Congress directed the U.S. Army to destroy the weapons in keeping with international treaties, in spite of protests from environmentalists and residents who say that safer technologies exist, are used elsewhere and would pose less threat to those living in the state's northeast region.
On July 15, the last day of the UCC's General Synod 24 in Minneapolis, delegates approved an emergency resolution in support of Calhoun County residents, declaring that "their pleas for alternate elimination have not been recognized by the Department of Defense."
"The risks associated with incineration, including toxic smokestack emissions and unsafe worker conditions, are not acceptable if they are avoidable," the resolution says.
Strong community opposition to the federal government's plan has mounted. A diverse coalition of farmers, environmentalists, civil rights organizations, veterans and safe weapons disposal activists, supported by the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and others — have organized protests in the community.
In 1987, the UCC's Commission for Racial Justice published a landmark study "Toxic Wastes and Race," which shed light on the disproportionate levels of toxic materials found in people of color communities. Anniston, already saturated with PCBs, lead and mercury from a Monsanto plant located there in the 1960s and 1970s, has an African- American population that is 267 percent higher than the national average.
"While the Army and others are searching for chemical weapons in Iraq, so far unsuccessfully, it seems they only have to look in their own depots here in the United States," says Bernice Powell Jackson, JWM's executive minister.
"The Anniston case is a classic environmental justice case," says Jackson. "A poor, predominantly people-of-color community is facing the powerful, and the powerful are making potentially life-threatening decisions without community input or partnership. [Residents] are being forced to make a choice between jobs and health."