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A warrior fights for her Texas town

In the tradition of Erin Brockovich, Diane Wilson sinks her teeth into an environmental challenge and won't let go

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In the tiny town of Seadrift, Texas, one woman - a longtime shrimper most often seen in the white rubber boots of her trade - sensed a change. And it wasn't good.

While perched inside the fish house she managed on the dock next to Lavaca Bay, Diane Wilson read a newspaper article that altered the course of her life: A study released by the Environmental Protection Agency had just declared her county one of the most polluted in the nation.

It wasn't long before the bay where her family had dragged their nets for decades was offering up dead shrimp and dolphin carcasses.

To a Texas woman with a knack for untangling fishermen's nylon nets and chasing after five young children of her own, signs that something is wrong don't get much more obvious than that.

Enter nearby Formosa Plastics, a massive chemical plant with connections to Taiwan. In the eyes of many locals, the plant was a natural sign of progress in a region heavily dotted with petrochemical plants. It had tossed the county an economic life buoy, employing hundreds of workers and allowing them to enjoy the comforts of a steady paycheck that harvesting the Gulf of Mexico doesn't always afford. Plans to expand were already under way.

But Ms. Wilson felt that evidence of a sickly bay demanded a guarantee from the chemical plant that its disposal of ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride was not harming the surrounding community.

Instead of a straightforward answer, Wilson's request for information triggered a complicated battle involving top executives, environmental activists, shrimpers, and plant workers. It also produced this book, An Unreasonable Woman, narrated in Wilson's own distinctive voice.

Wilson was not the first woman - in the interest of protecting the health of family and loved ones - to pick up the otherwise unlikely mantle of environmental activist.

For example, Donna Frye, a San Diego surfer, began her political life when her surfer friends fell ill from paddling along a tainted shore. (Ms. Frye grabbed national headlines this year with her maverick campaign for city mayor.) Erin Brockovich inspired a major motion picture with her relentless campaign against chemical dumping in Hinkley, Calif.

And in Seadrift, Wilson sank her teeth into Formosa Plastics and refused to let go. The resistance from Formosa to further environmental testing only fueled her fury.


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