Submitted by Dan & Clotilda Yakimchuk

This report from Dan & Clotilda Yakimchuk will describe our observations regarding a tour of a toxic waste site in Fort Valley, Georgia. The purpose of our visit was to:

Learn about a particular toxic waste site and it's impact on the community.

Learn about the community involvement and their strategies to address the cleanup.

Relate the problems identified in Fort Valley to the community of Cape Breton.

The first section of our report will describe our stay in Macon, Georgia and conclude with our opinions on what we have learned.

John McCown, a representative from Sierra Club, Georgia, met our group in Macon and outlined our activities for the next two evenings. At our beautiful and very comfortable bed and breakfast accomodations, we were introduced to Marvin Crafter a councillor and environmentalist and people from the community.

During the round table discussions our hosts outlined many of the environmental issues confronting their community and the group's continuing struggle to solve these problems.

They related information about an Association with approximately 500-600 members from a community of 8,000 people. Mr. Crafter elaborated on the strategies used to maintain interest and control of the agenda "clean up the toxic waste."

One of the strategies used by the group to prevent the age old idea of "divide and conquer" of people by corporation and people in authority, required the development of a specific policy. All information circulated to the outside community must be approved by the executive and the group. He also talked about screeniing of potential members and this was a very thorough process. Marvin detailed attempts by outside persons to bribe association members with money. To date, all monies offered to members or the group have been rejected if the offer did not coincide with the Association's philosophy and mandate.

Mr. Crafter talked about several court challenges, the group's successes, fund-raising efforts and the allocation of monies, a SuperFund given by the US Federal Government to clean up toxic wastes. Woolfolk Company has been identified to receive such funds. As a group, the Cape Breton delegation shared information about our issues back home.

Monday included a number of presentations by people of Fort Valley. Kyle Bryant, a science major graduate from State University, reported on a 4-year study of toxic wastes and pesticides from an industrial plant located in the middle of a black community. He spoke about themany chemicals and referred to high levels of dioxins and arsenic with its effects on humans. His information included a slide of a new library constructed by corporate donations, approved by local government officials on a capped toxic waste site. Other facilities in the adjacent area included a home for mentally challenged adults and a sports complex. Two of the town's five water wells were closed due to leaching of arsenic in the ground. This site has been identified as one of the worst toxic wastes in the United States. It was interesting to hear from Mr. Bryant regarding Woolfolk Plant owned by Canadyne-Georgia with connections in Canada and Japan.

During the day, other speakers presented information about Environmental Racism, Environmental Justice and the community of politically forgotten people. Environmental Racism refers to the location of industries in the midst of poverty strickened, high unemployment, poor ethnic communities. Generally, there is little concern by the corporations for safety and health issues. Consultation with members of the community may be non-existent. The Committee for Environmental Justice is a multi-racial, multi-issue network of people and organizations working for economic, social and environmental justice.

John McCown, a member of Sierra Club and a former army officer, and a Toxic Waste Disposal Expert spoke about corporations and acquisition of enormous economic wealth and political power. These corporations as a rule appear to have little concern for workers, community and the environment. His presentations concluded with suggestions of techniques to hold corporations more accountable to a community.

A black man from the community approximately 50 years of age (looked much older) spoke about the effects of exposure to plant chemicals and pesticides. He spoke of his deteriorating health, lupus and skin cancer, which his physician stated was linked to his exposure to plant chemicals. It was very sad to listen to his story and even more so the sense of hopelessness and resignation to his situation.

Following an excellent presentation by Mark Biagi, a marine biologist from the Cape Breton delegation, we proceeded to tour the community and meet some people. The first impression was shabby looking community, buildings boarded, empty homes on the other side of the railroad track. The three families interviewed all spoke about the loss of loved ones. Infants as well as adults, chronic respiratory diseases, skin cancer, birth defects, neurological diseases and other types of cancer. Many times as people told their story, they were overcome by tears and filled with emotion. This community has certainly made the connection between chemicals, the environment and health, hence the commitment to resolve environmental issues.

Opinions

Our trip to Georgia confirms what we both knew and suspected: "wealthy corporations' inhumanity towards men" is still alive and well as evidenced in Fort Valley. We believe the corporate body as a rule have little consideration for safety, standards and the health of a community.

Just as significant, the lack of consultations and meaningful dialogue with members of a community regarding the company, location and its impact was not apparent.

Generally, people from an ethnic and poor community when faced with the choice between employment and a livelihood, health and environment, it would seem that jobs are more important than health. Jobs win over health and the environment. Profit, regardless of the costs, seems to be the motivation for corporate operations. This is a world-wide phenomena found in Fort Valley and even in Cape Breton as well. Responsibility and accountability are both strong values that should be expected by a community from corporations and elected officials.

The reported support of 600 people in an organization of Fort Valley is a tremendous accomplishment. We were not clear if this support came from both black and white people of the community. However we know there are people with a variety of professional backgrounds from the black community who support Mr. Crafter's efforts. We agree that toxic wastes affect all people in a vicinity regardless of color or income. Cape Breton does not seem to have the strong support and commitment from a wider community needed for success.

Overall, our trip to Fort Valley was a stimulating venture for both of us. We appreciated the opportunity to be part of the exchange program. We have learned that a clean environment enriches humanity and the lives of people in a community.

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