Families Against Cancer & Toxics
Stop cancer before it starts
Says event focuses on survivorship, not advocacy issues
BY ZACH MITCHAM
Madison County Journal
Danielsville, Georgia -- A Madison County group focused on pipeline safety planned on promoting environmental health at the county’s Relay for Life later this month by offering informational flyers to raise awareness about cancer-causing toxins in the environment.
But American Cancer Society officials have informed the group that the Relay is not the place to disseminate information about environmental carcinogens.
“The Relay is an event focused on survivors and prevention,” said Erin Latimer, American Cancer Society community manager for Madison, Banks, Oglethorpe and Elbert counties. “We don’t allow grassroots advocacy at the Relay at all. We would certainly welcome them as a team if they want to be there to celebrate survivorship.”
Latimer added that the ACS is not trying to discriminate in any way against the citizens’ group in the Colbert Grove area that has been meeting in recent months about petroleum spills from the nearby Colonial Pipeline booster station. She pointed out that the Relay won’t allow politicians to openly campaign at the event.
“We wouldn’t let a politician set up a booth at the Relay,” said Latimer. “That’s not the right venue for that. It’s 100 percent about survivors. We want to maintain the integrity of the event for the survivors.”
Donna Hauntsman and Cheryl Bryant of Colbert Grove Church Road attended a recent Relay kick-off in Madison County. They said they expected the American Cancer Society to be open to information about environmental carcinogens.
“We thought it would be a good idea to hand out flyers at the Madison County Relay for Life to let those who live in Madison County know the dangers of the benzene that may be in their groundwater due to pipeline spills,” said Hauntsman.
Both Hauntsman and Bryant said they were told they couldn’t pass out any materials about pipeline spills because the pipelines are “huge supporters” of the ACS.
“We could set up a booth and we could tell people about our group and the problems we are having, but we could not pass out any flyers because Colonial Pipeline is a huge supporter of the American Cancer Society and we wouldn't want to upset them,” said Bryant, regarding the response from the ACS about their request.
But Latimer responded that the group was absolutely not prohibited from distributing material for such a reason.
“Until the other day, I had never even heard of Colonial Pipeline,” said Latimer.
Jill McElheney, who says her son’s leukemia came from environmental toxins in Clarke County, formed Micah’s Mission to address environmental safety for children. She has taken an interest in the Colbert Grove area in the past year and has led meetings of the area residents to discuss pipeline safety.
McElheney said she is appalled by the American Cancer Society’s stance.
“Cancer is a disease largely connected to environmental factors,” said McElheney in a letter to the editor on page 5A. “While early detection and treatment are important, the greatest weapon to fighting cancer is prevention. Prevention is not high on the list of the American Cancer Society, although many people believe it is when they donate their money in memory of a loved one.”
Victoria Patrick, senior community manager for the 14-county ACS Athens office, said the ACS is not interested in taking sides on local political issues.
“Anything political at the Relay would steer people away from its intended focus,” said Patrick, noting the emphasis on survivorship.
Latimer said she feels there has been a simple miscommunication, that the intent of the Relay was not clearly presented to the Colbert Grove residents.
“I’d love to put them in touch with the appropriate venue for getting their message out,” she said. “I’m not trying to stop them from getting their message out, but the Relay is just not the venue for that.”