Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Scientist as an Activist - Environment

The End of the U.S.Air Force Dumping of Toxic Waste into the Storm Drains of America
Larry D. Halstead

The story of how Bruce W. Halstead, M.D. exposed the Air Force practice of dumping toxic waste into the storm drain and into the ocean by being publicly exposed on the Merv Griffin Show with the help of Eddie Albert.

The Merv Griffin Show April 14, 1971
Left to Right -
Henry Gibson, Environmental Poet of the LaughIn Show;
William D. Ruckelshaus, EPA Chair for the Nixon Administration;
Congressman Paul Rogers, D-Florida;
Eddie Albert, Guest Host, Actor, Environmental Activist
Bruce W. Halstead, M.D., Bio-toxicologist, Environmental Activist
Dr. Rimmin Fay (still researching his background)

[Note-So far, there is no knowledge of the existence of the video from this show. Merv Griffin Productions does not have a copy and we would all love to locate one if it still exist.]

This picture is the best symbol of my father’s activism and is something that I am the most proud of him about. That show was a year after my graduation from Loma Linda Academy (high school) and so I was definitely old enough to well remember that event along with the involvement with Eddie Albert that led up to it. His visits out to see my father and the World Life Research Institute were part of the planning leading up to the show.

The full story of this whistle blowing started with Bob Habekost, a lab tech, civilian employee out at Norton AFB in San Bernardino. Bob was a long time friend of my father and had participated on some of his expeditions in the 50s and 60s as they collected specimens ocean diving in the South Pacific.

I knew him from our church and he had also been my Pathfinder leader for many years. Pathfinders is the Seventh Day Adventist version of Boy Scouts. I was on the 50 mile bike trip (the final requirement to get your badge in biking) when Bob had his accident and suffered a major brain concussion that almost killed him and left him deaf in one ear. I was only two bikes behind him when this other guy came flying by me and clipped Bob's bike. I saw every second of the whole scene and it is burned in my brain forever. I remember seeing him laying in a pool of blood with on the side of his face with his hand instinctively feeling the ground for his glasses which had gone flying. Point of reference in time is that not one single person was wearing a helmet and God knows it would have saved Bob from a brain concussion that almost cost him his life.

I saw Bob recently at a memorial service for my friend's mom. He has advanced Alzheimer’s now and I don't think he recognizes me anymore. But I feel bonded with him because Pathfinders, that accident and his involvement with Bruce. He is one of those high integrity people that I have always had deep respect.

Bob was working in the lab out at Norton AFB and became aware of the Base's pattern of loading their toxic waste (mostly a bi-product of the jet servicing etc.) into unmarked tanker trucks. A civilian employee would then drive it over to the then un-incorporated area of Etiwanda, which is now the incorporated city of Rancho Cucamonga. They would remove a storm drain man hole cover and empty the contents of the truck into what was a quick path to the ocean.

When Bob tipped my father Bruce off about this environmental scam they devised a scheme to expose the practice. They hired some young guy to trail the truck on one of it's runs. He photographed the truck leaving the AFB and in route to Etiwanda. He photographed the dumping of the toxic waste and then ran over and collected some samples in a few quart mason jars.

Eddie Albert was a life long environmentalist. Later on he became a champion for alternative health, something that I attribute to his involvement with my father. Back then he was a frequent guest host on the Merv Griffin Show. So he decided to do an entire show on the environment primarily focused on exposing this dumping of toxic waste. His guest as shown from left to right in the photo included: Henry Gibson (famous for his environmental poems on The Laughin Show), William Ruckelshaus (EPA Chair under President Richard Nixon), Congressman Paul Rogers (D-FL and involved in military issues and the National Cancer Institute, NCI), Eddie Albert, Bruce W. Halstead, M.D. and Dr. Rimmin Fay.

The back of the photo has the date the show as April 14, 1971. When Bruce was introduced, they wheeled out a 20 gal aquarium and after telling the story and showing the photos, Bruce dumped the contents of a jar in with the fish and they quickly floated to the surface. The demonstration was so simple it was brilliant. It was so dramatic and effective that there was an immediate Congressional investigation and the toxic dumping was stopped in it's tracks that same day.

Up until this show, Bruce was a frequent speaker out at Norton Air Force Base. He had been in three of the branches of the military and was still in the reserves at that point. I can remember accompaning him on some of those appearances. However, after the show, he was never allowed to speak there again. I don’t think the Air Force ever figured out that it was their own civilian employee, Bob Habekost that was critical in getting the story out.

