Graniteville Alert

Toxics Action is calling our attention to a small town crisis to which we all might relate.  

Just 784 citizens strong, Graniteville is a village with a history of dealing with industrial health hazards. It is not surprsing folks there are alarmed by the  proposal to site an asphalt plant in their midst.

The all too recent memory of Silicosis due to dust from the area’s granite industry has raised local awareness, making them highly alert to new industrial health threats and binding the resisters into Neighbors for Healthy Communities.

When I read about public opposition to the proposed plant, I wanted first to know more about the potential hazards before venturing to voice my own; so I consulted that twenty-first century oracle of diverse opinion, the “Google.”

What I learned would concern me if a plant were to locate in my own neighborhood.

While there were certainly many examples of reassurance that if regulatory standards are carefully observed and enforced, no harm should come to the community surrounding an asphalt plant, there was acknowlegdement that asphalt fumes contain known toxins; In the words of the EPA:

“Asphalt processing and asphalt roofing manufacturing facilities are major sources of hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxics may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems and skin irritation.” [EPA]. According to one health agency, asphalt fumes contain substances known to cause cancer, can cause coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, severe irritation of the skin, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. [NJDHSS] Animal studies show PAHs affect reproduction, cause birth defects and are harmful to the immune system. [NJDHSS] The US Department of Health and Human Services has determined that PAHs may be carcinogenic to humans.

If the EPA opinion wasn’t enough to give pause, a 1997 study  by the National Parks Service contains the following warning:

NIOSH urges caution related to human exposure to asphalt. Current NIOSH research indicates that asphalt products are carcinogenic to laboratory animals and, therefore may be more toxic to humans than previously believed [366].

So the question of underlying hazard was pretty conclusively answered for me.  That hazard is real and recognized, and the only thing standing between the community and those toxins is the regulatory process, in which the people of Graniteville have had more than small occasion to be disappointed.

But the problem doesn’t end there.  Even if the plant were successfully sealed-up, emission free, there would still be risk from the collateral exposure that would inevitably occur when the material is loaded and unloaded out of doors and transported through the town.

Safety regulations governing necessary products and services are always heavily tempered by pragmatic considerations.   When acceptable practices are finally enshrined in law, thanks to vigorous industry input, health and safety risk reduction has already been carefully weighed against the cost benefit.  So regulations never achieve 100% risk reduction, even when strictly enforced.

Furthermore, accidents involving explosions are always a risk at asphalt plants.  Such an occurrence would not just endanger the workforce, but the community as a whole.

The people of Graniteville have every reason to be concerned.

Toxics Action would like us to know that there will be a fund-raising dinner at the Old Labor Hall in Barre on February 21 at 6:00 PM, to support Neighbors for a Healthy ommunity in their fight against this plant.  In addition, there will be music,  a live auction and a bake sale

Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for kids under 10, and may be reserved by phoning 802-476-3710.

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About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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