demonstration against Martha Stewart products containing PVC
turns into a phsyical confrontation with store manager
in my store: Kmart manager Jim Wieche approaches Metroland
photographer John Whipple. Photo
by John Whipple
to Kmart manager Jim Wieche, the allegations against him are
Wieche, who was involved in a scuffle last Thursday that ensued
when a handful of Citizens Environmental Coalition activists
turned out at the Albany Kmart, at 1860 Central Ave., to protest
the use of polyvinyl chlorine plastic (vinyl) in the Martha
Stewart Everyday line of housewares sold in Kmart stores.
Three activists dressed in HAZMAT uniforms entered the Kmart
and began cordoning off Stewart’s products with yellow tape
that read “caution: chemical hazard.” Metroland photographer
John Whipple said he was taking photographs when Wieche came
storming up the aisle and pushed him, and then shoved his
camera in his face. Whipple had his 8-month-old daughter Lucinda
on his back.
knew that we were coming here, it was announced in the Gazette
the day before,” said Kathy Curtis, CEC’s co-executive director.
“Here we are having a peaceful protest and this guy resorts
to excessive violence.”
guy was out of line,” said Whipple. “You expect a person in
a leadership position, like a manager, to handle these situations
better. After all, it was a completely peaceful protest but
he was like a loose cannon.”
Jennifer Barns, a protest participant, said that after Wieche
pushed Whipple, he “shoulder slammed” her. Wieche then proceeded
to call 911.
an abuse of public resources to call 911 and behave as if
a completely peaceful protest is some sort of an emergency,”
said CEC’s Curtis.
Wieche initially declined comment for this story, but when
told of the allegations against him, he said, “If you print
that, you are wrong.”
The protest was part of a national campaign to get Stewart
to stop using PVC in her products, like shower curtains, place
mats, table clothes and the packaging of her goods. Curtis
said that PVC’s lifecycle—its production, use and disposal—results
in the release of toxic chlorine-based chemicals. These toxins
build up in the water, air and food chain, resulting in severe
health problems, including cancer, immune-system damage and
hormone disruption. PVC, Curtis added, is also difficult to
recycle because the high amount of chlorine content in them
often contaminates other recyclables.
The Vinyl Institute, a lobby for the plastics industry, did
not return calls for comment, but according to its Web site,
PVC is safe and has been used in products for decades without
any evidence of harm to human health. “These products are
regulated for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,”
a statement posted at the site noted. “It is used in pipes
certified to meet American National Standards Institute and
the National Sanitation Foundation Standard 61 for safe use
in drinking water services.”
The Web site also states that to ensure environmental safety,
the vinyl industry has instituted its own “voluntary programs”
to improve efficiencies and to reduce emissions created from
the manufacturing of PVC.
But, many companies, such as Nike, General Motors and Ikea,
have agreed to phase out the use of PVC in their products.
The phaseout is expected to eliminate 3 million pounds of
PVC. When Stewart was asked to consider following suit with
her Everyday line, she told advocates that they would have
to take the issue up with Kmart, which is the exclusive retailer
of her line.
protest went off without a hitch all across the country,”
said Barns. “In fact, in some cities the protesters were able
to stay for an hour to an hour and a half, handing out fliers
and speaking to shoppers about the concerns of PVC. But here
it turned ugly.”
U.S. Senate-approved plan to create a nuclear-waste storage
facility in Nevada could possibly mean tons of nuclear waste
traveling through the Capital Region
road or rail, nuclear waste will be passing through a town
near you from now until . . .
The reality of spent nuclear fuel being transported through
the Capital Region moved one step closer to fruition last
week when the U.S. Senate approved Nevada’s Yucca Mountain
as the site for the construction of the nation’s largest nuclear-waste
The proposed storage facility would house the nation’s supply
of waste from its more than 100 commercial and military nuclear
reactors for the next 10,000 years (the length of time the
Environmental Protection Agency will regulate the site) in
a remote section of the Nevada desert.
For safety and efficiency reasons, the U.S. Department of
Energy wants most of the transportation to take place via
rail, but according to preliminary mapping, Interstate 90
has also been pinpointed as a possible delivery route. Fuel
rods from New York and New England’s dozen or so active and
decommissioned nuclear power plants, currently acting as temporary
storage sites, may travel as near as two miles from the city
a hospital you have to sign a release form, but the NRC [Nuclear
Regulatory Commission] regulations allow the casks built to
carry this waste to emit radiation equivalent to a hospital
X-ray,” said Lisa Gue, policy analyst for the public interest
group Public Citizen. “At a distance of six feet, that affects
everyone sitting in a car next to these trucks.”
