One year later, citizens still demanding answers

Mon, 07/30/2007 - 8:29am
By: Ben Nelms

One year later, citizens still demanding answers

“I moved here for quality of life, not to live through this.”
The words of Eugene Jackson mirrored the sentiments of many of the 80 in attendance July 19 at Bethany United Methodist Church in north Fayette County. It was one year to the day from the first public meeting held by South Fulton and Fayette Community Task Force after hundreds fell curiously ill after exposure to chemical emissions from the Phillip Services Corp. (PSC) waste treatment plant on Ga. Highway 92. More than anything, the public meeting was a demonstration of the solidified resolve of the community to demand and uncover answers to the hundreds of illnesses reported last year and the lingering illnesses of others. And now, evidence of illnesses this year and last may come with a tracking system being set up by Fulton County Dept. of Health & Wellness.
During his remarks to residents, Fulton Health & Wellness Director Dr. Steven Katkowsky said his agency would be willing to do a long-term follow-up and epidemiological study of both short and long-term adverse health effects experienced by Fulton and Fayette residents. Katkowsky said Monday residents who initially filled out a Fayette or Fulton exposure form last summer but did not seek medical attention do not need to contact Fulton County since those individuals have already been plotted. Those needing to contact his office include those individuals who visited a healthcare provider, either last summer or since that time, and who were subsequently assessed by their doctor with symptoms, illness or disease. Others who have had a change of diagnosis made by their doctor should also contact Fulton County Health & Wellness with their information, Katkowsky said. He stressed that residents should not send copies of medical records. Residents should provide their street address so that their location on the map can be pinpointed. Contact can be made by phone call or email. Katkowsky can be contacted by phone at (404) 730-1202 or through email at
Already plotting health effects to determine if a pattern exists, Fulton County can be a collector for other studies since the GIS-plotted information obtained would be public information open to the task force, researchers and any member of the public, Katkowsky said.
The July 19 meeting was also attended representatives of Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), Fulton County Commission, city of Fairburn, Rep. Virgil Fludd and a member of Congressman David Scott’s office. Noticeably absent were Georgia Division of Public Health (DPH) and federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the two agencies responsible for the recently released and long-awaited Health Consultation that many residents found so alarming.
Near the beginning of the meeting, task force chairman Connie Biemiller said the community group wants DPH to follow the health issues of residents for the next 25 years, a request to which neither DPH nor ATSDR have responded.
“We were here one year ago today, in this same building. We were ill because we were breathing something. We kept breathing it. We were exposed to a pesticide 24 hours a day for three months,” said Biemiller. “We were sick then by the hundreds. Some of us are still sick today. But we’re going to stand for the truth and not listen when we’re told we were not sick and are not sick.”
Biemiller’s words were an obvious reference to the DPH and ATSDR Health Consultation. Months-long preparation of the document produced findings suggesting that short-term community illnesses were related to exposure to the chemical odorant Propyl mercaptan that was, according to conflicting company records, brought into the plant in late June 2006. The study found no long-term adverse health effects from Propyl mercaptan and no adverse effects, either long of short-term, from the organophosphate pesticide ethoprop. Both chemicals were included in a “wash water” mix brought into the plant.
Yet the DPH/ATSDR study did not address, whether directly or indirectly, virtually any of the most salient points asked repeatedly by residents and The Citizen for more than a year. The DPH/ATSDR Health Consultation included no documentation of requests to examine or copy residents' medical records relating to the exposure, no requests to contact their physicians or what that documentation might/might not have shown, no summaries of agency(ies) follow-ups with residents, no contacts with wildlife biologists on the many reports of affected birds and insects, no instances of follow-ups with pet owners, no summaries of interviews with PSC employees who claimed to have been affected, no copies of the 2004/2005 records supplied to EPD by PSC and no final summary of a 2006 Purdue University study that identified gastrointestinal illnesses in dogs near PSC during the same time that humans were ill with some of the same symptoms. Though funded with bioterrorism dollars from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Purdue's syndromic surveillance system accounted only the illnesses in domestic animals through vet clinics at PetSmart locations. No similar system was in place or operational for humans.
Responding to some of the omissions in the Health Consultation document were task force chemist Lois Speaker, geneticist Charlie Norman and task force members Earl Hindman, Cathy Strong, Todd Stetson and others. Representatives from EPD and Fulton County Health and Wellness could not offer input on most questions posed by residents since the study had not been authored by their staff. Rep. Virgil Fludd asked for residents’ input on identifying what aspects of state environmental law should be changed to protect citizens.
The absence of state and federal participation at the meeting was only a portion of the focus July 19. The other, perhaps more far-reaching, concern was the proposal to initiate a process that would have state laws changed to address a problem that spans decades. That fight, said Biemiller, may well have its beginning in Fayette and Fulton counties.
“Our community continues to come together to stand against an injustice that was brought upon us by Phillip Services Corporation. It was horrible to hear the continued stories of illness and the ever-present fear of illness that may be yet to come,” Biemiller said. “People continue to join our task force with a mission to see changes in Georgia state laws so that this never happens again in our community or any other community. It is truly a blessing to live and be among such passionate people who are willing to stand for truth.”
Aside from the absence of DPH and ATSDR, Fayette County and Union City also had no representatives at the meeting, even though large numbers of residents in those communities were sickened last year. Interim Fayette County Administrator Jack Krakeel said the county had done almost everything in its power last year to resolve the situation. Though county staff were overwhelmed with ongoing projects, Krakeel said Fayette’s absence was not intended to slight the community. The county certainly supports citizens’ efforts to get answers, he added.

