The Department of Toxic Substances Control is under fire over racially-charged emails between two of its senior scientists. The two men have been disciplined, the attorney general's office has investigated the exchanges, an oversight panel says it will conduct an inquiry, and some activists say the scandal confirms their suspicions of systemic bias.
The emails between William Bosan, a senior toxicologist, and Theo Johnson, a senior geologist, surfaced as a result of a public records request. In the messages, the two men mocked co-workers from various ethnic groups.
They used terms such as "crackho hooker" and "injun badge," according to copies of the emails provided by the Department. In one email, Bosan wrote about an Asian colleague using an English first name: "How the hell do you get Mabel from Tsing?"
Agency Director Barbara Lee issued this statement:
"The comments made by these two employees are unacceptable, violate state and departmental policies, and do not reflect the behavior I expect of our staff and management. As soon as the emails in question were discovered last summer, the Department launched an internal investigation, retained the Attorney General's Office to perform an additional, broader investigation, and then took immediate personnel action against the two employees. I have also made it clear to the entire Department that my expectation is that we treat all people with respect and professionalism at all times."
An agency spokesman said the two scientists are still employed there.
Bosan and Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.
The attorney general's office told KPCC that it concluded its inquiry and reported to the Department; it did not provide details on the results of the investigation.
The chairman of a new independent review panel set up to oversee the Department said it will look into the matter as well, according to the Los Angeles Times.
More than 40 community groups across the state signed a letter asking Gov. Brown and the legislature to investigate the agency. Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, is also demanding the legislature release all racially charged emails as part of the investigation.
The Department has already come under fire from activists on a variety of fronts, including over allegations that it has mishandled the cleanup of lead and other toxins from the predominantly Latino neighborhoods around Exide, the former battery recycling plant in the Vernon.
Mark Lopez, the head of East Yard for Communities for Environmental Justice, says the email scandal helps explain what he considers the agency's lack of urgency and transparency in dealing with the Exide matter.
"We need an investigation in the entire department to really understand what the impact has been from the racist decision makers at DTSC on some of the most vulnerable and severely impacted communities in the state of California," he told KPCC.
Penny Newman, executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, agreed with Lopez.
"It’s not just one bad actor," said Newman, whose request for documents kicked off the chain of events that resulted in the release of the documents to a journalist. "It is an attitude of racism that is embedded within institutions and it’s a long history of this and it’s playing out in DTSC."
The agency is looking into lead contamination by another lead battery recycler Quemetco in the City of Industry. That company recently rejected the agency's mandate that it expand its soil testing area.
The Independent Review Panel will meet again on Dec. 18.
Read the emails below
(KPCC redacted the email addresses in the following string of messages):