I don't think I have ever given a tour of WLRI to anyone that did not include a pause for telling the story in front of that picture. I think it had more symbolism and significance for me than it even did for Bruce. I always knew who all but two of the guest were, although I knew one of them was a Congressman. Bruce had scribbled names on the front of the photo but the ink had long faded to unreadable. Recently, I was at World Life and I decided I needed to borrow it to scan it and document the story in words. When I got it home and out of the frame to scan it, I was pleasantly surprised to see the date and names involved printed on the back.

There is an interesting postscript on this story. Later when Norton Air Force Base was decommissioned, there was a substantial delay in turning it over to civilian use caused by the discovery of large holding ponds filled with toxic waste. The cost of clean up on those toxic ponds were amazing and the ground water and soil had also been contaminated. It turned out that after they were ordered to stop dumping into the storm drain, they created some large settling ponds where they stored these waste as the seeped into the ground water. The cost of this toxic clean up was in the millions of dollars and was delayed by more discovery of some of these holding areas for the toxic waste.

There is a little irony in the fact that the transition to civilian authority was facilitated through a special agency created for that purpose. The agency was composed of council members from all of the adjoining cities including Loma Linda where the agency would meet. The Chair of that agency was the Mayor of San Bernardino, since that was the City with the most to gain from decommissioning the Base. The Mayor at that time was Bob Holcomb. The irony is that Holcomb’s daughter was Bruce’s second wife. I attended those meetings and remember Holcomb acting like Nikita Kruzchev, fully expecting him to remove his shoe and start hammering the desk with it.

I would just LOVE to get a copy of the video of that show so I did an internet search on Merv Griffin and got a phone contact for Merv Griffin Entertainment. I talked to Jim Bradley who is their archivist. He said that back in the day employees would sell the old film as stock and much of the older shows were lost forever. They only have two shows from 1971. So this picture that I emailed him is now the only proof that the show ever existed. Kinda wild that I would be providing it to them. Jim told me that if I could locate a copy of the show that they would love to have it. Oh duh!

I next turned toward a search on Eddie Albert. I knew he had passed recently as in 05. I was hoping that he had a foundation or something that I could investigate the exist of a video copy of the show. I found no such thing but I learned some interesting info in the process. I found out that he was 99 when he died. That his only child, Edward Jr. (remember "Butterflies are Free" with he and Goldy Hawn?) died the year he did of a brain tumor. I learned that Eddie Albert was born in Ilinois as Edward Heimberger and that he changed his name cause it sounded too much like hamburger. He was married to his wife for 39 years when she died before him.

Now the most interesting thing I learned about him that has great significance for me is that he is credited with being one of the founders of Earth Day and that the date of April 22 was chosen because it is his birthday. This is symbolic to me in that the first Earth Day was 1970. I was the student organizer for the event at Loma Linda Academy. The faculty organizer was Mrs. Magee who was my favorite instructor and a source of great inspiration on many levels. The next year 1971, I was again the student organizer and the faculty organizer was Pius Horner, the head of Biology Dept. and my favorite instructor and again a great sense of inspiration.

The timing on the first Earth Day means that it was that year before the show aired and would have been happening during that period when Eddie Albert was coming out to visit Bruce at WLRI. Pretty interesting mixing of people and events if you ask me. Anyway, I was blown away by all that stuff but still empty-handed on my search for the lost video footage of the show.

I then turned my attention to Rep. Paul Rogers. I learned that he may still be alive. He was a Democrat who was considered a centrist. He took over his dad's seat when he died. He played a major role in establishing the NCI which was a regular funded many of the grants for World Life Research Institute back in the day. I am going to see if I can make contact with him in the event he may have a copy of the show.

The formerly unknown person on the panel was listed as "Dr. Rimmer Fay". My Google search found nothing when the name is in quotes like that. Somehow, I remember Bruce using the name "Commander Fay". Again, nothing if quotes left on. Removing the quotes and looking through all of the other possibilities, I came across a Francis Fay that was a marine biologist, ecologist, and worked hard to protect some species of sea turtles up in the Alaska area. I want to go through Bruce's name and address list, if I can ever lay my hands on it, to see if his name or any last name Fay is in there. If so, it could really help locate him or any institution that he may have been associated.

But at this time, I have come up empty handed on getting that video. There is an outside chance that Bruce would have ever been given a copy of that video. If so the location of where it would be now is unknown.

Larry D. Halstead can be reached at: or call (760) 255-2012

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