To the Editor:
Why did the majority of the ill people and their supporters walk out of the multi-agency public meeting on September 9, 1999? Many may be wondering why these people appear to be rejecting an attempt to address health concerns in Oak Ridge.
1. We are totally frustrated with endless meetings with the same people which produce no results and we can only see more of the same in the future.
2. The agencies have never responded to recommendations that were made after over 100 citizens interacted in a workshop format for 2 days in October 1997. We all recognize that DOE is the responsible party, but DOE refuses to be accountable to our community. They have the money and they control the issue.
3. We are disturbed and frustrated with having our well-articulated concerns and recommendations repeatedly ignored by the agencies.
4. The agencies have already said they cannot address our greatest need: diagnosis and treatment in the context of clinical research.
5. The agencies have already decided the process and structure of the health advisory committee–that of a federal advisory committee. This is counter to all principles of participatory planning, which would have the community involved from the very beginning of the discussions, rather than after pivotal decisions have been made.
6. Community members on the SSAB made the recommendation for an environmental health clinic through the prescribed process more than three years ago. DOE refused to honor that recommendation. Our experience with a FACA board has not been good. Why would we want another one?
7. The structure chosen gives the agencies the most control instead of the control being shared by those most directly affected.
8. We do not feel that the government is yet capable of working alone on these issues from the point of view of those who would be most affected by the research. If the government is the one in control, and is the one inviting people to participate in a "done-deal", then those who are most affected and most needed at the table, will refuse to come. Unfortunately, the affected people have more natural authority and expertise than anyone else in these matters.
There is a great need for a public health initiative in this community, but this current attempt is not the way to go. Once again, what we need is a world-class environmental health clinic staffed with independent physicians and researchers whom we trust, and who can examine, diagnose, and treat patients. We also recognize the need to gather the needed data on exposures, biomarkers, and treatment plans. Medical intervention and research can occur simultaneously. Under the present system with the contractor and its HMO controlling health care, we are denied medical diagnosis, treatment, and intervention.
The affected people need to feel comfortable "at the table" and the only way for that to happen is for the planning process to be fully participatory and collaborative. We are not the first citizens to leave the agencies' table. The downwinders in Utah and Nevada have long expressed the same concerns and are refusing to be parties to anymore of these affairs. We all want a full partnership at the table with the final decisions concerning what is, or isn't, going to be done about our health concerns left up to the affected people themselves to decide.
There is a growing unity among the nation's affected communities that there must be justice for all, not a few crumbs tossed here and there to shut up whomever is currently screaming the loudest or whose community has just been given a DOE "surprise package", as Paducah was recently. The federal agencies must develop solutions for and acceptable to all of the nation's affected communities. They must address the whole problem as a whole and not isolated parts of it. For once and all, we want a true partnership for everyone and not just one solution that is done to shut up a few and done only to look good on paper!
Coalition for a Healthy Environment (CHE)
Scarboro Community Oak Ridge Empowerment (SCORE)
Oak Ridge Health Liaison
American Environmental Health Studies Project
Preston J. Truman