent months, Costner has been putting the finishing touches on a
new report she had spent nearly five years preparing; ironically called
Playing With Fire, it presents a technical attack on hazardous waste
incineration, offering evidence that it is an exceptionally dirty
technology that spreads a broad array of dangerous chemicals into
surrounding air and soil. Despite the setback created by the arson
attack, Playing With Fire will be released by Greenpeace May 22.

Costner had recently testified, or had presented written testimony,
against various hazardous waste incinerator proposals, many of which
have since collapsed, costing their proponents millions of dollars. She
is an especially convincing critic of the technology because of her
technical expertise, and her antiincineration work has taken its toll
on the industry in recent years. Specific projects that Costner has
helped kill or cripple include a massive proposal in Arizona by the
incinerator firm, Ensco, of El Dorado, Arkansas, which was canceled by
Arizona governor Fife Symington on May 3, and the MRK Company's
proposal to burn dioxin-contaminated chemical-biological warfare (CBW)
agents in a residential section of Jacksonville, Arkansas. The MRK
incinerator had gone through its trial burn, an expensive test intended
to show the incinerator can operate within legally establish pollution
limits; Costner submitted written comments and the trial burn data were
thrown out and a new trial burn scheduled. The multi-million-dollar
project is now on hold. MRK has headquarters 15 miles from Eureka
Springs. In addition, Costner had recently testified against a Waste-
Tech incinerator on Kaw Indian land in Oklahoma, and she had also
recently opposed a CTI incinerator in Ft. Morgan, CO. Both those
projects are now dead.

A report by Investigative Services Co. of Cordova, Tennessee, an arson
investigation firm, concluded the Costner home was intentionally
torched by someone using an accelerant, most likely gasoline. The
report cited data from the National Fire Protection Association
indicating that normal temperatures in a house fire do not exceed 300o
to 500o F near the floor and 1800o F near the ceiling. In Costner's
home, steel bedsprings melted, indicating temperatures of at least
2700o Fahrenheit, and the aluminum bases of two office chairs melted
"into a puddle," indicating floor temperatures of at least 1300o F.
Furthermore, debris from the ashes, sent to the AK Analytical Services
Laboratory in Hendersonville, TN, revealed traces of gasoline. An empty
gasoline can was found in the ashes of what had been the middle of
Costner's living room floor. "They not only burned down my home and
office, they left me a message that they had done it," Costner said,
referring to the gasoline can.

In a written report filed with the Eureka Springs sheriff March 4,
Costner said that on two occasions in recent months, neighbors had told
her that "tough looking men" had come to Eureka Springs asking where
she lived, "even though I am in the phone book. I was at home on both
occasions, but no one came to see me," she said. Her home was eight
miles from Eureka Springs, 1.5 miles off a highway on a dead-end gravel
road. Local authorities say their investigation has not yet turned up
any suspects. The FBI has been asked to join the investigation, at the
suggestion of the Arkansas state police.

Local businesses and individuals in Eureka Springs raised several
thousand dollars locally to help Costner rebuild (see photograph above)
and several grassroots groups, including Native Americans for a Clean
Environment (NACE) in Oklahoma, have held fundraisers. Greenpeace has
established a Pat Costner fund that has so far received donations
totaling over $10,000 from Greenpeace staff; additional donations are
welcome. Make checks payable to the Pat Costner Fund, and mail to
Greenpeace, 1436 U Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009. All together,
donations so far have totaled more than $14,000. Costner's home had an
estimated value of $25,000 and her collection of books, reports, and
manuscripts-the largest Greenpeace technical library in North America--
was essentially priceless.

Costner's book, WE ALL LIVE DOWNSTREAM, is available for $9.00 from:
The National Water Center, P.O. Box 264, Eureka Springs, AR 72632;
(501) 2539431.

Costner's new report, PLAYING WITH FIRE, will be released May 22.
Activists can reserve a copy by sending $10.00 to Playing With Fire,
c/o Greenpeace, 1436 U St., NW, Washington, DC 20009. Phone (202) 462-
1177. For companies, the price is $100.00

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: pat costner; arson; whistle blowers; violence;
greenpeace; bill walsh; studies; incineration; ar; lawsuits;
investigations;