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
Learn about the community involvement and their strategies to
address the cleanup.
Relate the problems identified in Fort Valley to the community of
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
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
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.