JONESEBOROUGH, TN: Encountering Appalachia

19 November 2011
JONESEBOROUGH, TN: Encountering Appalachia

by Lizz Schallert

 [NOTE: The following reflection by Schallert, who was part of the October Depleted Uranium delegation to Jonesborough, has been edited for length.  The original version is available here.]

On the morning of 28 October, the day before our “Occupy Aerojet” action, I spent a couple hours in the neighborhoods around Aerojet Ordnance—which manufactures depleted uranium weapons—handing out fliers about the storytelling and soil and water sampling we were to do the following day to expose the dangers of depleted uranium.  

My first stop was Davy Crockett High School, about a mile from Aerojet Ordnance on State Route 34.  The school was closed for holiday, but I happened to meet three janitors on break.  I mentioned the event to them, and that some of the soil and water samples around the plant had come back positive for depleted uranium (DU), the toxic and radioactive waste product from extracting highly enriched uranium for fuel.

One man said that he had lived next door to Davy Crockett High School as their janitor for the last thirty years and has known numerous people to die of cancer, and was always curious if it was linked to Aerojet.  He appeared tired as he spoke, saying “That is how it is in rural Appalachia,” he said, “Companies are taking our soil and adding things to it all the time.  What can we do?”

After stopping at some other restaurants and corner stores, I decided to check with one more “mom and pop” grocery store on the way back to the parsonage where our delegation had been staying.  I greeted the cashier and the other store regulars standing at the counter, who were clearly not there to buy anything, but there to enjoy company and the talk of the town.

I told them what Christian Peacemaker Teams had been doing during the week and asked if they would hang a flier for the “Occupy Aerojet” event.  The cashier nodded enthusiastically.  “Of course I will!  I am so glad you all are here.”  One of the men standing next to her explained how both of his grandparents died of cancer in the 90s.  He said that they owned a farm right next to the plant and had been drinking well water for decades, and that the family wondered if their cancer was related to the plant’s manufacturing of DU.  I invited him to have his grandparent’s soil sampled to see if it is positive for DU and to share his story with others.  He assured me that he would, and took down the contact information for a sample.

That morning reminded me that the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams in regards to Depleted Uranium spreads beyond the combatants and civilians in the war zones of the world.  It is also for the local janitor, storeowner, and farmer in eastern Tennessee that Christian Peacemaker Teams continues the environmental research necessary to end Depleted Uranium munitions production.