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Rubbertown

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To document Rubbertown, Ky., residents’ claims of unusually high rates of disease, I needed hard data. Originally, I had planned a health survey of the areas around the industrial plants. When that proved impractical, I enlisted a state health monitoring agency.

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My series about Rubbertown, Ky., included real people who have lived close by their whole lives and were exposed to all kinds of chemicals in the past. But I would have sensationalized the story if I hadn’t reported the uncertainty that still permeates most of the research on health in the area.

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What’s the answer for dealing with past, present and potential safety problems in Rubbertown? Kick out the industry? Move the people? Find some middle ground where everyone can coexist? Is it even possible to coexist?

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Start your car. See that puff from the tailpipe in your rear-view mirror? Benzene, butadiene, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide. Louisville communities burdened by pollution on the West End also face emissions from local traffic.

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People who grew up in Riverside Gardens tell stories about playing in the landfill—and in some cases, following the bread trucks in and scrounging the day-old bread that was thrown out there.

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Louisville, Kentucky's Riverside Gardens neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by pollution. In its heyday, it was a resort community for Louisvillians who wanted a quick, close getaway from the city.

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In the early days of Rubbertown, no job was dirtier than an entry-level post at the B.F. Goodrich plant. Workers climbed into large vats that had held the chemical vinyl chloride to clean them. Decades later, at least 26 of these men have developed cancer and died from it.

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All of the major factories in Louisville's Rubbertown area have permits governing how much they can emit. But when residents report unpleasant smells, it’s hard to know where they’re coming from and whether a factory is violating its permit.

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Everyone in Rubbertown knows someone with cancer. But are people in these neighborhoods actually more likely to get cancer than other Louisville residents? What role has the nearby pollution played?

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Sharrona Rembert didn't consider the smells she would encounter when renting her new house several months ago, but that is all she notices now.

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