BY T.W. HEWITT
Councilman Darius Pridgen’s effort to collect bottled water for residents of Flint, Michigan in the wake of that city’s wide scale lead poisoning, are being called “a self-serving distraction from lead poisoning in his own backyard.”
In recent weeks, Pridgen has been sharply criticized for his role in building 30 market rate apartments on the lands affectionately known as The Ferry Fields, the former site of a massive lead smelting plant and toxic dumping ground.
The neighborhood has long suffered from lead poisoning before Pridgen’s True Bethel Development sought city approvals to construct homes on land that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation previously said was unsafe for human habitation.
Incorrectly, in a broadcast distributed through the cell phone application known as Periscope, Pridgen claimed that the parcel at 858 East Ferry is safe for human habitation, while conceding that parcels adjacent to True Bethel Townhomes are dangerously unsafe.
No level of human exposure to lead is safe. Even the smallest levels of lead exposure can have life long impacts.
In the broadcast, which Pridgen later shared on Facebook, he lifts an unidentified sheet of paper and claims that it is proof that the parcel is safe for human habitation. He did not attribute the document to a government agency or elaborate on his claim, and has not offered it for public inspection.
“Darius should be collecting bottled water for his own constituents who have suffered lead poisoning for years,” says one high profile Democrat with ties to Mayor Byron Brown. “Instead, this Pastor-landlord wanted his rent money so bad that he didn’t care that he put 30 families on top of a toxic waste dump.”
Many observers expect that the victims of lead poisoning and autoimmune diseases linked to environmental exposure at The Ferry Fields, will be organizing a class action lawsuit that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in punitive damages against True Bethel Development, the City of Buffalo, and perhaps Pridgen himself.
“This is bigger than Erin Brockovitch,” says Carolette Meadows, a community organizer from the neighborhood.
Meadows has been calling on True Bethel Development and the City of Buffalo to fund third party testing of The Ferry Fields, which includes 858 East Ferry and surrounding lands. Soil testing could range from $50,000 to $200,000, depending on the scope and comprehensiveness of the testing.
“Collecting bottled water is an expensive political stunt paid for by good god fearing members of a congregation struggling for environmental justice for itself,” says one longtime resident of the Ferry-Grider neighborhood.
“People are sick and dying and asking for answers, and all Darius can do is say, ‘look over there at Flint,” Meadows adds. “It’s callous and uncaring towards concerns that effect people he’s supposed to serve.”
Meadows’ supporters note that Pridgen could have provided more clean water to Flint if he simply raised money and sent it to purchase water at Walmart in Michigan rather than Walmart here, since it is so expensive to ship and since Walmart already ships water to Flint every day.
“We could have provided five times as much water to Flint, but that wouldn’t have been a very good photo-op and non-stop press even for Pridgen,” a Meadows backer says.
“Does he even realize how ridiculous he looks,” he wonders, in reference to the flamboyant theatrics for which Pridgen is known. “This is all staged as a major stunt to distract people from Darius’ culpability in poisoning members of his own congregation.”