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The birth of a movement in rural NC

In 1978, a trucking company intentionally sprayed more than 30,000 gallons of PCB-laced oil along 210 miles of roadways in 14 North Carolina counties – the largest dumping of PCB that had yet been documented in the U.S.

It was four years before the EPA and the state of North Carolina began the clean-up, and in 1982 Gov. Jim Hunt selected the community of Afton in Warren County as the site for a landfill for the contaminated soil. Afton was more than 84 percent black and Warren County as a whole had the highest percentage of blacks in the state – 64 percent as compared with 24 percent for the state – and had the 97th lowest per capita income of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Research indicated that the site was not the most suitable for a toxic landfill: The water table was ten feet or less below the surface and the community received all its drinking water from wells.

A group called the Warren County Citizens Concerned about PCBs was formed, community meetings were convened, protests were held and more than 500 people were arrested. Nonetheless, in September 1982, the state began hauling more than 6,000 truckloads of PCB-contaminated soil to the Warren County landfill.

In June 2001, detoxification work began and was completed in 2003. The actions of the people of Warren County prompted the U.S. General Accounting Office to investigate hazardous landfill sitings and inspired the writing of the groundbreaking Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States report.

For more on the Warren County story, an article by Robert Bullard titled “25th Anniversary of the Warren County PCB Landfill Protests” can be found at www.ejrc.cau.edu/featurearticles.htm#envjust

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