June 2003 Contents
Message From the Executive Director:
Upstate Forever News:
Q: I understand you grew up in the Arkwright community. Could you describe what it looked like, smelled like, felt like then?
At that particular time growing up, it didn’t seem like a problem.
It seemed like the norm. My mom wouldn’t let me (play) outside of
the yard, so I grew up around a lot of older adults and people from the
facility (IMC fertilizer plant) who used to come over and sit on our steps
and talk. I talked to a lot of the truck drivers, and the guys that drove
the tractors and bulldozers, which I thought was pretty cool at the time.
The smells were kind of like — you know the bus fumes you smell
now? — it was kind of like that. It was the acidy type odor that
we basically had gotten used to. Everyone (was) walking around looking
like they’d just been dumped in flour (from the fertilizer dust.)
Q: At what point did it seep in that perhaps this was unhealthy?
The facility was shut down around 1986. In the ’90s, there were
a lot of problems of theft and drug use, a lot of drug activity at the
facility because it was abandoned, a dead-end road. There was a guy who
raped four elderly women in the community; he was (thought to be) hanging
out there. It was just a nuisance regarding snakes as well. That’s
when we approached the county first and then DHEC, and that’s when
I found the documentation. I looked through the files and that’s
when I saw “hazardous,” “toxic.” And I was like,
wait a minute. I had no idea that there was anything there that could
have been of harm. For about 8 or 9 months I had an illness that was never
diagnosed. They didn’t know whether it was prostate, kidney or colon
cancer, but nothing they could ever put their finger on. I couldn’t
eat, always nauseous, passing blood, my whole left side was swollen and
very tender, I couldn’t lay on my back, definitely couldn’t
lay on that side. It was just constant pain. It was a lot of passing blood.
Did the symptoms just dissipate?
the early to mid-’90s, when battling his illness and with his curiosity
aroused, Mitchell tried to get jobs that would allow him to go to conferences
and workshops about environmental justice. He began researching, collecting
data, and calling public officials and environmental professionals. When
the sample collection at the site didn’t satisfy Mitchell’s
concerns, he kept contacting environmental waste professionals that he’d
met at workshops. Finally, at Sen. Fritz Hollings’ request, EPA
conducted an investigation of the site.
And they went forward with a site investigation to find out that there
were 70 contaminants. That 30 were 3 times above the maximum contamination
level. So that’s when everything really started. That was in 1998.
Q: When did you form ReGenesis?
In ’98. At the end of ’97, I pulled everybody together in
the community and kind of went through a couple things. At that point,
a lot of the residents didn’t know that their neighbor was suffering
from the same thing that they were going through. It raised the attention.
It was like “What is going on?” And that’s when I started
talking about what we had found there and that EPA was getting ready to
start looking at the facility. It was not a panic, but everybody became
concerned. They said they had never thought about it, how many people
had died of the exact same things. I just started going down the list
of some of the people that I had talked to. By the time I got through,
(I found) over 60 miscarriages and stillborns in the neighborhood since
the ’60s, most of them in the ’80s and ’90s.
How would you explain the concept of environmental justice and
how do you think this project addresses that?
When you first starting looking at this, first started noticing
things wrong in the community, did you ever have any idea you’d
be in this position now?
Q: What do you see as Upstate Forever’s role in this?
To help us with the green space, the urban trails, and trying to preserve
as much of the open-space greenery on the opposite side of Fairforest
Creek. That side is where we want to keep it as natural and open between
subdivisions as possible in the redevelopment. (Upstate Forever)
can help us look at the possibilities with the flood plain; there’s
like a natural valley there between the mountain and the textile mill
property. We want to really keep that greenery in there.
In this whole process, what have you learned about yourself?
How to work with different groups and attitudes in a positive, productive
way. Persistence. Listening to different views and not just clamping down
on one possibility. Keeping it open. That’s why we welcome anyone
who can give us advice.
What have you learned about the concept of community?
How many years do you think this one will take before you’re
So you’re thinking 5 years?