Impacts on the Community

Impacts on the Community

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Communities Struggle   ¦  Affected Families Seek Safety & Security  ¦  Community Leaders Seek Stability  ¦  Community Organizations' Dilemma  ¦ Identifying Characteristics of Technology-Caused & Natural Disasters

Devasting hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods capture media headlines.  Televised news accounts, newspaper stories, and pictures graphically portray the needs of people and their communities.  In these cases, there is an immediate and heartfelt response by neighbors near and far and the general public. 

Life for those victimized by a technology-caused disaster may be quite different because of their hidden or controversial origin.  Technology-caused disasters are complicated, involving not only families or property, but often employment, economic development, tax bases, politics, and various levels of government.

Communities Struggle

Communities dealing with such a disaster are often polarized or torn apart:  on one side, those directly affected use the media to air their problems and express their anger; on the other side, community decision-makers, business leaders, government, or industry may attempt to deny any serious consequences and defuse the anger.  As a result, the community is fragmented and becomes an "us versus them" situation.

The response of corporate and business entities or governmental agencies may be understanding, compassionate, accessible and available, ready to take responsibility and help community efforts. 

On the other hand, some type of denial may be the official response from corporations or governing agencies:

  • denial that a problem exists; which may be honest ignorance of the situation
  • acknowledgment of the problem, but with claims that it was solved in the past or more research is needed before anything can be done
  • admission of a problem, but claims that it's not as reported and is being dealt with
  • admission of a problem, but unable to afford proper clean-up because of governmental requirements and restrictions
  • admission of a problem, but blames others
  • admission of a problem, but delays any assumption of responsibility by initiating lengthy court battles over who is responsible, how clean-up will proceed, who will pay, disposal of contaminated materials, whether health issues are related

Affected Families Seek Safety and Security

For those who are suffering or victimized, there may be no physical "damage" to photograph, instead the only notice given to the impact may be citizen outcry or organized demonstrations.  Persons advocating action and assistance may find themselves castigated for "interfering" in business, governmental, or scientific matters, may be accused of taking the environmental issues too far at the cost of the local economic well-being, may be threatened and find themselves isolated.

Their self-interest lies in:

  • Health and health care for themselves and their families
  • Recognition of their spiritual, emotional, and psychological needs
  • Economic security and employment
  • Safe living and working conditions in their homes and neighborhoods
  • Trustworthy community leadership
  • Options for relocation and sale of real estate

Community Leaders Seek Stability

Community internal structures that traditionally promote economic strength - the chamber of commerce, industry, media, business, real estate agents, and politicians - are working toward a vital, growing community.  When this community network rallies around a particular problem, the results are remarkable.  When this network resists or denies the problem, the response and recovery effort is all the more difficult.

Their self-interest may lie in:

  • Economic health of the community
  • Employment
  • Being seen as a "good corporate neighbor"
  • Health of workers, families, and neighbors near the facility
  • Maintain real estate values for sake of the tax base
  • Ego and power needs to be retained
  • Credibility and reluctance to take blame; reputations to save
  • Cost of doing business; indirect consequences of the operation can't be helped

Community Organizations' Dilemma

Since the conditions that resulted in a technology-caused disaster may be atributed to some person, agency, or business, the congregations and organizations who would normally form partnerships for recovery in natural disasters or other community crises may not wish to be associated with a controversial effort.

They will have the interests of all citizens and the community as a whole at heart, but may find themselves caught between the proverbial "rock and a hard place".  Congregations and social service organizations are in teh position of advocating for those who have been victimized, and yet people who support the faith community with offerings and talents may also be the leaders and business persons of the community.

The organization or church may rightfully fear losing a donor base or alienating powerful allies.  There may also be concern that they would appear ready to shoulder the legal and economic burdens of the situation.

Additionally, organizations or agencies may find that the event simply does not meet a data threshold or criteria that qualifies affected families for attention and assistance programs, so the needs stay off their radar or are set aside.

"Poison lurks in the well water"

Lynden, Washington:  called ethylene dibromide (EDB), it's been detected here since 1984 and has been blamed for much higher than normal rates of leukemia in children and for turning neighbor against neighbor.

EDB was used from 1940 until 1983, when EPA banned it from agricultural use due to its carcinogenic properties. Whatcom County farmers who had been applying EDB for generations knew little of teh pesticide's dangers, they only knew it as a sure cure for microscopic root worms capable of decimating their strawberry, raspberry, and potato crops.

In a 1984 state Department of Ecology (Ecology) study, dangerously high levels of EDB were found concentrated in the heart of berry country along Bertrand Creek.  Ecology began providing bottled water to residents with heavily contaminated wells.  One residential well had EDB levels more than 300 times above EPA action level, so high that it approached EPA's 10-day health advisory for children.  Exposure can cause damage to the liver, stomach, heart, kidneys, adrenal glands, and the reproductive, nervous, and respiratory systems.

In 1988, some homes were connected to the city water suppply and others were provided bottled water.  In 1999, Ecology began offering showerhead filters to reduce inhalation exposure which occurs during showers.  In 2002, Ecology and the City of Lynden completed construction of a water line to serve more homes in the Bertrand Creek area.

In January, 2007, Ecology was preparing for anew round of well testing for EDB, nitrates, and another pesticide, 1, 2-dichloropropane (1, 2-DCP).

