Erin Brockovich addressed a packed house at the
Ms. Brockovich – the environmental activist whose successful battle against Pacific Gas & Electric spawned a blockbuster movie starring Julia Roberts – told the audience she came to Ravena in response to emails she received from local citizens worried about the dangers of living in proximity to Lafarge including some with children battling a rare form of cancer called Ewing Sarcoma. “It is sad for me to have an invitation such as this to come into a community under bad circumstances,” she stated.
Ms. Brockovich was joined by three experts on the dangers of industrial pollution - Dr. Mark Hyman, a leader in functional and integrative medicine; Dr. David Carpenter, from SUNY Albany; and Dr. Michael Bank from the Harvard School of Public Health – who shed light on the environmental impacts of living in the shadow of a cement stack like the one in Ravena.
Dr. Hyman cautioned the audience that “We’re pretty much an endangered species right now” while noting that there is hope and that treatments are available for people who have been harmed by toxins found in pollution. He stressed the need for prevention, stating “If we work together with industry to bring about changes that lower emissions, reduce exposures and help clean our environments and help improve our health, then we can have better outcomes.”
CASEwelcomes the attention Ms. Brockovich has brought to this important issue and supports any scientific research that will help the community better understand the effect Lafarge may have on the health of its citizens. CASE is sponsoring a study with Dr. Ward Stone, State Wildlife pathologist, sampling soil and small animals for a variety of heavy metals. Dr. Stone plans to release preliminary results in the near future.
The sad fact is we simply don’t know what the impact has been of nearly five decades of air pollution from the cement plant. What we do know is that there is a lot of concern in the community over the number of people here facing serious illnesses like cancer and the number of children with autism and other developmental problems. And we know from the EPA that Lafarge is a major source of toxins in our environment.
Susan Falzon, Director of Friends of Hudson, spoke about Lafarge's proposed modernization of its aging plant, now delayed, with completion not scheduled until 2018: "The best response from Lafarge would be a statement of their intention to do the right thing - to clean up their current operation and to commit to completing their proposed modernization as soon as possible and to making it the cleanest cement plant in the world. They owe at least as much to their employees and the affected communities."
Ms. Brockovich, a consultant for Weitz & Luxenberg, was joined at the meeting by attorneys from the law firm. At this time, however, no law suit has been filed.
Ms. Brockovich told the audience, “Tonight is about awareness. And that’s very important because if you are not aware of what’s going on, if you are not being provided information, you cannot protect your family and your health — and those are the greatest gifts you will ever have…What we have to do is to work collectively, so you can protect what is most valuable to you.”
She reminded the audience, “You have a choice. You can look the other way or you can choose to do something about it,” and stressed that their community was worth fighting for. "I will tell you I think you live in a community that is absolutely quaint, charming... and worth every bit of your voice to stand up and fight for its beauty, health and safety."
One of the biggest stumbling blocks surrounding this issue is the lack of available and accessible information for community members. If residents aren’t educated about the emissions from Lafarge and the associated health risks, they are stripped of their ability to take the steps necessary to stand up and protect their health and the health of their children.
In conclusion, Brockovich added: “I really hope that there can be a change in corporate mentality in the future and that would be one of practicing morality over money…. I hope companies like Lafarge will come out and do the right thing by all of you.”