When Will the Time Come for St. Lawrence County Government to Talk with Residents of Akwesasne and St. Lawrence County About PCBs?
By Donald L. Hassig
I waited all winter for the March 18, 2014 meeting of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health. I awaited this meeting with great anticipation because I believed that it would be a time when people in government talked with people from Akwesasne and St. Lawrence County about PCB exposure, total persistent organic pollutants (POPs) exposure and the damages to health that have been caused and continue to be caused by this exposure.
The St. Lawrence County Board of Health has a rule that a member of the public can speak for no more than two minutes during the public forum portion of the meeting. The Board of Health has another rule that members of the public are not allowed to speak during the part of the meeting when agenda items are under discussion. These were the ground rules for the meeting that four residents of Akwesasne and four St. Lawrence County residents walked into with the desire in their hearts to make substantial oral presentations about PCBs, POPs, disease and death.
Larry Thompson spoke first. He introduced himself as the man from Akwesasne who had dug into the hazardous waste mound on the GM Powertrain site adjacent to the Akwesasne Reserve. He quickly ran through a brief explanation of his reason for doing this. It was to raise awareness of the need for removal of the “Toxic Mound”. He went on to say that he had been seriously harmed by PCB exposure.
At this point, Dr. Gregory Healey, President of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health attempted to end the public forum and move to the regular business of the meeting. Scott Sutherland, County Legislator representing District 7 questioned the lack of willingness to hear people out. He argued that two minutes was not enough time to speak and requested that the people who had traveled so far would be allowed to speak. Dr. Healey agreed to allow this. Legislator Sutherland then made a brief statement focusing upon the need for public education that would guide residents as to how they could minimize their ongoing exposures to PCBs and the other POPs. He stated that this educational outreach could be accomplished with little expenditure of public funds by simply placing information on the St. Lawrence County Public Health website.
Dana Leigh Thompson spoke next. She began by stating that her people had waited for decades to have something done about the PCB contamination from ALCOA, Reynolds Metals and GM. She said that after having waited for all that time, government should be willing to give people from Akwesasne time to speak about the exposure and harm that had occurred. She told the Board of Health that much suffering was occurring amongst her people. She related the findings of scientific research that measured testosterone levels in Mohawk men and boys. The levels were found to be low. She stated that this was a great problem for the reproduction of the Mohawk. She then related facts about the large number of Mohawk children suffering from autism. She referred to scientific research that linked PCB exposure with this condition.
It is Mrs. Thompson’s position that the decisions of government which have allowed the long and continuing presence of PCBs upwind and upstream from Akwesasne constitute genocide. She stated that upon consideration of what the St. Lawrence County Board of Health promoted on its website the Board of Health had a part in this genocide. She read from the Geneva Convention on Genocide. The convention defines genocide, it describes what makes a government or a person responsible for having committed genocide and it names an international court where these matters are to be adjudicated.
During Mrs. Thompson’s ten minute presentation, several attempts were made to stop her from speaking. Much to her honor she ignored these interruptions and said what she had come to say. When she finished her presentation, Dr. Healey made it very clear that he would not allow any more to be said. The people who had come to speak on PCBs and POPs quietly left the room. Five people were not allowed to speak.
I was one of those five people. I want to have the opportunity to speak to the Board of Health about the poisoning of Akwesasne and what can be done now to minimize the harm that the PCBs will do. I plan to attend the April 7th meeting of the St. Lawrence County Legislature and speak during the public forum in request of the support of the county legislature in obtaining this opportunity. As the people talk about PCB exposure and the harm that this exposure has caused, the Truth about failed government will come out. Bringing this Truth out makes clear the way for making changes in government that will insure that such harm does not occur in the future.