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Hungry for Justice | Off-road outlaws | Invasion of the Killer Bees | Our Ears Are Burning | Get The News | Go Online | Express Yourself

Hungry for Justice

by Jennifer Hattam

After sitting on the steps of Ottawa’s Parliament Hill every day for two weeks, ingesting only water and Gatorade, Elizabeth May had lost 15 pounds and was too weak to get around without a wheelchair. Still she talked ceaselessly to government officials about the children whose pictures she had brought with her, many of whom were born with birth defects and whose lives revolve around allergies, migraines, and medications because of the poisons in their backyards.

When the government of Nova Scotia shut down the Sydney Steel factory in 2000, after operating the plant for over 30 years, it left behind one of North America’s largest hazardous-waste dumps. Much of the effluent accumulated in the “tar ponds,” a tidal estuary that now holds 770,000 tons of toxic sludge. (New York’s infamous Love Canal contained 21,000 tons.)

May worked for 15 years to relocate the factory’s neighbors in the small city of Sydney and clean up the area, first in a government job and later as executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. In 1999, the government finally acted, moving a few residents from highly contaminated Frederick Street, but paying the 14 families below-market rate for their homes and refusing to acknowledge any health risk. (See “Home Front,” January/February 2000.) “People in Sydney felt so dispirited, like nothing they’d tried had worked,” May says. “I didn’t think I could stand it another day to know that people were living with arsenic on their basement floors.”

In what she calls a “snap decision,” May began a hunger strike on May 2 to call attention to the plight of Sydney residents. The benzene, tar, cyanide, and other by-products of the steel-making process that have seeped into the soil and groundwater can cause various cancers, heart and kidney disease, and brain damage. Some citizens live with respiratory problems, hair loss, burning eyes, and high levels of premature births. The city’s 25,000 residents are primarily working-class people, raising questions of discrimination that have not often been aired in Canada.

On May 18, Federal Health Minister Allan Rock okayed a $7 million assessment program that would lead to permanent relocation for neighborhoods that have a health risk. Declaring victory, May called off her strike. Some residents are unhappy that any moves are still months in the future, but May sees the recognition as a big step forward.

“We’re really twenty years behind in having a legislative process to deal with these issues,” May says. “The term ‘environmental justice’ is practically unknown in Canada.” With this victory, it’s getting known now.

Hot on the Trail

With help from a former military man, Sierra Club members are taking to the woods to fight off-road outlaws

As a U.S. Marine, Tom Arnold learned how to gather information behind enemy lines. Now a civilian in Montana, he’s teaching nature-lovers how to scout areas torn up by renegade off-road-vehicle users in Gallatin National Forest, which borders Yellowstone National Park.

“When I got out of the Marines two years ago, I had a dream of starting an ‘ecological reconnaissance’ team, using the same skills for the earth,” says 25-year-old Arnold, who started working with the Sierra Club after a snowmobile-monitoring stint with the Native Forest Network. To record snowmobile damage, Arnold trekked on snowshoes or skis, photographing smashed vegetation, dumped fuel, and erosion in areas off-limits to motorized vehicles.

Such destruction is increasingly common nationwide from irresponsible use of ORVs: off-road motorcycles, all-terrain- vehicles, four-wheelers, swamp buggies, snowmobiles, and Jet Skis. When driven off designated roads and trails, some ORVs can pick up weed seeds and spread them into vulnerable native-plant communities. They can also stir up stream sediment, and their two-cycle engines emit high levels of air and water pollution—and lots of noise.

Federal agencies are often too understaffed to enforce ORV rules, or even adequately assess the wear and tear the vehicles inflict. That’s where Arnold comes in. “I started doing this kind of work when I was about eleven years old,” Arnold says. “Where I grew up, motorcycles had ruined key elk habitat, and my grandpa would go out and videotape the damage. I guess you could say he planted the seed of discontent in me.”

In June, Arnold began teaching Sierra Club members how to document ORV damage. Volunteers with the Club and the Native Forest Network are surveying in Gallatin National Forest, a critical wolf and grizzly bear habitat. They will also be recruiting trail runners, climbers, hunters, and fly fishermen to help out. Ultimately, Arnold hopes to help build a training model that can be used nationwide. (For information on starting a monitoring program in your area, contact Geoff Suttle in the Club’s Montana field office at

The Montana program debuted as part of the Club’s “Lewis and Clark Days,” an eight-state celebration in the West. This series of summer hikes, lectures, bike tours, and other events sparked renewed efforts to preserve what remains of the landscape the explorers saw 200 years ago. —J.H.

Invasion of the Killer Bees

With their fearsome moniker and potentially fatal attacks, the danger killer bees pose to their human victims is well known. What’s less discussed is their impact on agriculture and other bees. A new one-hour television documentary from Sierra Club Productions, Lethal Swarms: Killer Bees, blends natural history and safety tips while examining the effects of the Africanized honey bee (its less menacing name) on the environment. After escaping from a Brazilian breeding program in 1957, the aggressive bees spread throughout Central and South America, reaching Texas in 1990 and Arizona three years later. Find out how entomologists, federal agencies, and others are fighting the invasion when Lethal Swarms airs on the Learning Channel, September 4, 2001, at 10 p.m.

Our Ears Are Burning

“They are seeing that it is a hell of a lot easier to go over to Russia and not have to deal with the Sierra Club.” —anonymous “congressional source” quoted in CongressDaily, May 17, 2001, referring to the oil industry’s retreat from the Bush plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

“The Bush administration’s new energy plan, designed largely by Vice President Dick Cheney, has somehow united the libertarian Cato Institute and the Sierra Club in protest.” —Fortune, June 11, 2001

Get The News

To join the Sierra Club activist network, write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail Members receive a free subscription to the Planet monthly newsletter and Sierra Club Currents, a twice-weekly e-mail update.

Go Online

To sign up for our other e-mail lists and forums, go to:

Express Yourself

To make your voice count on environmental issues, write or call your elected officials at:

U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

U.S. Capitol Switchboard
(202) 224-3121

Contact President Bush at:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Comment line (202) 456-1414
Fax (202) 456-2461

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