Ohio citizens campaign to stop incinerator in East Liverpool 1991-1993

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The Waste Technologies Industry, Inc. first proposed to build an incinerator in the floodplain of the Ohio River in East Liverpool, Ohio in 1977. Throughout the 1980s, the company battled with the local government officials and other regulatory agencies in order to obtain the proper permits. The campaign noted here begins in 1991 when the Tri-State Environmental Council was formed that organized actions when the facility was actually built.
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
East Liverpool, Ohio
To shut down the Waste Technologies Industries, Inc. Incinerator.

To put a hold on the operation of the incinerator until further health tests could be done to ensure its safety.


The Waste Technologies Industry, Inc. first proposed to build an incinerator in the floodplain of the Ohio River in East Liverpool, Ohio in 1977. Throughout the 1980s, the company battled with the local government officials and other regulatory agencies in order to obtain the proper permits. By 1990, they had enough approval to begin construction and start test runs. Due to the fact that the incinerator was located within an impoverished neighborhood and sat about 300 feet from homes and 1,100 feet from an elementary school, the campaign that the Tri-State Environmental Council initiated the year that it was built, was able to gather a lot of national attention especially in 1992, an election year.

East Liverpool sits along the border of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania; therefore, in January of 1991, Terri Swearingen from Chester, West Virginia and others formed the Tri-State Environmental Council in order to respond to the installation of the incinerator in East Liverpool. They planned their first action in June, which was a rally entitled “Hands Across the River”. Over 1,500 people attended this protest to show their support for closing the facility. Then they held two big actions in June. For the first, actor Martin Sheen joined the protesters to show his support and mobilize his social capital to bring the campaign into the national spotlight. For the second action, Greenpeace joined the organizers for a two-week long statewide anti-incineration march to Columbus that ended with a rally in front of the State House steps.

Despite these efforts, the EPA continued to accept the claims made by WTI that the facility was following all of the necessary regulations and granted them the permits necessary to expand. In response, on September 23, 1991, citizens from the three states boycotted a joint U.S. EPA/Ohio EPA public information meeting, and then the next day they held a “funeral for democracy” from which they proceeded to block an EPA hearing. A few weeks later, on October 13, 1991, 1,500 people attended another rally outside the WTI that resulted in the arrest of thirty-two people for crossing the fence separating the company from the access road.

Frustrated with the inaction of the Ohio government to protect the citizen’s political rights and health, the campaign turned to put pressure on Governor George Voinovich, who had mostly abstained from the controversy. Citizens began to put up “Wanted” signs for the governor and placed “For Sale” signs in the yard of the governor’s mansion in order to express their disdain for his attitude toward the issue. He responded that the campaign around the incinerator had become too “emotional” and because of this he need not get involved. He was also being pressured by a group of citizens from the other side, Citizens for Progress, who argued that the incinerator would bring in economic growth and employment opportunities for the community. They held several rallies, demonstrations, and press conferences urging the government not to intervene.

In November, when one of the local newspapers referred to the governor as a “weenie on waste”, Terri Swearingen and other campaigners organized a “weenie roast” at the governor’s mansion. They also placed packages of hot dogs with awareness-raising stickers in local supermarkets, sent hot dogs by mail to the governor regularly, and brought foot-long hot dogs to several of his public speeches. Governor Voinovich finally responded by proposing a health study to be done on the East Liverpool children. The study fell short of the expectations of the citizens, for which they responded by sending kids with mice to visit the governor’s office. The governor called for a moratorium on new incinerator permits but made an exemption for WTI.

Besides putting pressure on Governor Voinovich, these actions also played a key role in bringing the East Liverpool incinerator struggle into the forefront of media attention. In July of 1992, the Clinton and Gore presidential campaign bus tour stopped in Weirton, West Virginia and both made statements in which they promised that they would make the WTI incinerator an issue of their administration. They stated that they would use the power of the federal government to deal with what really is a national issue because communities like East Liverpool become sites for disposing of trash from communities around the country that do not want to deal with the problem.

Gaining momentum, the campaigners began to block the WTI gates, an action that would effectively shut down the incinerator temporarily. Over the course of five days in November 1992, thirty-eight were arrested for blocking the gates. Two days after the last arrests, on November 22, over 500 people rallied in front of the WTI, resulting in 75 more arrests. On December 15 citizens delivered petitions with 20,000 signatures of residents who opposed the WTI incinerator to then-Governor Clinton at his office in Little Rock, Arkansas, but he did not reply.

In 1993, the campaign moved to Washington, D.C. in order to continue the pressure on President Clinton. In East Liverpool, the WTI incinerator was still operating despite the fact that it had failed several of the test burns set by the EPA. Therefore, Greenpeace organized a “Pinocchio” bus tour, highlighting the fact that the Clinton campaign had lied about their promise to the East Liverpool community. When they arrived at the White House in mid-May, 1993, they built a mock incinerator that released clouds of fake “emissions”. Fifty-four people were arrested. After their demands went unheard at these events, the campaign lost most of its steam. A few actions and isolated, small rallies were held between May and December of 1993, but nothing to the same extent as had been seen in the earlier demonstrations. The WTI incinerator continued to operate despite the fact that it had not obtained all of the proper permission. Finally in February of 1997, the Ohio EPA authorized a hazardous waste permit for the WTI that has stood as law since.

During the four years between the last actions and the final authorization, Greenpeace did continue to act and to pressure the Clinton Administration about incinerators generally. As a result, many of the other incinerators that they had targeted to work on in 1994 were voluntarily withdrawn by the companies, and the EPA issued a moratorium on new incinerator permits. The WTI remained as a special exemption.

Research Notes
McCormick, Kate."Environmental Justice Case Study: Waste Technologies Industries, Inc. and the Fight Against A Hazardous Waste Incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio." http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/mcormick.html

ohiocitizen.org "Ohio Citizen Action Timelines: 1977-1990, 1991, 1992, 1993-1999." http://www.ohiocitizen.org/campaigns/wti/wti.html

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Alex Frye 18/5/2011