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The Georgia-Pacific paper plant is the town of Crossett’s lifeblood, but it could also be slowly killing it


“LET ME GIVE you a sketch of the neighborhood,” Leroy Patton said as he put his car in park on the side of Lawson Road. He took a toothpick out of his mouth and used it to point to an empty house, an abandoned doll facedown in the weeds out front. The Lawson couple used to live here, Patton says; the street was named for them. “They’re dead from cancer and stroke.”

He pointed to another property. “Down here is Pat. Her parents died from cancer back there, and now her husband’s sick too.” He turned to a long driveway lined with trees and junk cars. “And this here is my place. Ain’t nobody but me and my old lady left. Everybody dead in my family but me. All of ’em from cancer.”

The Patton family has lived on Lawson Road in Crossett, Arkansas, for three generations. Like most of the town, the Pattons earned their living from the nearby lumber and paper mill. In 1962, when Patton was 20, Georgia-Pacific, a fast-growing lumber and paper products company, bought the mill and turned it into a paper, chemical and plywood plant. Production soared. Patton watched the mill prosper and bring prosperity to his town—1,200 jobs, $6.7 million in annual tax revenue, a zoo, a 3-D printer for the library. But he also watched, one by one, his parents, neighbors and high school friends die.

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