The Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald  [Printer-friendly version]
November 3, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: In Georgia, the precautionary principle is
advancing in several locales simultaneously as environmental justice
activists, church groups, and government officials join forces to
explore the power of foresight and forecaring to protect public
health in communities.]

By Lee Shearer

[RPR introduction: The precautionary principle is moving forward
steadily in Georgia. In April, ECO-Action in Atlanta sponsored a
precaution workshop for local, state and federal government officials.
(We last heard about ECO-Action in RPR #7.) Subsequently, ECO-Action
was invited to put on a precaution workshop for the Northeast Georgia
Children's Environmental Health Coalition which is made up of
community-based groups, plus representatives from the University of
Georgia and the Northeast [Georgia] Health District a wing of the
Georgia Division of Public Health, in Athens, Ga.

Now a citizens' group in Athens -- Clean Air Athens -- has set a
long-term goal of getting the precautionary principle adopted in
Athens (Clarke County). The group's short-term goal is to reduce toxic
air emissions from two local manufacturing firms, Certainteed and
Nakanishi (a manufacturer of bearings). Bill Sheehan of the Product
Policy Institute in Athens, who attended the April workshop in
Atlanta, is promoting the precautionary principle and related
innovative policies and has joined fellow residents working with
Clean Air Athens.

As we learn in the news story below, the Northeast [Georgia] Health
District has now asked the Clarke County Board of Health to ask
Nakanishi in Athens to find a less-dangerous substitute for their main
toxic emission; presently the firm emits 300 pounds of cancer-causing
TCE each day into the air in Athens, near a middle school.

Interestingly, the Clarke County Board of Health has no legal
authority to demand reduction in toxic releases -- in Georgia,
environmental regulators are the ones charged with protecting public
health from toxics, and it is simply the case that corporations own
the legislature in Georgia, as in so many other states. All the county
health department can legally do is politely request that a
corporation stop poisoning the community.

An important motivating force in this story is Jill McElheney, a
citizen in Athens-Clarke County who founded Micah's Mission. It was
she who got the Northeast Health District to join local citizens in
forming the Northeast Georgia Children's Environmental Health
Coalition. A child of Ms. McElheney's was diagnosed with leukemia at
age 4 (he's now doing well). Ms. McElheney's water supply was later
found to be chemically contaminated. Powerful (and powerfully
motivated) women, like Jill McElheney, and Carol Williams of
ECO-Action, have been leading the toxics/EJ movements for many years.
It seems only natural that they should now lead the precautionary
principle citizens' movement that has arisen out of grass-roots
efforts to end toxic injustice.

This is a story of successful multi-racial coalitions, working with
both conservative and liberal churches, that have reached out to bring
university personnel, plus local and state government agencies, into
this work. They have found a way to move precaution forward to protect
children in a state not generally known for being on the forefront of
innovative public policies. It doesn't get much better than this. --
RPR Editors]


By Lee Shearer

The Clarke County Board of Health will schedule a meeting to decide
whether to ask an Athens factory to stop emitting trichloroethylene,
or TCE, a hazardous chemical that may cause cancer.

An official with the Northeast Health District presented information
on TCE at the board's bi-monthly regular meeting Wednesday and asked
the board to draft a letter making the request. The factory in
question, bearing maker Nakanishi Manufacturing Corporation, uses the
chemical as a degreaser at its factory at the intersection of Voyles
Road and Spring Valley Road near Coile Middle School and New Grove
Baptist Church.

But the board, meeting with only four of its seven members, should
wait until it can get all or most of the members at a meeting, said
Athens-Clarke County Commissioner States McCarter, a member of the
health board.

The board of health cannot force the company to stop using TCE. The
letter would merely request that the company find a different chemical
to use.

The company releases about 300 pounds of TCE per day into the
atmosphere, Louis Kudon, director of the Northeast Health District's
Community Health Assessment, Surveillance and Epidemiology Unit, told
the board.

Long-term exposure to the chemical can damage the human liver, kidneys
and central nervous system, and health agencies consider it "probably
carcinogenic" to humans, he said.

Health district workers have sampled air at the nearby middle school
and other locations close to the plant, but did not detect the
chemical. However, the equipment they used could only detect TCE at
concentrations above one part per million, he said.

Researchers at the University of Georgia plan to go back and sample
air in the area again, however, this time using equipment that can
measure the chemical in parts per billion, he said.

Kudon said the health district has not heard of any increase in
cancers or other health problems at Coile Middle School.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration limits
workers' TCE exposure to no more than 100 parts per million over an
eight-hour period, but there is no standard for outdoor air, he said.

The chemical once was commonly used in household products, but now it
is rarely used, he said.

Most companies have replaced TCE with other products, Kudon said as he
asked the board to send the company a letter requesting it stop using
the chemical.

"We would like the Board of Health to write a letter stating that
releasing TCE into the environment is not a good idea and we would
like them to replace it," he said.

Georgia produces more TCE air pollution than all but seven other
states, at about 231,000 pounds a year, and the Nakanishi plant
produces nearly half of Georgia's total with about 111,000 pounds, he

McCarter said he was "not comfortable" with voting on the letter with
only four board members present, nor with the fact that health workers
had not actually detected TCE in air near the factory.

Board of Health Chairman Charles Braucher Sr. suggested calling a
meeting in December to take up the issue, but other board members
suggested a meeting even earlier, later this month.