Triana Justice Page

Environmental Justice Case Study: DDT Contamination

Triana, AL

Table of Contents


In 1979, The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) released a report showing extensive DDT pollution in the Huntsville Spring Branch near the small town of Triana, Alabama. Results of the TVA study showed that fish taken from the Spring Branch displayed DDT amounts as high as 200 parts per million (ppm), 40 times the federal limit. The presence of DDT in the water was linked to the Redstone Arsenal, located in nearby Huntsville, Alabama.

The Redstone Arsenal, which is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, leased the facility to the Olin Corporation from 1947 until it was closed in 1970. Olin, which manufactured and sold DDT to the Army and other companies for use as a pesticide, apparently had been discharging their wastewater contaminated with DDT into the Huntsville Spring Branch. During the 22 years the facility was in operation, as much as 4,000 tons of DDT escaped and accumulated in the sediment along the Huntsville Spring Branch.

The Huntsville Spring Branch flows south through the mostly poor and predominately black town of Triana, whose residents rely heavily on fish taken from the local waters. After the TVA report was released, Triana mayor Clyde Foster, concerned that the local citizens might have been contaminated, requested that residents be checked for signs of DDT in their bodies. The Center for Disease Control, based in Atlanta, Georgia, was sent to test the residents. Initially, twelve inhabitants were tested for DDT in their blood. The results showed that not only was DDT present in their blood, but that the levels were three times the normal levels of DDT found in other case studies. The compared case studies were of workers at DDT plants, yet none of the residents tested in Triana had ever worked at such a facility.

Back to Table of Contents


Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was introduced in 1939 when Paul Muller, a Swiss chemist found that the chemical could successfully eradicate many insects by attacking their nervous system. It was first used in large quantities during World War II to spray fields before invasions. DDT was also useful in killing insects that transmitted diseases such as "yellow fever, typhus, elephantiasis, and other insect-vectored diseases. In India, DDT reduced malaria from 75 million cases to fewer than 5 million cases in a decade." In the United States, DDT was applied in huge quantities in order to increase crop yields by reducing the numbers of insect pests.

As the demand for DDT grew, more and more companies began manufacturing the synthetic chemical. Enter Olin Corporation. Olin began making and supplying DDT in 1948 when it bought out the Calabama Corporation, a chemical company that was manufacturing DDT at the Redstone Arsenal under a lease from the Army Corps of Engineers. The facility is located on the southwest side of Huntsville, in northern Alabama.

"Time started running out for the plant in the early 1960s with the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which blamed insecticides in the loss of wild life. By 1969, the Nixon administration had announced that it was planning to ban the use of DDT. " The idea to ban this pesticide was due mainly to strong evidence that the pesticide, which does not break down naturally in the environment, persisted in the food chain and concentrated in the higher species of animals. DDT has proven to be the root cause for the rapid decline in many species such as the Double-crested Cormorant, Herring Gull, and our nations symbol, the Bald Eagle to name a few.

The Redstone Arsenal remained in operation until 1970, when Olin halted all DDT manufacturing due to intense pressure by the Army and environmental groups. During its years in operation, the Redstone Arsenal would dispose of its wastewater, laced with DDT, into a long ditch that drained into the Huntsville Spring Branch. The contaminated water would then flow downstream into Indian Creek, which is located about two miles upstream from Triana. There, the DDT accumulated in the sediment until, eventually, nearly 4,000 tons were spread over a 2.3 mile area along the creek.

In the early part of the 1970s, fish along the Huntsville Spring Branch began to die in large numbers. While dissection showed traces of DDT in the fish, the Army would not confirm or deny that DDT was the culprit. Around that same period, federal agencies had also discovered DDT in ducks at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, located near the arsenal. Further studies were conducted, and in September 1977, the EPA issued a warning that DDT was spreading into the areas surrounding the Redstone Arsenal and Huntsville Spring Branch.

The warning issued by the EPA, however, went unheard. It was not until early in 1979 that the TVA released its findings of DDT accumulation in the area, that the town of Triana became aware of the potential hazards around them. Once the TVA investigation had been documented, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to explore the DDT problem in an effort to find those responsible for this environmental disaster. Since the Army owned the facility where the DDT had been manufactured, the EPA ordered the Army to clean up all of the DDT in the area and conduct any necessary studies on the residents of Triana for possible contamination. If the Army did not comply with those orders, they would face a possible civil suit that would force them to take action. Even with the threat of a civil suit looming over them, the Army refused, stating that the DDT leakage was the fault of Olin Corporation and that any contamination outside the facility was not their responsibility.

Due to the Army's refusal to comply with EPA orders, the EPA referred the case to the Justice Department in an attempt to force the Army to clean up the DDT. The Justice Department refused to get involved, stating that it has no power when one federal agency decides to sue another. So, in an attempt to resolve the issue, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers held meetings to discuss possible clean-up operations.

For the residents of Triana, DDT had inflicted considerable damage, both economically and physically. Former commercial fisherman Donald Malone recalls when he occasionally made as much as $700 a week from the river.