Gue said the correlation between exposure to low levels of
radiation and the contraction of fatal diseases and cancer,
especially in pregnant women, makes the risks of transporting
nuclear waste dangerous—even without an accident.
Spent fuel assemblies still generate significant amounts of
radiation and heat, even when they have been determined useless
in a nuclear reactor. Due to the enduring hazard, this waste
must be shipped in containers commonly referred to as “casks”
that shield and contain the radioactivity and dissipate the
Tom Pollog, a nuclear engineer for the DOE’s Waste Acceptance
and Transfer Division, is confident the casks can perform
the task of shipping the some 77,000 tons of nuclear waste
headed to the Yucca storage facility.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission puts the casks through a fairly
robust series of tests,” Pollog said. “They are designed to
meet and perform under hypothetical accident conditions.”
The transportation casks, created in the private sector, are
tested against these hypothetical accident conditions through
a number of stylized computer-model and scale safety tests
by the NRC before being given a licensed seal of approval.
Through these methods the NRC tests casks to five extremes:
a free drop of 30 feet, a puncture test (a 40-inch drop onto
a spike six inches in diameter), a shallow-water immersion
test, a pressurized test (equivalent to immersion in 200 meters
of water) and a thermal test (a 30-minute exposure to flame
fully engulfing the cask at 1,475 degrees Fahrenheit).
But Gue said that one of the major problems with the casks
is tied to these very testing standards.
NRC doesn’t require full-scale testing, and this presents
a problem in determining cask response,” Gue said. “Some things
are difficult to determine in scale testing. Any cask applying
for a license should be physically tested, full scale.
severe accident in a rural area with a fire could contaminate
up to 42 miles, take 462 days and cost $620 million to clean
up,” said Gue quoting a 1986 DOE environmental impact assessment
for the Yucca project.
Gue, citing a recent “worst-case scenario,” said hypothetical
accident conditions do not measure up to the possibilities
of a real-life major accident.
are known to burn out of control for more than 30 minutes,
and we had a real-life situation in the Howard Tunnel in Baltimore
where the fire burned for five days and at temperatures over
1,500 degrees,” she said. “A cask certified by the NRC might
not have survived. These NRC standards date back to the 1970s,
and with the tens of thousands of shipments to come, the questions
become where and when will an accident happen.”
Though the DOE touts its nuclear-waste transportation safety
record, the amount of waste being shipped, and the frequency
with which it would be shipped, has never before been undertaken.
In fact, the 1986 DOE study for the Yucca site estimates that
nearly 300 accidents could occur throughout the duration of
The DOE states that there have been 2,700 nuclear-waste shipments
traveling over 1.6 million miles since the 1960s. Should the
Yucca waste-disposal site become a reality, nuclear-waste
shipments nationwide would nearly double (to 4,700 shipments)
over the next 24 years. On that schedule, a shipment of nuclear
waste would leave for Yucca Mountain every two days over that
Shipping concerns aside, many have said that the transportation
of this nuclear waste will become obvious targets for potential
terrorist attack. Gue likened the shipments to moving dirty
bombs, but Pollug disagrees.
attack on nuclear-waste storage cask is not a major concern
from a public health standpoint,” Pollug said. “It is easy
to see the psychological threats of such an attack, but it
is difficult to quantify the technical effectiveness of an
attack on one of these casks.”
Though shipment to Yucca Mountain is not expected to begin
until 2010 (and a number of regulatory, legislative and legal
battles surely await), Gue fears that the approval of the
Yucca Mountain site for a storage facility of this size means
the United States can look forward to nuclear waste traversing
through its backyard for a long time to come.
is no magic wand that can be waved to make this stuff go away,”
Gue said. “Unless we decide to end the 50-year flirtation
with this dangerous energy source we’re looking at a nonstop
Can Change the Hill
residents band together to take back neighborhoods blighted
by years of decay and neglect
almost visible line divides the repaved sidewalks and decorative
lampposts of downtown Schenectady from the boarded-up houses
and empty lots in Hamilton Hill.
Jarring distinctions are not limited to these neighborhoods’
landscapes. Six of the seven people murdered in Schenectady
since December were killed in Hamilton Hill. Under the scorching
sun there on a recent Friday, a young man asked passersby
for cigarettes—and if paid any attention, offered to sell
them drugs while two children played on a sidewalk nearby.
