The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Gregory Cooke grew up in West Ambler, Pennsylvania, one of three children of a single mother. His childhood community was all black. He attended the local public schools and liked to swim in the creek, bike, fish, and hunt with his grandfather. After eight years as chaplain's assistant in the US Army, Cooke moved back to nearby North Hills, Pennsylvania, with his wife and young son. After he and his wife divorced Cooke lived in Ambler with his grandparents for seven years. During that time he worked as a heat treater, but he also obtained a social work degree from Villanova University and began his practice in Philadelphia Senior Center. Cooke and his sister, Sharon Cooke Vargas, opened a tea shop in Ambler, and there Cooke met Edward Emmett, who hired Cooke to interview residents of Ambler for the REACH pilot program. He helped interview seventy or eighty residents; most had lived near and played on the huge piles of waste without awareness of or concern about asbestos's dangers, though some had contracted asbestosis. Cooke's own grandfather died of mesothelioma, and Cooke and his fellow descendants received settlements from a class action lawsuit. Today Ambler is "up and coming," says Cooke; businesses may appear one year and disappear the next, but then another new place appears. Demographics are changing. Cooke thinks that the Environmental Protection Agency is taking too long to clean up the hazard and is not good at communicating with Ambler's citizens. He would like to have all the waste removed, not just capped, despite the many years of inconvenience that would cause, and would like a recreation area on the remediated site. He has left the REACH project and is currently working with Lisa Jacobs and Frances Barg on a University of Pennsylvania project studying the health of Ambler's residents.
Table of Contents
Grew up in West Ambler, Pennsylvania, one of three children of single mother. Mother worked in Borough of Ambler office. Attended Ambler Junior High School and Wissahickon High School. Neighborhood all black; none of neighbors worked at asbestos plant. Pleasant place to live. Trouble with law led to eight years in US Army; worked as chaplain's assistant. Married, fathered a son, divorced.
Lived with grandparents for seven years; worked as heat treater. Attended Montgomery County Community College, obtained social work degree from Villanova University. Began career at Philadelphia Senior Center; then worked in low-income apartment complex. Remarried. Opened tea shop with sister. Met Edward Emmett there, was hired to work on pilot program for Ambler REACH.
Grandfather had worked at asbestos plant, died of mesothelioma; class action lawsuit paid descendants large sums. Before that no one aware of hazard; children all played on hills of asbestos-containing waste, slid down hills, swam in creek downriver from asbestos plant. Transcribed about forty of eighty or so interviews of residents; mostly people he knew or had known. No community involvement for him. Only interviewees concerned about hazard those with asbestosis; most not worried or interested in issue.
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taking too long to clean up waste. Only sidewalks and lights completed. Wants waste all removed, though that means at least ten years of constant truck haulage. South Ambler, not an issue when he was a child, now covered, replanted, and fenced. Ambler's economy improving; demographics changing. Sister, twenty years in military, involved in BoRit CAG. EPA communications poor. Cooke now working on parallel project with Frances Barg and Lisa Jacobs; University of Pennsylvania project surveying residents' health.
About the Interviewer
Lee Sullivan Berry earned a master’s degree in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame, and a bachelor of arts degree in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania. As a staff member in the Center for Oral History, Berry conducts background research and oral history interviews, edits transcripts of completed interviews, and coordinates with interviewers and interviewees to finalize transcripts. She was the lead interviewer for the REACH Ambler project and has presented her work at meetings of the American Society for Environmental History and Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region.