Monday, December 14, 2009

Athens, GA - Home to Toxic Chemicals that Will Be Around Forever

Agencies Deny Equal Protection Granted Under Law to Environmental Justice Communities

Micah's Mission (Ministry to Improve Childhood & Adolescent Health) met with Governor Sonny Perdue and requested a commissioned study on high volume chemicals in Georgia to determine their impact on the state's children. Micah's Mission proposed to the Governor that funding for this study be obtained through tobacco settlement money which would be at his discretion to award. [Rural Roads Magazine, Volume 2, No. 2, Summer 2004, pg 12] Governor Perdue chose however to award the tobacco settlement money to a top air polluter in Athens, Georgia to build a public warehouse road for a proposed expansion.[,2668,78006749_79688147_93278236,00.html]

The proposed expansion was met with fierce opposition from the community concerned about the continuing deterioration of Athens' airshed, and the health impacts associated with increases in air toxic emissions on children. []
Combined with the economic downturn of 2008, the expansion permit was withdrawn by the industry.[] It was not reported whether or not the tobacco settlement money awarded to this company by Governor Perdue was indeed utilized to build their warehouse road after the proposed expansion failed.

In his denial to commission a study on the high volume chemicals impacting Georgia children, Governor Perdue overlooked a group of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs) which have been prevalent in the manufacturing of carpets and textiles, food wrappers, teflon cookware, and other consumer goods. []

Known in the 1970's to be toxic, ubiquitous, bioaccumulative, and resistant to biodegradation, the title Georgia holds as Carpet Capital of the World has come with a high price. In essence, PFCs behave like no other persistent man-made chemicals before them, and continued to be used for decades knowing damage was occurring to human health and the environment. []

Micah's Mission, after a confidential consultation with a top environmental health official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, petitioned the state of Georgia to investigate the exposures of local poisoned communities in Athens. These two neighborhoods are well defined as environmental justice communities according to the EPA definition. [] The following information has been thoroughly documented, and any records will be made available upon request:

Pittard Road is bordered by an industrial facility that for two decades knowingly manufactured perfluorochemicals in spite of its knowledge of detrimental health and ecosystem impacts emanating from its operations worldwide. The facility was shielded from the public health investigation of Pittard Road from 2003-2006 although it was in violation of local, state, and federal laws at the time of the public health investigation. Residents were not disclosed any information about the violations or chemical releases of this facility to air, soil, surface, or groundwater. The list of agencies which withheld information about historical perfluorochemical use of the owners of this facility include:

U.S. EPA Headquarters - Washington, DC
U.S. Department of Justice
EPA Region IV - Atlanta, Georgia
EPA, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Ecosystems Research Division
U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry
Georgia Environmental Protection Division
Georgia Chemical Hazards Program
Northeast Georgia Health District
Athens-Clarke County Health Department

Air testing from a Canadian pilot project in 2004-2005, while the public health investigation of Pittard Road was underway, revealed levels in Athens, Georgia of volatile perfluorochemical precursors. Scientific interpretation of these results attributed perfluorochemical levels in Athens to a local manufacturing facility. Pittard Road is due a comprehensive and truthful evaluation with no more protection of this industry. While we hope it is not true, was Pittard Road a sacrificial lamb for EPA to negotiate cooperation with this industry on the harm of perfluorochemicals? It is now clear that all residents of Athens, including University of Georgia students, should rightfully be informed of just how contaminated Athens Clarke County is with perfluorochemicals, and what is being done to mitigate this exposure.

Additionally, our Dunlap Road community, is currently saddled with a landfill expansion which was promised in an agreement with government in 1992 never to occur. This treaty has been willfully and defiantly broken by current elected leaders. A permit application to continue to unethically dump toxic consumer products laden with perfluorochemicals (which will never biodegrade) awaits approval by Georgia Environmental Protection Division. What quantity of perfluorochemicals have already made its way into the landfill from three decades of operations? To what degree has it contaminated the groundwater? Has our infamous Poop on the Loop wastewater treatment facility near the University of Georgia been tested for perfluorochemicals which are hauled constantly to the landfill in sewage sludge? Has this historically problematic wastewater treatment facility which receives numerous complaints of odors been tested for perfluorochemicals that can attach themselves to airborne biological contaminants? Are perfluorochemicals lurking in local compost material? Now that air testing has identified Athens, GA as a perfluorochemical hotspot, what are the exposures to students, landfill residents, Pittard Road, and the population at large? How have these persistent chemicals entered into our food chain and impacted organic farmers in Athens?

Will our environmental justice communities be given equal protection under the law? Or will EPA continue to deny that a perfluorochemical problem even exists in Athens?

We hope to hear promptly from our elected leaders given the urgency of this issue.