Rachel's Democracy & Health News #864  [Printer-friendly version]
December 7, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: To get to the new world of green chemistry
and sustainable business, we'll first have to end cheap waste
disposal in incinerators and landfills. As we learn here, there are
good public health reasons to do so.]

By Jill McElheney**

Thirty years ago, Florrie and Mamie Payne appealed to the Athens (Ga.)
Clarke County government. A new landfill was being considered in their
community, and they were concerned with the potential environmental
health threats their families would face. These sisters were told by
elected leaders in the mid 1970's that the landfill would be placed in
their community because not many people lived on their Dunlap Road.

Being labeled "low target population" is a phrase government still
uses today to place economic gain above the environmental values of
communities which include safe air, water and soil. Robbing
communities of dignity, health and their common good, "low target
population" is an affront to a free society.

The Paynes had no choice but to raise their families next to the
problematic landfill. Their foreshadowed nightmares have come to
pass. University of Georgia football standout, Jimmy Payne, died in
1998 of bone cancer. He was Florrie's son and Mamie's nephew. Now,
Jimmy's dad has cancer. The low target populations are the ones who
suffer greater irretrievable losses with their pain financing economic

A photo is worth a thousand words. Taken from an aerial view, the
Haynes' family home shows that their garden was eerily located next to
the landfill. Their daughter, Sharon, was born and raised within yards
of the property line where trash often blew into their yard. She has
medical problems so extensive that doctors find it difficult to
diagnose her.

Research indicates that children are more vulnerable to environmental
health hazards. Prenatal exposures can produce lifelong problems such
as learning disabilities. Childhood contact with chemicals found at
the landfill can show up as diseases in adulthood. Most recent
studies inform that children who live next to landfills have elevated
rates of asthma, and that some effects from chemical exposures can
even be passed down to unexposed future generations through genetics.
In essence, you can take the person from the landfill, but not the
landfill from the person.

Another red flag that waves on Dunlap Road, which could be an
indicator of exposures to toxicants from the landfill, are the
children who did not make it. This includes spontaneous abortions,
stillbirths, and infant deaths. The Clark family has had their fair
share of this heartache. Natalie and Rozenia have lost children after
full term pregnancies. Deaths unexplained.

If one counts up the babies from multigenerations that didn't survive,
there appears to be a serious problem. Are we looking at a gene
variant of families on Dunlap Road which put them at even a greater
risk to toxicants from the landfill? Is it possible that the babies
are genetically the most vulnerable of the vulnerable?

The older Clark women also have their losses to cope with. Brenda
lost her 28 year old son suddenly in 2005. She can tell of relatives
up and down Dunlap Road who have buried their children rather than the
natural life process where parents pass first.

Science has supported Florrie & Mamie. In 2000, Georgia Public
Health stated that: "some contamination might have entered the
groundwater as early as 1977 when the landfill began operating." Help
came over a decade late for Dunlap Road when cleanup began, but by
then the damage had been done. Dr. Kevin Pegg concluded in 1997 that
"it is likely that residents have already been exposed to the highest
amounts of toxins that they they will be exposed to."

Community member Charles Nash believes cancer is the biggest killer on
Dunlap Road. He challenges the conclusions of the local landfill
management that no one is a victim of toxic poisoning. He joined the
Northeast Georgia Children's Environmental Health Coalition to learn
more, and to take that knowledge to improve the lives of his
neighbors. He organized an environmental health fair which was
attended by over 100 community members, and a walk highlighting
awareness of the links between environmental health and the landfill.
He believes that forecaring for future generations, a term coined
"precautionary principle," should drive any decision to expand the
landfill. His young grandsons Kenyada and Dornell are often by his
side displaying the evidence of why he is so passionate about
children's environmental health.

Dunlap Road residents and members of Billups Grove Baptist Church are
allowing the precautionary principle to lead the way for change in
their community. Attending a Georgia Environmental Protection
Division (EPD) public hearing this year, which renewed the air permit
for the landfill, they learned a shocking fact: no ambient (outdoor)
air tests were required for the permit approval. Residents
questioned EPD officials how any permit can be issued before assuring
the safety of the surrounding residents with tests.

Anyone who has visited the landfill can often see the powerdy dust
stirring, and traveling with the wind. The odor, which trespasses
and chronically lowers the quality of life for residents, is a
frequent complaint. Furthermore, no indoor air sampling has ever been
taken from homes near the contaminated groundwater plume, which could
possibly be compromising residential air quality by vapor intrusion.

Today, Athens Clarke County has reached the time to make another
critical decision about the landfill. We are running out of waste
capacity in Northeast Georgia, and one of the options is to expand our
Dunlap Road landfill. The values of Dunlap Road residents should be
put on the table with the sketchy economic gain that comes from
burying trash.

Dr. Bill Sheehan, director of the Product Policy Institute, and a
waste management expert, has evaluated the landfill and concluded:

"Bottom line: the 6 to 8 year landfill capacity is simply a function
of the low ($34) tipping fee -- absurdly low compared to the real
environmental impact, to the future financial liability, or to the
future rates we will pay without a landfill (e.g., Madison County's
$60/ton). You could fill it up in 1 year if you price it low enough,
or stretch it out to 100 years."

Sheehan believes there are better options including producer
responsibility and greater use of recycling. He will be submitting
them to the Mayor & Commissioners to encourage them in a new
direction. Dr. Sheehan easily communicates just how economically
unsound it is to put garbage into the ground.

Burying trash is like a bad habit. We've done it for so long without
consideration for the people most impacted. It's time to examine the
pain and payout of the regional waste management plan of our future,
and consider Florrie & Mamie's concerns this time around.


** Jill McElheney is the founder of Micah's Mission in Winterville,

Micah's Mission
Ministry to Improve Childhood & Adolescent Health
P.O. Box 275
Winterville, GA 30683
706.742.7826 (phone)
706.543.1799 (fax)
website: http://babuice.myweb.uga.edu/MICAH/index.htm

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord
require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly
with your God. -- Micah 6:8