Other kids on Emmett Street, one of Hamilton Hill’s most violent
spots, have encountered worse.
was a little boy shot on the 900 block when he was riding
his bike, and he got shot in the process of the fellow [actually
targeted] running past him,” said Beverly Perryman, who lives
on the street. “I’m not sure if they’re gang members, but
they’re not good shots.”
Perryman is among many people in Schenectady making the most
organized effort to date to take back the streets in neighborhoods
like Hamilton Hill, Vale and parts of Mont Pleasant. Some
area residents claim the city hasn’t done enough to reverse
the decline of these neighborhoods; most agree that the battle
cannot be won without more involvement from community members.
So Emmett Street United, a group of residents who meet weekly
and are led by Perryman, was formed after the city unveiled
the Emmett Street Pilot Project this spring.
Written up by the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association and
Schenectady Inner City Ministry, the project laid much of
the groundwork for today’s efforts. With roughly 14 agencies
actively participating, it aims to coordinate the area’s community
services in addressing the roots of the area’s problems.
in the genesis of this,” said Chauncey Williams, president
of the neighborhood association.
Pulling a copy of the project plan from the trunk of his car,
Williams was eager to get more people involved with the neighborhood
meet every third Thursday of the month at the United Methodist
Church,” he said. “Write that down. I want people to come.”
One facet of the pilot targets boarded-up or abandoned buildings
used by gangs for safe havens or drug sales. Residents can
now notify the city about these houses, and the city uses
a computer database to track down the landlord, who can either
make improvements or sell the property. Hamilton Hill’s residents
are almost all renters, and it is hoped that some will be
able to buy the homes.
Viable jobs and businesses, more police patrols with better
response, communication among the city’s neighborhoods, and
literally cleaning the streets are other priorities. The plan
urges each block to choose a “captain” to represent them to
other streets and keep the block informed.
are a lot of people that don’t want to talk to the police
because they’re afraid of repercussions or the police coming
to their homes,” Perryman said. “If there’s any kind of complaint,
instead of calling the police, they can give it to me or one
of the block captains.”
Communication among the residents is key, Perryman added.
[gangs] in the street are very organized—they know exactly
what we’re doing, and we need to get organized to know
what we’re doing,” she said. “I wasn’t doing anything, nobody
was doing anything, but I said, ‘This is crazy, I can’t let
these [gangs] run my house.’”
Leroy Fogle, director of youth services and gang prevention
at the Carver Community Center in the Hill, said that residents
have to contend with several gangs.
have Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Cash Money—the usual ones,”
Fogle said last Friday. “But they went underground—they’re
not flashing all the colors you would usually see.”
Boxes of computer parts crowded Fogle’s office. He explained
that the kids at the center took them apart, and if they are
able to rebuild them and pass a test, they can keep them.
The computer-repair program is one of many programs Fogle
runs to supervise and educate children, and in the nine months
he has been at Carver, active membership has increased almost
Fogle remembered the funeral for Leonder Goodman, a teenager
shot down on Emmett Street.
never seen so many adolescents in one spot and not enough
adults there comforting them, and I think as a community,
we have to take a look at that,” he said.
Reverend Van Stuart, pastor at the Friendship Baptist Church,
leads the Coalition for a Livable City. The local NAACP, neighborhood
associations, and other activists formed the group in March.
They have organized four marches, the most recent two weeks
ago, through Schenectady’s struggling neighborhoods.
march is sort of a celebration and public-information dissemination,”
Stuart’s church is not in any of the most troubled areas—it
is downtown on Union Street—but Stuart said he is only doing
belief is that if we worship God . . . it’s not just a spiritual
thing, it’s to help people, it’s administering to people for
their physical and spiritual needs,” he said last week.
The city has also made an effort to get more involved: Community
police patrols have increased and Mayor Al Jurczynski drives
with Williams around the neighborhoods to discuss problems.
Many are pleased with the mayor’s interest, but some are critical,
and the fear some residents have of the police highlights
the difficult balancing act the municipal government must
no one who talks against what we advocate, but there’s really
no one speaking for us,” Stuart said, pointing out that the
only elected official at the last march was Schenectady County
Legislator Karen Johnson. “What was to be lost by showing
up? If you’re afraid to stand on what you’re doing, you probably
haven’t been doing much.”
City Councilman Mark Blanchfield applauded the groups’ efforts,
pointing out that these communities have always had a vein
of social activism, and said that the City Council is trying
to set up similar community-activism programs in Vale.
we be doing more if we had more resources?” he asked. “Certainly.
