A Call for Solidarity

Natalie Skowlund –  A town meeting in Davidson, North Carolina on April 4, 2017 addressed the presence of asbestos in parts of the Davidson community. As reported in The Davidsonian, the Environmental Protection Agency and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality were present at the meeting in order to add to the discussion on remediating the concerns about asbestos in the community. Ultimately, the EPA has stated that it is the responsibility of individual property owners to contact the agency with a request for an asbestos assessment and cleanup of the site. The hilly property across the street from several of the affected houses has also been found to have significant amounts of asbestos, yet since the property is under the ownership of Metrolina Warehouse LLC, a private corporation, it is up to the corporation to decide to what extent the asbestos issue will be addressed.

This story, unfortunately, is not an uncommon one. In early February, The Progressive Pulse stated that Metrolina Warehouse LLC had repaired the areas affected with asbestos on its property by covering up the asbestos and taking preventative measures to deter erosion on the sloped parts of the property. Most recently, in mid-April, the Lake Norman Citizen reported that the EPA is getting ready to address asbestos concerns at several home properties in the affected area, and will begin the asbestos remediation projects in late April. Still, while the EPA is “working to minimize the exposure risk,” this does not mean that all of the asbestos will be removed from the affected properties. Furthermore, there has been an ongoing discussion about developing the Metrolina property into townhomes in the future, and any prospect of development on the site will reopen concerns about how to deal with the asbestos that has so far only been covered up, and not permanently removed, from the property.

Yet, what does the potential development of the Metrolina property mean for the people living in this asbestos-infested area? It seems that the inhabitants of this lower-income neighborhood in Davidson will face consequences either way if the Davidson community at large does not demonstrate continued solidarity with the members of the affected neighborhood and demand accountability from the EPA, Metrolina Warehouse LLC and the future developer of the property.

If the Metrolina property remains undeveloped, the affected community faces the possibility that the presence of asbestos will pose a continued threat to their families, as asbestos remains under the ground surface in several parts. It seems that the EPA’s action to give residents in asbestos-contaminated areas the opportunity to request an assessment of their property only thinly veils the lack of immediate concern they have for the affected community. Rather than viewing this as an issue of personal volition, it is crucial to recognize the serious health risks, including a heightened possibility of cancer, associated with exposure to airborne asbestos. This should be a problem for immediate action, not a process that could take at least several months to address. Furthermore, actions taken to “minimize exposure” to asbestos does not ultimately eradicate the problem, and as long as the Metrolina property remains undeveloped, the corporation has no legal duty to permanently rid its property of asbestos.

On the other hand, if the Metrolina property does become developed, the affected community faces other risks. If townhomes with higher rent replace the old mill that currently exists on the property, many of the families currently living in this area will face heightened rent and other costs of living. Gentrification too often poses serious threats to the original inhabitants because it attracts wealthier buyers who can afford a higher cost of living, thus developing the community to suit the interests of those in a higher income group instead of the interests of the original inhabitants. Respect for those who have lived in this part of Davidson for a long time, or possibly all of their lives, falls out of importance when money comes into the picture. Where does the dignity of the humans living in this neighborhood go once a company decides to develop a property that will directly affect them? Furthermore, the developers will face an imperative to permanently rid the property of asbestos, yet to a large extent this requires the vigilance of not only state institutions like the EPA but also Davidson community members to ensure accountability on the behalf of a company whose foremost interest is to save money and develop as quickly as possible.

Of course, it is not as if the EPA has made no commitment to remediate the asbestos issue. They have promised to assess the properties of those who request and assessment, and to clean up the asbestos that is found. However, The Davidsonian article also cited their mention of potential delays that could mean the remediation of asbestos will not be finished until fall of 2017 or later. Moreover, the asbestos on the Metrolina property may not be fully dealt with for a good while, and possibly only dealt with if or when the property is developed.

This story, unfortunately, is not an uncommon one. Lower-income and marginalized populations have been the victims of a reckless lack of attention and blatant prejudices throughout history. Instead of once again leaving sectors of our community without access to a healthy, safe neighborhood to live in, let’s stand up for the dignity of human beings over corporate interests or the lackadaisical attitude of our government. I do not intend to blindly vilify corporate and government organizations, but rather to remind us that in order to ensure the maintenance of livable communities for all, we must remain aware about the issues our neighbors are facing and ask the necessary questions to see that such issues are addressed to an adequate degree. We have the responsibility to be allies for our neighbors. The asbestos mess in Davidson is not unresolvable, but it will take the solidarity of the entire community to put pressure on those who have the power to make livable communities a reality.

Natalie Skowlund ’18 is a Political Science major and Hispanic Studies minor from Lake Oswego, Oregon. Contact her at naskowlund@ davidson.edu.