Correction to This Article
A March 20 Style article on environmental contamination in Dickson County, Tenn., incorrectly described Schrader Automotive Group as a company. It was a division of Scovill Inc., not a free-standing company.
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A Well of Pain

"We have uncovered one of Tennessee's dirtiest little secrets: a contaminated conspiracy."

Suits Claim Racism

The Holts' lawsuits, originally filed in 2003 and 2004, name the city and county of Dickson and the state of Tennessee, and claim the family was a victim, among other things, of negligence that resulted in their cancers and other health problems.

They also named Schrader Automotive Group, the company that state and federal documents say dumped drums of TCE and other toxins at the landfill. The company's parent, Scovill Inc., now is called Saltire Industrial Inc., whose assets are in the hands of a trust approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. Alper Holdings, Saltire's owner, also is named in the suit.

But Michael Etkin, the attorney representing the trust of Saltire's assets, says, "We have yet to see evidence that whatever injuries that the Holts allege were the results of any conduct on the part of Saltire or to what extent the science supports the claim that the various injuries alleged were the result of TCE contamination."

And Don L. Weiss Jr., mayor of the city of Dickson, which originally owned the landfill, said in a statement that city officials had "handled their responsibilities properly."

The Holts also claim the state and county discriminated against them in treating them with less care than the white residents with similarly contaminated water. (The EPA was originally named in the discrimination claim but was dismissed as a defendant because of a legal error. The Holts parted ways with the attorney they had at that time.)

Cribbing Bullard's pithy description of the Holts' plight, Holt-Orsted says it's a case of the "wrong complexion for protection."

Attorneys for the county and state deny the claims in the lawsuits.

"The county considers any allegations that the Holt family members were the victims of racism to be baseless and unfounded," said county attorney Timothy V. Potter, in an e-mail.

But David England, a former Dickson county commissioner who went to high school with Holt-Orsted, believes racism has played a role in the saga. England, who is white, recalls being upbraided by an acquaintance angered at his support of the Holts.

"You're a damn fool," he recalls being told. "There's 94 percent white people in the county and 6 percent black people and you're taking sides with the blacks."

Family Responses

A battalion of angel figurines, big ones and little ones, all of them brown, guard Holt-Orsted's Dale City home. They march across her wallpaper border, keeping watch over her own small family.

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