The problem is, to a certain degree, our hands are tied.”
Jurczynski did not return calls for comment. Stuart said the
mayor, a former resident of Hamilton Hill himself, did not
attend the march because he said he was not specifically invited,
though Stuart claimed that an invitation was hand-delivered
to the mayor himself.
mayor has been very strong behind this,” Williams said. “There
are people who say he isn’t—crap. He is Hamilton Hill.”
Disagreements aside, all agree that fixing the problems of
Schenectady’s most troubled neighborhoods will take time.
there is systemic poverty . . . folks will resort to anything
they can to survive,” Stuart said.
now, Schenectady is trying to make a comeback,” he added.
“That will come to a slamming halt if right adjacent to all
this great activity, two blocks away is a dying neighborhood.”
program aims to help Albany residents deal with grief and
loss after violent events in their community
Tisha McKey was 14 years old, she witnessed an event that
changed her life forever.
will never forget that day,” said McKey. “Fifteen years later
that image keeps creeping into my mind and waking me up in
the middle of the night.”
McKey and her 17-year-old cousin, Raymond, were sitting on
the front stoop of their Syracuse apartment complex when two
teens came up and confronted Raymond about an argument that
had taken place the day before. “The fight was over some girl
that Ray Ray liked,” said McKey, who now lives in Albany.
“Before I knew it, one of them pulled out a knife and started
stabbing my cousin.”
The teens fled and left McKey screaming for help. By the time
her cousin got to the hospital, he was pronounced dead. “It
was the first time that I ever lost someone close to me, let
alone watch someone get stabbed,” said McKey. “We were all
in shock, and my family never recovered from it.”
According to McKey, there were very few services available
for her after the event happened. Nor were there any programs
in place to help the community deal with the shock of such
a tragic death. “By the next year, I was failing my classes,
very depressed, and starting using drugs and alcohol,” said
McKey. “For everyone in the outside world, life went on, but
for me and my family, everything stopped that day.”
It took McKey 15 years to get her life back on track. The
drugs and alcohol she turned to helped her deal with the constant
flashbacks of her cousin’s death. “Had there been someone,”
she said, “anyone to explain to me or to validate what I was
feeling, and that I was not crazy, I think I would have been
a lot better off.”
It seems that not much has changed, when it comes to services
available in poor urban neighborhoods to help people cope
with tragedy and loss. In June, for example, 16-year old Ayvontasjaie
Turner was shot and killed on Albany’s Third Street. McKey
said she was angered that there was no support in place to
help the community deal with such a tragedy. “It’s like people
are still expected to deal with it in their own way,” said
McKey. “The problem is that they don’t deal. They take it
out on others, or, like me, turn to substances or other destructive
behaviors as way to deal.”
McKey is not alone in her concern for lack of such services.
Isla Roona, director of development for the Albany Restorative
Justice Center, and Lisa Good, program director of the Homer
Perkins Center, are working together to change that. The two
women have founded the Trauma Response and Grief/Bereavement
Project for the city of Albany, and a training session will
take place this weekend at Parsons Children and Family Services.
Teams, consisting of mental-health professionals, religious
leaders, social workers and community peers, will be trained
in critical-incident stress management and debriefing. They
will offer emotional support to the people in the community
following a violent act. The services will be available citywide,
although the project will focus on the city’s poorer neighborhoods,
where the need likely is greatest.
we know that acts of violence and experiencing sudden loss
causes mental and emotional trauma that then gets reproduced
in all sorts of unhealthy coping patterns,” said Good, “then
why is it that in our community, we don’t have the resources
to give that emotional first aid that people need?”
According to Roona, the goal of the program is to provide
community members with an appropriate way to grieve and cope
with feelings of fear, anger and depression that are often
the result of distressing and violent situations. “We are
trying to meet the needs of the community in a way that is
not necessarily involving any full-scale counseling or professional
intervention, although they could get referred to those areas
if they needed it,” said Roona.
Neither the Albany Office of Child and Family Services nor
the New York state Department of Child and Family Services
returned calls to comment for this story.
recognize trauma,” said Good, commenting that those who lost
loved ones on Sept. 11 had many support services available
to them. “But there is often no community-based support to
meet the needs of people in our communities, specifically
Arbor Hill, the South End and West Hill area. We just want
to afford people the same opportunity to receive the type
of services and emotional first aid that are offered to other