Blog Day 6: A Cover Letter for my Book:  Midnight Dumpings

Today is Day 6 of my Living Deliberately.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, today I am sharing this draft of a cover letter that I am sending to potential publishers for a book I’ve written as a history and memoir of the Warren County, North Carolina PCB landfill opposition.  I think the letter will help readers see why I am so focused on living deliberately according to some of Thoreau’s most famous tenets, including that “law never made men a whit more just…”

Below is the letter:

Much has been written about the 1978 North Carolina midnight PCB dumpings, about the public health and waste management crisis they caused, and about the infamous Warren County PCB landfill opposition that became known for launching the environmental justice movement and for “transforming environmentalism.”  Yet much of what has been written has been by journalists, environmentalists, civil rights advocates, professors, and students who never participated directly in the story or who have often written with a preconceived calculus. Additionally, to minimize culpability, government officials have fashioned their own version of the PCB narrative. Consequently, much about this very public and pivotal history is unknown or has been misrepresented.

However, mine is a unique insider’s account of the midnight dumpings and the tumultuous thirty-five year aftermath. My manuscript titled Midnight Dumpings is complete. I know the PCB story intimately because I have lived at the center of it. My narrative draws from nearly thirty-five years of print, radio, and television news that I have kept as archives; from some three-thousand public documents and scores of audio and video recordings of meetings, hearings, press conferences, and interviews; and from personal journals, letters, transcripts, and more.  It draws from memories seared into my heart and mind.

I’ve written this account both as a closely documented history and a memoir, sharing personally what it has been like to fight toxic aggression on the front lines.  My first-person narrative is about how Ken Ferruccio, my former husband of nearly thirty years, and I—a couple of Yankee transplants—helped lead an unlikely multi-racial coalition opposed to a toxic PCB landfill in the rural, poor, and predominately African-American county we had adopted and that had adopted us, Warren County, North Carolina.

My book is written in three parts: Part I: The Making of the Environmental Justice Movement; Part II: The Launching of the Movement, and Part III: The Hijacking and Retaking of the Environmental Justice Movement.  My narrative reveals much that has often been eclipsed, censored, marginalized, and mythologized about the Warren County environmental justice movement, and it captures the long-lasting implications of this extraordinary history.

My account begins with the notorious PCB midnight dumpings which occurred in the summer of 1978 when 31,000 gallons of toxic PCB-laced oil were deliberately spread along more than 220 miles of highway shoulders in fourteen counties as well as at the Ft. Bragg Army Base.  Cloaked in the dark of night, for nearly two weeks, the drivers of a big, black tanker truck drove up and down rural North Carolina highways, carefully leaving along the roadsides a three-foot swath of oil contaminated with deadly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and dibenzofurans.

The PCB dumpings were carefully timed and executed, and what followed from the public health and waste management crisis they caused was an unfolding of events that would help shape American environmentalism as well as influence public policy.  My narrative investigates the purpose, perpetrators, and cover-up of the original crime, and it chronicles the epic political battle that ensued between four-term Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. and Warren County citizens in the decades that followed.

This story is about how Ken’s and my work and this opposition brought waste disposal and environmental justice issues to state and national attention, and it is the story of the hundreds of courageous and visionary citizens who thought globally and acted locally as they demonstrated, marched, protested, and were arrested in the largest acts of civil disobedience in the South since the civil rights era.  It is the documented account of what the Washington Post described as the “marriage of environmental concerns with civil rights activism” and what the EPA described as a “watershed.”

When Governor Hunt used nearly a million dollars worth of State Police and National Guardsmen to forcibly bury in Warren County some ten-thousand truckloads of toxic, PCB-contaminated dirt in a landfill built on marginal land just a few feet above groundwater, he was supported by newly passed state and federal legislation and sanctioned by newly weakened EPA regulations that included built-in waivers. Thus, he began a tyranny that would help legislators and state and EPA regulators institutionalize environmental discrimination and pollution and that would invite high-risk waste disposal industries into North Carolina, the South, and other places where poor and politically vulnerable communities have been and still are being turned into poisoned sacrifice zones.

In defending Warren County based on independent, unfettered science and on unalienable Constitutional rights, we in Warren County defended all targeted communities and created a model that has become a blueprint for grassroots environmental education and activism across the state and nation. We articulated the contentious issues related to waste production and management and the ethical and Constitutional questions regarding social distribution of environmental risks, and we examined the legal and regulatory mechanisms that promote pollution, discrimination, and dumping on the poor. In the process, we educated the public, state and federal officials, and the news media, and we marched our grassroots-driven commitment to environmental protection and justice into history.

In fact, according to Dr. Eileen McGurty, Johns Hopkins Environmental Studies Professor and author of Transforming Environmentalism: Warren County, PCBs, and the Origins of Environmental Justice, “The collective action of Warren County citizens helped shape environmental decision-making and was a force for justice that transformed environmentalism to a higher level . . . . activism in Warren County spurred greater political debate and became a model for communities across the nation.” It “shaped the formation of the environmental justice movement and influenced contemporary environmentalism.”

 

Dr. McGurty’s book is used as a textbook for environmental justice studies programs in colleges across the country. In the following excerpt, she describes Ken’s and my leadership role in this environmental transformation:

       

                                Given the long history of racial discrimination and tension, it was most

                                astonishing that the majority white opposition in a rural southern county

                                reached out to black protest leaders for help and advice to revive their

                                movement. It was even more astonishing that many whites (although not all)

                                stayed and participated in the meetings, marches, and acts of civil

                               disobedience.  However, everyone—leaders, participants, and bystanders—

                               attributed the success of the coalition building to Ken and Deborah Ferruccio.

                               The couple was highly respected because of their unceasing work to halt the

                                landfill. By 1982, several years into the conflict, their judgment was trusted by

                                the Concerned Citizens….When these northern whites [Ken and Deborah]

                                were able to gain the respect of both the local white landowners and the local

                                and national black civil rights activists, it was a catalyst for the unlikely

                                coalition between blacks and whites in this southern county. (McGurty, 94)

I believe that people in communities across the nation and the globe who face toxic, hazardous, and radioactive threats and others who feel hopeless about stopping pollution will be inspired and that they, along with government policy-makers, regulators, legislators, governors, and economic developers, will benefit from learning about the Warren County PCB landfill environmental justice history.  I believe that my manuscript fully meets  publishing criterion which includes addressing “grassroots activism/knowledge-making,” “structural inequalities,” “movement-building,” and “political/policy change” and that it is accessible to academics, political activists, and to mainstream readers.

Included are a summary, chapter titles serving as an outline, two sample chapters, a list of relevant publications, and newspaper and other photos. To learn and see more, go to ncpcbarchives.com. To see how we are continuing our work as environmental justice educators and activists, especially as this work relates to the Virginia uranium mining threat that looms over the Eastern Seaboard, go to ej-pp.org, my website in the making.

I am happy to send you an electronic copy of this manuscript package or the  complete copy of my manuscript for your review either as an electronic or hard-copy. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.