Q&A with David Allen Hall 

Chairman of Life Together Institute for Peace

Memphis has the highest infant mortality rate of America's 60 largest cities. Some areas are worse than others. Near Cypress Creek in North Memphis, babies are dying at rates higher than those of many Third World countries.

Peace activist David Hall believes that's due to toxic waste deposited by companies like Velsicol Chemicals and the now-defunct Firestone Corporation.

Last week, Hall and attorneys Jay Bailey and Halbert Dockins announced plans for a class-action lawsuit against those companies. They say they've studied state reports that show high levels of contaminants like cyanide, chlordane, and mercury.

"Those reports indicate numerous incidents where they have exceeded acceptable levels of spillage of these toxins," said Bailey. "They're in levels so large that human exposure would cause immediate problems." -- by Bianca Phillips

What is the infant mortality rate near Cypress creek?

We're losing 14 babies per every 1,000 live births, which means we have the worst infant mortality rate in America.

Can anyone who lives near the creek get in on the suit?

All of it has to be done scientifically. I'm not looking to create a gravy train for someone who says I used to live in the area and now I want my handout. It's for people who have legitimate concerns, who have been injured.

For example, a lady called me and said that she lived in Cypress Creek. Her area was flooded and her yard was inundated with that filth coming up out of the creek. Now she has cancer, and she's the first one in her family that's ever had cancer. She asked me if I thought there was a direct link. I told her I don't know. But that's what a class-action lawsuit will do. It will provide her a means to be tested.

Will everyone who takes part be tested?

Nobody has a right to be in on it if they are not tested and screened and found to be affected by it. It's got to be fair.

What about babies believed to be lost due to pollutants? How will they be tested?

I guess we'll have to exhume some bodies. If someone's not willing to stomach that, then they might not be able to be part of this. That's just part of the science. But I think a judge will determine all of that.

[Bailey says they'll first check for medical records on infant deaths to see if certain tests were done that might prevent the need for exhumation.]

Is this only affecting zip codes 38107 and 38108?

Cypress Creek is eight miles long. You can start where it begins, if you can stand the stink and filth, and go all the way around to where it dumps into the Wolf River. The Wolf goes right into the Mississippi River. For all we know, people in Collierville or Germantown could be getting a dose of it too. All of us could be getting some good ol' contamination in us.

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