Barbara Rockwell and her husband David fulfilled a dream when they moved to the southern end of the Village of Corrales and started building their home. “Corrales in 1977 was a rural village farming alfalfa, apples, corn and chile,” she says. But it was slowly becoming a bedroom suburb of Albuquerque, she adds. “There was no Intel on the western horizon, just the flowing line of the mesa and open fields of grass,” Rockwell says in an email interview. “Above all, there was the fresh, sweet air.”
Within the three years of settling in the village, Intel planted itself on the mesa directly above and to the west of the Rockwells’ adobe home. As the computer chip industry took off, so did Intel. By 1992, the facility was rapidly expanding into what would become an enormous plant with more than 3,000 employees.
The chip-maker grew, and so did the number of times the Rockwells and others living nearby broke out in unexplained rashes, coughs, headaches and asthma-like symptoms, she says. “When Intel 'ramped up' in the early ’90s, that fresh air was gone, replaced by a stew of noxious, toxic odors that made people sick and angry.”
The Rockwells and about 30 others formed Corrales Residents for Clean Air and Water. “We were all suffering separately until a notice in our local paper, 'Tired of breathing solvent fumes from Intel?’ brought us together.” The group argued people were getting sick from plant emissions. Members said the potential health hazards arose from large quantities of toxic chemicals the plant uses, combined with Intel's location on a little mesa sloping east to the Rio Grande. Loma Larga and Meadowlark roads roughly border the lower Corrales escarpment area.
“When Intel 'ramped up' in the early ’90s, that fresh air was gone, replaced by a stew of noxious, toxic odors that made people sick and angry.”
“What followed was an incredible learning experience of both the good and bad in our state, and for me personally, the formation of some lifelong friendships,” Rockwell says. Under her leadership, the Corrales group scored a big win in 1994. The plant agreed to put in limits on the amount of hazardous and volatile chemical pollutants it emits from its stacks each hour.
But a few years later, the agreement was discarded, and in 2000, Intel was granted a minor source permit from the state Environment Department. New Mexico’s decision-makers said their hands were tied, and they could not make Intel abide by the settlement agreement since the state was not involved in its creation.
That same year, the Rockwells moved from Corrales to Placitas for health reasons. “Our health improved immediately,” she says. But she did not forget about Intel or the village. She became even busier and more vocal as an activist. Barbara and David were strong forces throughout Intel’s subsequent air quality permit revision hearings, including the most recent 2010 revision.
In 2005, she published a book called Boiling Frogs: Intel vs. The Village about the battle waged by a Corrales living under the plume of the big industrial plant.
Even today, people downwind of Intel continue to get sick, she says. Among them is Rosemary Keefe, who speaks publicly about developing pulmonary fibrosis after moving to the same neighborhood the Rockwells left in 1996. Rockwell says people who dwell near Intel or other plants are concerned about health impacts.
“What I would advise anyone going up against a polluter is to stop them before they get started. Once a polluting industry is entrenched, the chances of stopping them are just about zero,” she says. “Be motivated by your anger and guided by your gut ... and channel it with lots of letters to the editor, web posts and in-your-face whatever.”