Take a Deep Breath…

The toxics that may have once filled your lungs—the pollutants from the chemical waste plant that threatened cancer, asthma and birth defects—are no longer. Friolan Chan-Liongco, who passed away last week due to a heart attack, cleaned the air for you.

A former employee of the high-tech toxic waste plant named Romic, Chan-Liongco stood up to the company that had for decades sacrificed East Palo Alto community members’ health in its pursuit of profit.

Two years ago, at the age of 64, he was burned at Romic in a chemical explosion that lead to an 11-day hospital stay, chronic pain and unemployment. But Froilan refused to be bought, silenced or defeated, and filed grievances with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  His filing, as it turned out, was the tipping point that lead to the demise of Romic.

There had been decades of community organizing against Romic, imploring public health and safety agencies to hold the renegade company to standard. Friolan’s case made the chorus of calls by the community to shut down Romic undeniable, his was the voice they needed all along.

They have since shut down Romic, and East Palo Alto is cleaning the land of whatever contaminants lay hidden its soil. From now on, generations may grow up not knowing what dangers once seeped, leaked and exploded there. They may never know of Friolan, a Filipino immigrant who was a David to a modern day Goliath, a multi-million dollar company backed by the most powerful industry known in the history of the world. And the old orthodoxy that says worker organizing inside the plant gates exists in utter isolation of community organizing outside (if the two are not in opposition to each other) was debunked by Friolan’s gesture of reaching out to East Palo Alto, and the residents receiving him as one of their own.

That relationship, that synergy that shut down Romic, was not just strategic, it was caring, personal, sincere. It is why at Friolan Chan-Liongco’s viewing last week, among his immediate family and friends, three rows were filled with East Palo Alto youth from Youth United for Community Action (YUCA). They came because their common cause also made them family. And sleeping peacefully through the viewing ceremony was baby Kierce, hardly a month old, in her mother Annie’s arms. Annie, the 24-year-old director of YUCA, fought Romic from the time when she was a fourteen-year-old.

Baby Keirce will have never met Froilan, but his life protected hers, saved her from perils that previous generations had to fear.

Take a deep breath East Palo Alto, and honor Froilan Chan-Liongco.



  1. I knew Froilan.  He and his wife Sonya invited us to their house, welcomed us as family, and EPA residents who were fighting Romic did the same.  Because of him, Cal-OSHA forced workplace changes within Romic and we will ensure that as the clean-up and decontamination processes move forward, that no workers and community members get harmed in the process.  Rest in peace, Froilan Chan-Liongco

  2. Froilan Chan-Liongco’s committment to fighting against Romic will not be forgottent.  As the next generation of young leaders continue the fight in East Palo Alto for a clean and safe environment, they will remember Froilans battle against Romic.  Romic is now shut down, but the land still needs to be thoroughly cleaned up.  This battle for environmental and social justice continues and we honor Froilans contributions to challenging Romic.

  3. its Shantal from YUCA I’m so glad you wrote this we worked so hard for Frolian and I’m very glad that you care for him so much that you would write a thoughtful article for him.

  4. Men! it’s hard to put in word what one feels knowing that someone close to you just past away.

      Let me start off my introducing my self…My name is Alvaro ALvarez I work in a youth organization name Romic that has worked hard to shut down a chemical plant in East Palo Alto .This Chemical plant is named Romic, this chemical plant has had many violation and many people have been the victim of it’s “incidents”. This same chemical plant was the same one where Froilan got burned. While working with a tank, a chemical reaction occur which let to an explosion where Froilan was caught in the middle of it. He received 3rd degree burns and no medical attention until 6 hours after. YUCA (Youth United for Community Action) worked with Froilan in winning his case. In till this point, his case has not been won…it’s sad to see how many families suffer over love ones that had past away. I may not know what their Family is going through right know, but i do know how it feels to lose some one precious to you. I will miss Froilan, though we were never related he will always be a YUCA family member. It’s hard to understand these feeling where one does not know if it’s real or not.If these problems that haunts us for the rest of our life’s knowing that the next time that we see them will be in our dreams or in our memories. I would want to thank Raj Jayadev for writing this. I admire your words and the passion that you put into this loving article. I will miss him and i hope that no one ever forgets him..

    Thank you,
    Alvaro Alvarez

  5. i worked for Romic in 1986 to 1988 and found the conditions horrible I worked in the laboratory testing all the chemicals coming in and during the the various processes. I warned them of there possible demise and the harm to there employees and to the community I was ignored and shunned by my supervisors and the owner and his family.Today I suffer from lung problems and always wonder what else?

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