Newtown Florist Club Executive Director Faye Bush places a black bow on the mailbox of a sick Newtown resident during the Toxic Tour of the area in 1993. Rose Johnson and the other kids would play in the streets of Newtown as yellow grain dust fell. The dust’s odor is something she cannot shake. When Johnson was recently walking the streets, she couldn’t see the dust but she caught that familiar smell. “I just choked up, because I don’t ever want to smell that smell again,” Johnson said. The Newtown neighborhood was built atop an old landfill east of Athens Street in the years immediately after the 1936 tornado that killed hundreds. The "New Town" was to serve black families displaced by the disaster. Industries such as Purina and Cargill didn’t move in until the 1950s and 1960s. The Newtown Florist Club started in 1950 as a group of 11 women going door to door collecting donations for flowers that would be presented at Newtown residents’ funerals. Over the years, the club members noticed high rates of cancer killing their neighbors. Johnson, who is the Newtown Florist Club’s executive director, said the club’s environmental justice work really kicked off in the 1980s, as members of the community who were active in the club grew concerned about family members dying from throat, lung and colon cancers. “It took us about 20 years to even begin to get a handle on the magnitude of the problem,” she said. In 1978, the club asked the Environmental Protection Division to look into Purina’s sewage odors and grain dust. A club-sponsored survey of Desota Street residents in 1990 found that neighbors shared similar types of cancers and respiratory problems. Though the study was unscientific, it prompted the state health department to look into the […]