Monday, June 29, 2009

Attending the National Conversation

Good morning neighbor:

Well, it has taken me several days to even get my mind around what really happened while I was in D.C.  I had several meetings prior and around the actual event and those meetings alone could prove to be truly ground breaking in the environmental realm - more to come on this as discussions progress.

The National Conversation Conference was held at the national headquarters for the Environmental Protection Agency - one had to go through security to even get to the auditorium.  The morning began with speeches from Ms. Jackson (the Obama appointed Administrative head of the Environmental Protection Agency),  Linda S. Birnbaum, Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health and Howard Frumkin, Director, National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..  There were microphones on stands on each side of the audience as if they were going to take questions or hear remarks.  However, after hearing these speeches and then being told the agenda for the rest of the day, it became clear that there would not be any public input.  I knew that only the morning session would be on webcast and that communities across America were watching to have their voice heard and I became extremely uncomfortable with the whole arrangement.  My legs began to shake as they called for a 15 minute break - I needed to decide what my next course of action would be but before I could think a woman arose in the crowd and began speaking truth to power.  She demanded to be heard and asked Director Frumkin why has he not responded to the cries of poisoned communities - she demanded to know.  I went directly and stood with her giving her what support I could.  When she ended her passionate remarks I began to speak out - I do not even remember all that I said but I do know I asked that this meeting be rearranged so that community members could go to the microphone during the morning webcast and let our voices be heard and to my amazement they agreed to change it up.  Oh, how I wish the cameras were running during this time - it was so important!!!  

They did follow through with allowing us to the microphones once the cameras were rolling again.  I think I was third to speak.  I firmly requested that the ATSDR Health Consultation and Assessment no longer be used and I requested we leave that day with this new mandate in place.  These assessments are found to be faulty by design and do nothing but bring about further harm to communities across America as they try to advocate for their restoration and healing in the legal realm and it cuts off any possibility of being followed medically for years to come.  (I must note here that there were 400 in attendance - with approximately 10 of us from any communities - the rest of the audience worked for the agencies themselves.  I hope to have a copy of the webcast for your viewing in the near future and you will see how passionately we spoke and how difficult it was for those in the audience to clap for us as we finished our speeches.)  Needless to say, there was no mandate for change by the end of the day.  They want to form a national panel or 40 people to become the main working group that will steer the changes.  They are accepting nominations at this time and as reluctant as I am to do this - I feel I absolutely must  - and I guess we will see if they are bold enough to take me and a few of my colleagues.  

I will keep you posted in the days to come.  I could feel your support while I was there and I thank you for all you do to continually lift up not only our community but all those that are in desperate need across America.

Your neighbor,


Constance L. Thomas (Biemiller), Chair
South Fulton and Fayette Community Task Force
Ph. -770-314-6999

As Margaret Mead once said:

Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

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