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Environmentalists, Inc. Papers

Identifier: SCU-SCPC-EI

The collection consists of 118 linear feet of material, 1946 to 2015, and chiefly dates from 1971 to 1989. It documents the work undertaken by Environmentalists, Inc., including its association with many other organizations in its quest to protect the environment and public health. It is arranged into seven series: General, Administrative, Legal, Topical, Publications, Audiovisual, and Clippings. The Legal and Topical series comprise the largest portions of the collection. Most of the collection has been processed to the subseries level.

The Administrative series, c. 1950 to 2015, documents the organizational and financial activities of Environmentalists, Inc. It includes the official charter, organizational bylaws, records of meetings and activities, membership records, and financial records, including records of fundraising ideas and grant proposals. The file on Ruth Thomas’s compositions includes a play by Thomas about the importance of environmental education. Ruth Thomas’s notes are rather complicated because just one page of notes can address various subjects. The correspondence file includes letters to and from such South Carolina politicians as Representative Butler Derrick, Senator Ernest F. Hollings, and former Governor Richard W. Riley.

The Legal series, 1970 to 2014, contains materials pertaining to the many lawsuits and other legal proceedings in which Environmentalists, Inc. was involved or took an interest. The cases are primarily arranged chronologically and subsequently by case name, with the case number following where applicable. The cases came before a variety of bodies, chiefly the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The series also includes cases that were heard before the South Carolina Circuit Courts, other states’ courts, U.S. District Courts, and the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The legal proceedings to prevent the licensing and opening of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant, which began in 1970 and ended in 1977, occupy five linear feet. There are also three case names associated with the lawsuit against the ThermalKEM hazardous waste incinerator, to which Environmentalists, Inc. was a party.

The Topical series, 1946 to 2015, documents issues important to Environmentalists, Inc. Four topics dominate this series: Hazardous Waste, Nuclear, Nuclear and Hazardous Waste Sites, and Organizations. The Nuclear and Hazardous Waste Sites subseries focuses on the following sites in South Carolina: the Pinewood Landfill, Savannah River Site, Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Station, ThermalKEM Hazardous Waste Incinerator, and the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant. Most of these sites include information about the different companies that have owned them, including Allied-Gulf Nuclear Services and Allied-General Nuclear Services (a partnership between Allied Chemical Nuclear Products, Inc. and the General Atomic Company), which owned and were involved in building the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant. Some of the material filed under the Barnwell Plant pertains to the separate Barnwell Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility, operated by Chem-Nuclear Systems. The Pinewood Landfill was first owned by Laidlaw Environmental Services and known as the Laidlaw Hazardous Waste Landfill. It was subsequently owned by SCA Services, which became GSX Corporation, and then by Safety-Kleen. Materials pertaining to the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board have been included under the Savannah River Site file in the Nuclear and Hazardous Waste Sites subseries rather than under the Organizations subseries because all of the Board’s work and research directly pertain to the Savannah River Site.

Groups within the Organizations subseries are organized primarily by their status as governmental or non-governmental entities. The governmental organization files contain documents related to Ruth Thomas’s testimony at various hearings and legal proceedings, as well as correspondence with and generic information about the organizations. The files on non-governmental organizations include materials related to groups in which Ruth Thomas held membership or an interest. Most notable is the Woman’s Club of Columbia file, which reflects her activities on hazardous waste education while she served as chairman of the club’s Conservation Department, 1971 to 1972.

The Publications series, 1970 to 2014, consists mainly of newsletters, magazines, and pamphlets produced by various organizations involved in the fight against chemical and hazardous waste. One noteworthy item is the booklet, “Is South Carolina to Become a Dumping Ground for the Entire Nation’s Radioactive Wastes?” by South Carolina attorney Townsend Belser. Reading it inspired Ruth Thomas to involve herself in the fight against the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant.

The Clippings series, 1970 to 2007, is primarily concerned with nuclear and hazardous waste sites, companies involved in nuclear and hazardous waste, and people of interest to Environmentalists, Inc. The file on Charles H. Wickenberg, Jr. contains articles written by that reporter, not articles about him. The file on Ruth Thomas contains information about her work and achievements, as well as op-ed pieces written by her.

The Audiovisual series, 1955 to 2008, consists of materials in a variety of media, including photographs, photographic negatives, compact discs, a U-Matic videocassette, audio reels, and floppy disks. Items are arranged by format. The photographs date mainly from the 1970s to 1980s and depict both nuclear sites and people involved in nuclear-related matters. There are about 75 photos that depict the protests against the ThermalKEM hazardous waste incinerator that took place in 1988 and 1989. There is also a set of two CD-ROMs that provide supplementary information to two booklets located in the Yucca Mountain files, entitled Final Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada.


  • 1946-2020
  • Majority of material found within 1971-1989


118 Linear Feet

Organizational Note

Environmentalists, Inc. is a small, non-profit, grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the environment. It was founded in South Carolina in February 1972, during a time when “concern for the environment was still considered an extreme and radical idea—especially in South Carolina.” It was originally founded in response to fears over the building of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant and to combat the promotion of nuclear power without adequate attention to its risks and weaknesses. Other issues with which the organization has been involved include nuclear power, the reprocessing and storage of spent nuclear fuel, and radioactive waste. The organization is chiefly run by volunteers, including university professors, lawyers, and social and health care professionals, with some participation from technical experts. It received a commendation from the Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes in 1989 for achievement in and dedication to the cause of environmental justice.

The driving force behind the organization was Ruth Sackett Thomas (1920-2020), a former art teacher and draftswoman. Thomas served in many different roles in Environmentalists, Inc., including legal assistant, researcher, coordinator, treasurer and president. She spoke and testified frequently in both public hearings and hearings held before the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and city and county councils. She often questioned and cross-examined witnesses in hearings. For much of its history, the organization was based out of Thomas’s home in Columbia. Due to her efforts on behalf of the environment, she received the 1989 Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service.

Following its founding, Environmentalists, Inc. immediately began fighting the planned construction of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Barnwell County. The group initiated an appeal against the licensing of the plant in 1974 and persuaded the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold hearings. A total of 36 hearings sparked national attention on the hazards of nuclear waste and eventually led to the closing of the incomplete plant in 1977.

Since that time, Environmentalists, Inc., comprised of fewer than 100 members, has devoted itself to the protection of the environment and public health in South Carolina, while assisting individuals and groups in ensuring a healthy environment. It has filed over twenty “lawsuits or administrative appeals to stop projects it believes are bad for South Carolina’s environment.” Those projects have included a low-level radioactive waste site, also located in Barnwell County; a hazardous waste landfill in Sumter County; a nuclear facility near the Savannah River; and hazardous waste incinerators in Rock Hill and Roebuck.

Environmentalists, Inc. also engages in research into environmental issues and in educational programs. It works with various local, state and national organizations in both sharing information and in initiating and intervening at licensing and review processes for corporations and facilities that they believe to be potentially harmful or hazardous to the public. These organizations include the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters and the Piedmont Organic Movement.


Donated by Ruth Sackett Thomas


Copyright of the Environmentalists, Inc. Papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.

Processing Information

1995-2016, by Mae Bradford, Ana Garcia, Mary Clare Johnson, Kate Moore, Mary Kennington Steele, and Phil Warf

Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA

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