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March, 1999, "Tainted Land" by Health Foster, reporter:

Washington State Department of Ecology, January 2007: 



Identifying Similar and Differing Characteristics of Technology-Caused and Natural Disasters





1.  Responsibility  1.  Responsibility 

~ Someone is responsible for the condition that created the disaster
~ Energy is spent determining the culpability and restitution
~ Legal advice hinders people from sharing their feelings
~ Those affected have varying perceptions of being a "victim" 

~ God or fate is usually considered to be responsible for the disaster
~ Energy is spent on recovery
~ People are free to express their feelings and frustrations
~ Those affeccted have varying perceptions of being a "victim"

2.  Assistance  2.  Assistance 

~ There is loss of freedom to determine events in one's life
~ May be a corresponding loss of neighbors, friends, community help, place in society; i.e. isolation
~ Searching for the culprit invites hostility among community members
~ Type and amount of assistance from the community is ambivalent or withheld due to problems of culpability
~ The longer the time that assistance is needed, the greater the apathy on the part of the surrounding community

~ There is heightened sense of community
~ A greater reality of strength is realized from neighbors, family, friends, community help; i.e. one's place in society is intact
~ The surrounding community is seen as friendly and supportive
~ Assistance from the community is usually spontaneous, generous, and self-motivated

3.  Making sense of the disaster  3.  Making sense of the disaster 

~ The culprit and motive must be found in order to make sense of the situation
~ Self blame for imagined or real misdeeds
~ The trust level within the community becomes lower as the responsible parties now want to help
~ The surrounding community, with its own need to make sense of the disaster, may begin to blame the victims
~ People cannot "move on" until the situation somehow makes sense

~ It may eventually be seen as an unfathomable part of God's plan
~ Self blame for imagined or real misdeeds
~ The surrounding community, with its own need to make sense of the disaster, may begin to blame the victims; i.e. "they lived in the flood plain"

4.  Visibility of the disaster  4.  Visibility of the disaster  

~ May be less visible or identifiable
~ Those affected begin to see the impact everywhere
~ Establishing criteria for the extent of damage is difficult because of "invisible damages"
~ Attempts to form hasty or loosely conceived solutions may cause frustration, loss of momentum, and failure

~ There is clear, if not extraordinary, visual evidence of the disaster; i.e. the path of a tornado, etc.
~ The affected persons and community can map the extent and damage of the disaster
~ Establishing the extent of damages may be arduous, but can be done
~ Identifiable measures will lessen future vulnerability and damage; i.e. bigger dam, new building codes, etc.

5.  The recovery process  5.  The recovery process 

~ There are few precedents or familiar procedures for recovery
~ The scenario for recovery is ever-changing:  i.e. health studies, scientific tests, etc.
~ A major question for everyone concerned is, "Who will pay the price for dealing with the risk of the unknown?"
~ Recovery may be daunted by political or economic agenda of community officials
~ Resources may not be available at all, or be subject to law suits, legislation, or agency settlements 

~ There are many historic and documented precedents for recovery
~ The community will have procedures to follow and inform the affected persons about them
~ The process for recovery will be difficult, but the length of time can be generally predicted
~ Many helping agencies are well prepared, having disaster plans in effect
~ There seems to be a shared plan for the costs of rebuilding
~ Resources may be available from a variety of public and private sources 


"The problem with hogs..."

"It's hard to conceive, but next door is a hog operation that produces the amount of waste of a city of around 40,000 people," says oneNorth Carolina homeowner.

Confinement livestock farming is booming; hog farming is an annual billion dollar business in North Carolina along (almost 10 million head).  While hog production is an important economic engine in the state, the hogs produce a mind-boggling amount of waste that pollutes the water and air and endangers public health.

The traditional means of disposal for hog feces and urine has been open-air lagoons and sprayfields.  The lagoons might rupture or overflow after heavy rains; the fields on which waste is sprayed leak polluted runoff into streams and rivers.

Hurricane Floyd in 1999 caused flooding in North Carolina that lead to the overflow of waste containment facilities, releasing more than 20 million gallons of hog waste that caused fish kills and contaminated drinking water into the New River. 

Hog waste, either contained or sprayed, also contributes to air pollution.  Ammonia and methane emissions leak into the atmosphere and foul odors and gases waft to neighboring communities, decreasing the health and quality of life for citizens living downwind.

Environmental Defense:


"September 11, 2001 continues"


June 11, 2006 - since 9/11, 283 World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers have been diagnosed with cancer, and 33 of them have died of cancer, says a lawyer for the ailing responders.

David Worby, a lawyer for 8,000 World Trade Center responders, including cops, firefighters and construction workers, said teh cases include blood-cell cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's and myeloma.  Doctors say the cancers can strike three to five years after exposure to toxins such as benzene, a cancer-causing chemical that permeated the WTC site from burning jet fuel.

New York Post, "Cancer Hits 283 rescuers of 9/11" by Susan Edelman

May 24, 2007 - New York City's chief medical examiner, Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, has for the first time directly linked a death to exposure to dust from the destruction of the World Trade Center.  In a letter made public yesterday, Dr. Hirsch said that he was certain "beyond a reasonable doubt" that dust from the twin towers contributed to the death of felicia Dunn-Jones, 42, a civil rights lawyer who was engulfed on September 11 as she ran from her office a block away from the trade center.  She later developed a serious cough and had trouble breathing, and she died five months after the terrorist attack.

The New York Times, "For The First Time, New York Links A Death to 9/11 Dust" by Anthony DePalma


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Contact Info

Zachary Wolgemuth
Executive for UCC Disaster Ministries
700 Prospect Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115