Agency Toxicologist Needs Racist Mouth Washed Out With Soap

In California, low-income minorities overwhelmingly live in the most polluted communities in the state. You would think that the agency mandated to protect them from toxic harm would be sensitive and respectful to these populations, making every effort to apply environmental laws and regulations equally to all. But you would be wrong if you are talking about the scientists tasked with determining whether toxic cleanups are needed.
An email exchange between two senior scientists at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), obtained by Consumer Watchdog from Public Records Act requests, reflects racist attitudes — towards non-white colleagues and towards non-white communities. Phrases such as “crackho hooker,” “Chop-chop Hop Sing,” and “Mommy must have had way too many pain killers when she named this guy,” are laced through them.
The emails, written by a senior toxicologist and a senior geologist, are deeply troubling since the pair is routinely called on to assess the sources, extent, and danger of toxic pollution. They raise serious questions about whether such attitudes influence the level of clean up of toxic sites such as Exide in East Los Angeles. The DTSC turned a blind eye to the battery recycler's spewing of lead and arsenic all over largely minority, low-income neighborhoods represented by Senate pro Tem Kevin de Leon. Tuesday, we sent a letter to the pro Tem, urging him to demand full disclosure of all such emails and a full investigation. "We think you will agree that it's outrageous that those charged with protecting communities would slander them with racist stereotypes," our letter said.
Representatives of 35 groups also sent a letter to pro Tem de Leon and Governor Jerry Brown condemning the emails and calling for major agency reform.
Emails written between 2013 and 2015 show a pattern of making fun of non-white DTSC colleagues and of disrespecting largely non-white, low-income communities.
Here’s a sampling: 
• In 2013, the senior toxicologist made fun of a DTSC web developer with an Asian name. “Mommy must have had way too many pain killers when she named this guy,” he wrote.
• In 2014, the toxicologist suggested that toxic chemicals really weren’t present in the largely non-white community of Alhambra, east of downtown Los Angeles.  According to an email exchange in which Southern California Edison experts inform DTSC about a Webinar that could be helpful in assessing toxic vapor intrusion in Alhambra buildings, the DTSC toxicologist suggests that no toxics are there. The geologist writes: “Maybe we should attend this so we can learned the protocols for kollectin gud data.
The toxicologist responds:
“Thez wrong: thez all needs to be learned about biased interpretations of data and hand written peak identification…chemicals are identified based on what you believe is there.” 
• In 2014, the pair joked about sharing a room on a business trip at a three-star San Francisco hotel near Union Square: “But this one comes with used condoms and needles,” writes one staffer to the other. “Now if you told me we would have use of a manly crackho hooker we would not need those accessories,” the other responds. The first staffer retorts, “You can even use my ‘injun badge’ to shake them down.” The Union Square area is home to people whose median income is $31,000 and some 38 percent of them are foreign-born. 
• In 2014, the toxicologist called his geologist “Hop Sing” in an email telling him to hurry up making edits to a document. “…chop-chop Hop Sing,” the toxicologist wrote.  The toxicologist went out of his way to attach a full-page headshot of Victor Sen Yung who played the fictional Cartwright family's Chinese immigrant cook on the TV series Bonanza. 
• In 2014, in emails about a Riverside County development called Wildomar where Latino and white professionals believe they were poisoned by toxic chemicals, the geologist complained that he could not access an electronic file system called Shared Proof Point, writing, “I can’t get on PP [Proof Point].” The toxicologist wrote, “Yeah, but you probably can’t ‘get off’ on PP either….” The geologist responds, “Fosho.” The toxicologist writes, “Yo, Dr. Dumas-Iz u Iz or Iz u ain’t on da done?” When he responds again that he can’t get onto Proof Point, the toxicologist writes, “Yeah But, u kan’t get off on Pp either—Uz muzt bez ignant.” The pair was instrumental in concluding no toxic threat exists in Wildomar where two community members were believed to have died from toxic exposures, and others have been seriously ill.
• In 2015, the toxicologist wrote his geologist colleague that he had “found the perfect job for you…” and sent him the link. The advertisement was for the Executive Director of the California African American Museum “S'he is responsible for programmatic, operational, financial and strategic planning and management,” the ad said. In response, the geologist wrote “S’he—does this mean what I think it means? I am not sure I qualify.” The toxicologist wrote back: “Sorry I spelled it wrong—it’s EUNUCH…hope this helps.”
 • In 2015, the toxicologist made fun in an email of an Asian colleague using an English first name in addition to an Asian one: “How the hell do you get Mabel from Tsing?” he wrote.
• In 2015, in an email to his toxicologist colleague, the geologist disparaged a non-white senior manager asking for help in monitoring toxic vapor intrusion in two different Southern California communities.  “I even know how to spell ‘in door’ air,” the staffer writes his friend. “Ges joo ned a secal clas in Ingris.” The toxicologist responds, “But, uz doesn’t understand; thez talks bout off-gazzin from holler doors, in door air, uz dumas….”
When racist emails were discovered by DTSC staff several months ago in response to a Public Records Act request, Director Barbara Lee chose to hide them, according to environmental justice advocates and community members. They say Lee chose to treat the matter as a personnel issue, sealing off the emails from public review. 
Advocates believe that the emails obtained by Consumer Watchdog are just the tip of the iceberg. Both legislative leaders and Governor Jerry Brown should publicly condemn such expressions of racism and drive reform of the agency, or shut it down. The Director of the DTSC should be the one spearheading this reform, starting with a zero tolerance policy, but instead she appears to be part of the problem.
In a YouTube video of a DTSC public staff meeting, Ms. Lee’s response was to tell staffers not to express racism in work emails. She never raised the issue of exploring whether racist attitudes influence outcomes on cleanups, permit decisions, or enforcement at the agency. Though she said she had no tolerance for racism, so far both the toxicologist and the geologist don't appear to have been disciplined.
In the video, Lee tells staffers, “If you are about to say something that you wouldn’t want your mom to hear you say, don’t say it. If you are about to say something that you wouldn’t say in front of your five year old, you probably shouldn’t say that when you are at work. And remember that everything you put in an email is public, it is discoverable, it can be released as a result of a PRA request…”
In other words, you can think what you want, but if it's racist don't say it. 

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