"I was born and raised on the river," said Malone. "We made our living off it, and that's been taken away from every commercial fisherman." (Hollis)

Felix Wynn, an 85-year-old resident of Triana, has 3,300 parts per billion of DDT in his blood. That is more DDT than has ever been found in any human being.

Along with DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have also been detected in many of the residents. "These twin factors increase their risk of heart disease, strokes and kidney problems, although CDC has not tied any specific disease or illness in Triana to either chemical." Because of this, the mayor and the town of Triana decided to sue the Olin Corporation for one million dollars each.

Time Line

1948: Olin Corporation buys out Calabama Corporation, who was leasing the Redstone Arsenal for the manufacturing of DDT.

1948-1970: Olin Corporation manufactured DDT at the Redstone Arsenal under a lease from the Army Corps of Engineers. During those 22 years, the facility would release its wastewater contaminated with DDT into a ditch that drained into the Huntsville Spring Branch. Eventually, over 4,000 tons were deposited in the Huntsville Spring Branch.

1970: Olin Discontinues the manufacturing of DDT after intense pressure from the Army and environmental groups.

1973: DDT is banned for use in the United States, however, it is still manufactured in the U.S. and exported to developing countries even today.

1977: Studies conducted by the EPA on fish and waterfowl in nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge showed high amounts of DDT in their bodies. The EPA promptly issued warnings that DDT had been found in the fish and waterfowl in the Huntsville Spring Branch / Wheeler NWR waters.

1979: The EPA Begins an investigation to determine how the DDT accumulated in the area. Their findings showed that the cause of the DDT was from the Redstone Arsenal, which manufactured DDT from 1947-1970.

1980: The residents of Triana, along with the Justice Department, each file a lawsuit against Olin Corporation.

1982: Olin reaches an out-of-court settlement with the people of Triana and the Justice Department.

1985-1995: Careful monitoring of DDT levels was conducted during these years to determine if the clean-up efforts were working.

1995: Olin succeeded in cleaning up the DDT in the water and the fish along the Huntsville Spring Branch, reducing the toxin to acceptable levels.

Back to Table of Contents

Key Players

Olin Corporation
Operated the Redstone Arsenal under a lease from the U.S. Army Corps of engineers from 1947-1970, where they manufactured DDT. While in operation, Olin would release DDT-laden wastewater into a reservoir that drained into the Huntsville Spring.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
The TVA conducted a study in 1976 in order to determine DDT levels in the area surrounding the Huntsville Spring Branch. The official conclusion revealed extremely high levels of the known carcinogen that had originated from the Redstone Arsenal upstream in the city of Huntsville, Al. The TVA estimated that over 4,000 tons of DDT was present over a 2.3 mile stretch along the Branch.

Triana Residents
The 1,178 residents of the small town are the victims. The population consists mostly of low-income people of color (see Demographics). For years, the people of Triana would fish in the Huntsville spring Branch as source of protein. Commercial fishermen would also use these waters as their source of income.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owned the Redstone Arsenal and leased it to Olin Corporation for the manufacturing of DDT from 1947-1970. When it was discovered that the contaminants in the Huntsville Spring Branch were directly linked to the Redstone Arsenal, the Army Corps of engineers was ordered to clean up the DDT in the surrounding area and test the local residents for possible contamination. They refused, stating that they were not responsible for any contamination that was present outside the facility boundaries.

Center for Disease Control (CDC)
Based out of Atlanta, GA, the CDC conducted studies on 500 residents of Triana, A: to determine the amount of DDT in their bodies.

Interagency Review Panel
Group consisting of members of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Army, and the State of Alabama. Their job is to oversee and advise Olin Corporation with the cleanup of DDT around the Redstone Area.

Triana Area Medical Fund
Group of four Triana residents consisting of Mayor Clyde Foster, Marvelene Freeman, Robert Potts, and Max Turner. This group was established to distribute the settlement among the 1,178 residents of Triana who filed the suit against Olin Corporation.

Back to Table of Contents


General Characteristics of Persons: Triana, Alabama. 1980 Census This community is composed of 75% African Americans. To be specific, 866 out of the 1158 residents are black. Furthermore, the median income of African Americans in Triana is $9,659 dollars per year and the town average was $10,428 per year. Therefore, this community was composed of a majority of poor and black individuals.

Source: 1990 U.S. Census data

Back to Table of Contents


When is was discovered that Olin Corporation was to blame for the release of DDT into the Huntsville Spring Branch, both the residents of Triana and the Federal Government filed lawsuits against Olin. When the residents of Triana decided to file a lawsuit against Olin Corporation, they knew that receiving any type of compensation would be difficult due to the fact that there is little scientific evidence linking health problems with DDT in humans.


The fact that the Olin Corporation knowingly contaminated the Huntsville Spring Branch for years without consent of knowledge from the Triana inhabitants, showed that the town had no control over what happened to them, and therefore, entitled them to retribution. However, this strategy had been used in prior lawsuits dealing with DDT contamination with little success. Because there is no concrete scientific evidence linking health problems with DDT in humans, many courts refused to hear such cases. The difference between previous cases and the Triana case was that, not only do the residents rely on fish for protein, but also many of them are fishermen who depend on fish taken from the Huntsville Spring Branch in order to make money.

