Wilma Subra : “Telling It, Like It Is”
She has been shot at; threatened and called names. This has not deterred sixty-something, grandmother, and chemist Wilma Subra from her work – she just moved her desk away from the window. Wilma Subra, a Louisiana native, became interested in environmental work in college when she witnessed cow renderings floating down a river. Holding a graduate degree in microbiology and chemistry she has studied environmental issues for over 40 years. In addition to conducting experiments, such as testing for chemicals in human and animal blood samples, she is a communicator and peacemaker. She translates chemical terminologies to community members desiring to speak factually to local factories, pesticide companies, and politicians. She helps concerned mothers find answers to the chemicals being sprayed on playgrounds and provides many people answers to why they may be sick.
She has attended numerous community meetings where she played the role of peacemaker between company heads and concerned citizens. She is also the siren alerting local citizens of unforeseen dangers in their drinking water, food, and/or air. I asked if she ever felt scared speaking to people who were looking to dismiss her. She said in a two-fold answer, “No, because I realize it is not about me. It’s about the health of the community. I see myself as telling the truth.” She then said, “I also don’t see opposition in the corporate or community leaders. I know they are all citizens and ultimately concerned – most wear the hats of mothers and fathers when they leave work.” She said in the past few years, her work has turned into answering hundreds of thousands of calls coming in from around the world from concerned people. She has taken calls from citizens all over the world concerned with the link of chemicals to personal and planetary health. She said thousands of calls come when a family member becomes ill and chemicals become the suspect of the cause. She said she never turns a call away, though it may take a bit of time to return the call, she focuses on answering all of the questions she receives.
She turned her focus on being a voice for communities when her early work after college had her testing for possible chemical exposure. She would later learn that community members were never told of their exposure to dangerous levels of chemicals. She left her job as a research analyst and founded Subra Company, testing local Louisiana hot sauces to pay the bills then spending the rest of her time doing volunteer work answering people’s questions. She felt communities deserved to know. Often, she has tested for chemicals in communities using her mobile testing equipment where she has many times found metals in local drinking water.
A songbird of truth, I found her manner calm and direct. While many of us get emotional and overwhelmed when learning much of our environment is filled with harmful chemicals, she deals with the facts and sticks to the point. She has been face to face with oil executives, top politicians speaking her truth. As synchronicity works, prior to our call, I watched two men in knee-high boots and long gloves spraying bright yellow chemicals on the common area in our neighborhood. In four hours children would be home playing – no sign was left as a notice of the spray. I felt my own heart racing as Wilma guided me on steps to take: “First, ask for a Safety Data Sheet listing which chemicals were used, then use a website looking up the chemicals.” When I admitted I felt fluttering over doing this, she said, “You can do it, it’s about the children.” I got off the phone charged with my mission – after all, as Wilma reiterated, it wasn’t about me.