Sharla Toups ’92 refers to classmate Carrie Firestone as “William Smith’s own Erin Brockovich” for the work she is doing in her former hometown of Ilion, N.Y. Firestone has, for more than a year, been trying to get environmental and health risk studies conducted in the village, citing rates of cancer and evidence of groundwater contamination.
A recent article in the Evening Telegram featured Firestone and what has become the “Ilion Project.”
According to the article, the Ilion Project was started after Firestone “began with a grass-roots movement to collect information on illnesses and gather environmental data on potential pollution in the village.”
Firestone earned a B.A. in English and anthropology from William Smith College.
The following is the article about the project and her most recent findings.
Call for environmental studies in Ilion gaining momentum
David Robinson • June 21, 2010
Ilion, N.Y. –
After more than a year of frustrating dead-ends and stonewalling by government agencies, a former Ilion resident is confident her attempts to get environmental and health risk studies conducted in the village may soon get some action.
Carrie Firestone has for more than a year been asking a question of village residents: What’s making Ilion sick?
She began with a grass-roots movement to collect information on illnesses and gather environmental data on potential pollution in the village.
But she said when her question reached government agencies, which could conduct the studies to determine if there is a connection between illness and pollution in Ilion, the officials didn’t show any interest.
Hoping to get more people involved, Firestone, who now lives in Connecticut, held a meeting in March to gauge the interest of other village residents. A total of 15 people attended that meeting and have since become active in collecting data and pushing for government action.
Following that meeting, a not-for-profit agency that provides assistance to public groups looking to address environmental concerns also got involved. Anne Rabe, a campaign coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), began evaluating data that Firestone had secured through Freedom of Information Act requests of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Firestone, Rabe and the active village residents hosted a public forum at Herkimer County Community College Wednesday to build on the momentum. More than 50 residents attended, many audibly gasping as Firestone showed pictures of 50-gallon drums found in local waterways and shared accounts of the numerous cases of cancer in the village.
Basing her findings shared at the forum on the DEC data, Rabe said in a phone interview, “There was a lot of heavy metal contamination and also a lot of ground water contamination…dozens of chemical and oil spills and they all contributed to ground water contamination.”
Rabe called the data a comprehensive look at pollution tied to the former Duofold site on Spruce Street and the past dumping practices of the Remington Arms plant. Pollution at the Duofold site, which is not fenced, was considered at significant amounts during a 1990 Environmental Protection Agency report, Rabe said.
Using a collection of accounts from village residents, DEC data and on-site evaluations, Rabe also said there are nine suspected dumping sites that should be studied by the appropriate government agencies. Sites even included Remington Elementary School, the high school tennis courts and cemetery area as well as the surrounding are of the marina, according to Rabe.
Firestone told the forum that her group of residents, as members of the effort that has been named “The Ilion Project,” had an independent lab study some of the soils. At several of the suspected sites as well as adjoining residents’ basements, which may contain contaminants that seep through the ground water, the study turned up heavy metals and other pollutants, according to Firestone.
The next step in getting environmental studies conducted involves presenting their findings to the right agencies.
Project members, backed by local politicians including Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, plan to make official requests of the state DEC and Department of Health. The aim is to access government funds that are set aside for preliminary site assessments, Rabe said.
The data collected by Firestone and members of the project, which includes detailed maps, worker interviews and accounts of illnesses is exactly the kind of information that should prompt a site assessment, Rabe said. Referring to the information pointing to a need for a thorough study, she added, “Ilion is long, long overdue,” she added.
How “The Ilion Project” got started:
Carrie Firestone, Ilion native, had really started asking the question after her sister, at the age of 35, was diagnosed in 2008 with a brain tumor.
The sister was successfully treated and is doing better. But the experience led Firestone, who at the age of 38 had an hysterectomy, to ask her classmates from the Ilion High School class of 1988 if they, too, had any health problems.
Many of the classmates were getting sick, according to Firestone, and this motivated them to begin reaching out to village residents. The classmates started a website and began collecting data on illnesses among Ilion natives and current residents, calling the effort “The Ilion Project.”
The effort collected numerous e-mails from people that said several members of their families suffered from illnesses. Many of the cases involved cancer, and often the forms of cancer were extremely rare, according to Firestone.
To get involved: Visit www.theilionproject.ning.com