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Submitted by too bad on Tue, 07/31/2007 - 11:44am.

I saw this n just called 404 730 1202. The woman at this no said they are ..not.. the ones to contact and transfered me to someone at the which no someone there read me a check list from a John Garmly. Then told me to call 404 730 1200 and talk to them. I haven't called that no yet.
I think people are legitmatly sick and more than likely have been exposed for more that just a last year, but for many years. The reason I feel this is true is because moved here around 2000. When I moved here I started getting skin rashes. At 1st I thought it was posion oak or something. I was messed up one time so bad they sent me home from work cause I was giving customers the willies cause I was oooozzzing so bad.
Then the next couple of times were different, I was having ichy eyes and scratching myself silly. The dermatologist looked at me and said he had only seen something like that once before and that was when someone had not treated their swimming pool water properly. He said it almost looked like I had been swimming in a dirty pool. This thing came n went and I was taking a lot of shots for it. I have ashma and I can't tell you how much weezing and watery eyes I have had since I moved here. I think you guys are losing the point thinking you have been exposed only SOMETHING OR...WORSE..SOME THINGS...I feel this has been an on going thing and this year you just happen to ..SMELL.. one of the MANY THINGS..being processed there.

Submitted by too bad on Tue, 07/31/2007 - 11:48am.

I have been wearing this same skin for 60 years and had no problems till I moved here, also my ashma was not acting up and I moved here from Dekalb where the air polution is rated some of the worst. I also do not like that fact that they don't want your medical records? They can't be serious!

Submitted by ptcjenn on Tue, 07/31/2007 - 5:12am.

This is just awful - when I think about how many times over the years pesticides have either worked for a very short time or not at all in or around my home, thinking about how toxic something would have to be to kill all the insects there is mind boggling. How does it even begin to look like enough investigation has been done?

This doesn't seem to be something county staff can or should be in charge of - the EPD/DPH aren't all over this??? It really makes no sense at all.

Submitted by ishmael07 on Mon, 07/30/2007 - 11:11pm.

So the EPA can focus on the elderly and how they live in a city, but do not care what polluting agents are harming the citizens of an unincorporated area. maybe we should incorporate. Bring back FIFE! This is the only way that the citizens of south fulton, north fayette counties can gain the services we truly need.

see this link for what the US EPA is doing besides helping protect the citizens:

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