The fishermen had a legitimate claim for some compensation; but what about the rest of the townspeople? Mayor Foster truly believed that the residents of Triana were suffering because of DDT; DDT they never asked for. In his thinking, it did not matter that there was no scientific evidence. The fact that there is no scientific evidence linking serious health problems to DDT contamination also proves that there is so evidence to the contrary.

What really sets the Triana lawsuit apart from the others, was a plan proposed by Foster. He wanted to protect the people of Triana from any negative affects of DDT in the present and in the future, so he proposed that Olin establish a healthcare program for all residents that were exposed to DDT. In addition, the lawsuit would also require Olin to compensate the plaintiffs for their loss of income.


The government, specifically the Justice Department, also used the courts in order to force Olin to accept responsibility for the DDT dumping around the Redstone Arsenal. Their motive was to force Olin to clean up the DDT in the Huntsville Spring Branch at Olin's expense. Also, Olin would have to arrange and pay for medical services to the people contaminated with DDT.


On December 24, 1982, the Olin Corporation reached an out-of-court settlement with the people of Triana, Alabama and the Federal government. Under the conditions of the agreement, Olin Corporation would pay the residents of Triana $24 million, with $19 million being dispersed to the residents over a five year period, and the remaining $5 million to fund a healthcare program. The Triana Area medical Fund group would oversee the distribution of those funds. Also as part of the agreement reached with the Federal government, Olin would be required to clean up the DDT in the area at their own cost, which could be as high a $137 million.

To oversee the cleanup of the Huntsville Spring Branch, a group consisting of EPA, TVA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of the Army, and the State of Alabama, calling themselves the Interagency Review Panel, was established. Over the next ten years, they would work with Olin to clean up the areas surrounding the Redstone Arsenal. Also required within ten years was the reduction of DDT levels in fishes in those waters to normal levels.

Between 1984 and October 1995, the Interagency Review Panel had been monitoring the effect that the cleanup had on the water and the fish. Fish samples taken from the Huntsville Spring Branch showed that all major fish species that live in the waters showed DDT at normal levels. Specific numbers are as follows: DDT levels in Largemouth Bass declined 85% and have reached normal levels five years ahead of the required date. DDT residues in the other two major species of fish, the Channel Catfish and the Smallmouth Buffalo, declined by 86% and 88% respectively. Monitoring also showed that between 1985 and 1995, DDT levels were reduced by 97% in the waters surrounding the Redstone Arsenal and the town of Triana.

Back to Table of Contents

Personal Perspective

When dealing with issues of environmental racism, there is usually some evidence that people of color and low-income groups are deliberately targeted from local undesirable land uses. However, in the Triana, Alabama case study, I do not believe that environmental racism was a key factor that led to DDT being dumped in the Huntsville Spring Branch, even though the town's residents were mostly low-income people of color.

During the period when the Olin Corporation was discharging DDT-laden wastewater into the reservoir that drained into the Huntsville Spring Branch, DDT was not considered a health hazard to people. When evidence was released to the contrary in the mid 1960s, Olin halted production of the pesticide three years before DDT was even banned. If any environmental racism took place, it was when Olin did not warn the people of Triana about the possible hazards of DDT. It is possible that, after assessing the area around the Redstone Arsenal, and the people who live there, Olin might have assumed that the Triana residents did not have the resources or the knowledge to find out about the DDT.

As far as the lawsuit, the people of Triana, and especially Mayor Clyde Foster used a brilliant strategy to reach an out-of-court settlement with Olin. The problem with the settlement was that the $19 million distributed to the people of Triana did not add up to all that much money. $6.8 million went toward legal fees, and the remaining amount was dispersed over a five-year period. On average, each resident received only about $2,000 per year for five years. The remaining $5 million that went for health care was Mayor Foster's idea. Because most of the people who were contaminated with DDT were poor and had no health care, this would insure that, if any residents became ill due to DDT, they would receive health care at no cost. Although an intelligent vision, many people did not want the remaining $5 million to be used in that manner. Instead, they believed that that money should have been dispersed as well.

Regarding this issue, it is not easy to pass blame on anyone directly involve. I have always believed that if you wanted to stop a problem then you must stop it at the source. Olin Corporation is not the source of this problem. The problem is that DDT, like thousand of other insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and vermicides created throughout the years are man-made chemicals that are designed to kill. There are more than 600 active ingredients mixed to form over 35,000 different types of pesticides. Of those 35,000 chemicals, less than 10% have been tested for potential health effects. Without adequate testing on all chemicals, it is impossible to determine the effects any one, or combination of chemicals, will have on our species. Because of that, 1,178 victims from a small town in Alabama have paid to price. Who's next?

Back to Table of Contents


Hollis, Mike. "The Persistence of a Poison; Effects of Chemical Plant Still Plaque Alabama Town." The Washington Post. 15 June 1980, final ed.: A2.

"DDT." Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia. 1996 ed.