Junkyards, Scrapyards, and Ribbons of Black

People in the area known as the Newtown community of Gainesville, Georgia, know they are dying of cancer. On a walking tour this May, a church delegation placed black bows on mailboxes of house after house where one, two, three, and even four people in a home were victims of cancer or other toxic-related diseases.

Seventeen major toxic sites are within walking distance of the neighborhood, not to mention those not yet identified. Young and old are dying. Children are being born with defects.

As the stories of death unfolded in this African-American neighborhood, members of the delegation--which was sponsored by the National Council of Churches (NCC) Racial Justice Working Group--learned that there are no toxic sites in the white neighborhoods of Gainesville North. We learned that local, state, and federal agencies have not responded or have been slow to respond. We noted that no white church leaders were present (nor had they come to previous gatherings on this subject). And we learned the media have been uninterested.

A survey of 40 neighborhood homes with residents who have lived there 20 years or more showed 18 cases of cancer--in 40 homes!--three cases of lupus, 12 of asthmatic bronchitis, two of emphysema, one of tuberculosis, one collapsed lung, and one brain tumor. Authorities dismissed the survey, blaming the cancers on smoking, drinking, or the "lifestyles" of residents.

The Newtown community is one of several African-American neighborhoods located south of the Jesse Jewel Parkway, close to two Superfund sites. Thirteen of the 16 industries in the Gainesville area that report toxic releases under federal requirements are located south of the Jesse Jewel Parkway. Of the total reported toxic wastes released in Gainesville in 1990, 75 percent (440,160 of 587,664 pounds) was released south of the parkway.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1993
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