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High Price Of Blowing The Whistle On EPA

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Marsha Coleman-Adebayo earned a doctoral degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked with the United Nations before joining the Environmental Protection Agency in 1990. During her time at the U.N., she also developed an expertise in African developmental issues.

During her tenure at the EPA, Coleman-Adebayo says she requested that the agency devote attention to environmental problems in South Africa that were allegedly caused by an American company. She says that the agency reneged on promises to investigate the matter, and the harder she pushed for change, the more she faced a backlash from her superiors.

Coleman-Adebayo's new book No Fear: The Whistleblower's Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA chronicles her experiences and the discrimination lawsuit that followed.

She won the case in 2000, and also successfully advocated for a special whistleblower protection law. The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act — or The No FEAR Act — passed in 2002. It aims to discourage federal managers and supervisors from engaging in unlawful discrimination and retaliation.

In an interview with guest host Jacki Lyden, Coleman-Adebayo talks about the problems she encountered in 1996 in her role as the EPA's representative to the Gore-Mbeki Commission. That group was created by an agreement between the governments of South Africa and the United States, with the goal to improve lives of South Africans and aid the transition of the new government of Nelson Mandela.

In the course of her work, Coleman-Adebayo traveled to South Africa, and said that she discovered an American company there was ignoring the health complaints of its South African workers. They were mining the substance vanadium, and many of those miners suffered from serious health problems.

Coleman-Adebayo says that, when she reported situation to her supervisors, she was told to "shut up" and just decorate her office. She adds that she faced death threats, rape threats, and that she felt her family was in danger.

Coleman-Adebayo says, "I was surprised that the in environment of the EPA, instead of being rewarded for being proficient in what you do, loyalty was a much greater value. When I began questioning U.S. policy, I was considered disloyal. And at that point, at the minds of many people at the EPA, I had become their enemy."

She chronicles this and other conflicts within the agency in "No Fear," and sees the book as part of her activism.

"I'm hoping that students across the country will take up this charge, and they will investigate and find out about vanadium poisoning. But I'm also hoping what this book will show average, everyday people is that they really can make a difference," says Coleman-Adebayo.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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