US: Occupy Aerojet

by Heather Mitchell, delegate

On 29 October, outside the Aerojet Ordnance plant in Jonesborough, Tennessee, CPT delegates and local community members wearing “Decontaminate Jonesborough” t-shirts set up tents in an effort to publicly imagine a new Aerojet.

The company describes itself as “an industry leader in the design, development and production of specialty metal components for munitions…” (http://goo.gl/tXXru) – in other words, depleted uranium (DU).

Participants split into groups and surveyed the perimeter of the company grounds, documenting notable buildings and materials.  Each group then had a chance to re-imagine what the grounds and buildings could be used for once the plant is no longer producing depleted uranium weapons components.  

One group suggested that the venues could become a museum depicting the past horrors inflicted by nuclear weapons, along with ways to work toward a more peaceful future.  Another group suggested Aerojet could become a retreat center or a gathering place for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.  Some participants suggested planting climbing vines like the Virginia Creeper that pull heavy metals from the environment as part of a cleanup process.

Then participants shared experiences related to DU or the Aerojet plant.

CPTers talked about witnessing increased birth defects in Iraq where DU weapons were used.

A community member reported that Jonesborough residents had seen “a green, fluorescent sphere coming out of the top of one of the stacks at the plant.  The sphere was twelve to fifteen feet in diameter and went about ninety feet in the air before settling back behind the plant.”  Aerojet claimed nothing was wrong, yet following the incident, the plant shut down for two days, during which time the only people entering the factory wore hazardous material suits.  Subsequently, the stack that released the sphere was sealed.

While delegates went house to house in the neighborhood surrounding the plant offering to test water and soil samples for contamination, they heard story after story of different people in the area dying of cancer or having bad respiratory illnesses.  One woman pointed down the street to five different homes, listing who in those homes had been diagnosed with different cancers.

The soil and water samples will help researchers determine if there is correlation between these diseases and the proximity of the homes to the depleted uranium plant.

 

 

Background: CPT and DU

 

CPT’s concern with depleted uranium (DU) weapons started in 2000 when delegations joined residents of Vieques, Puerto Rico in their nonviolent efforts to oust the U.S. Navy from training/testing grounds there.  The Navy fired DU rounds into the Vieques bombing zone and this toxic, radioactive byproduct affected the health of people living on the island.

CPT visits to Iraqi hospitals in 2002-2003 explored the impact of 350 tons of DU weapons used by Coalition Forces in 1991.  Dramatic increases of cancer and leukemia rates with unusual birth defects implicated DU.  The 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad by U.S. troops rained down another 300 tons of DU weaons.  

In March 2006, members of CPT’s Northern Indiana group (CPT-NI) decided to work towards “stopping the production of DU weapons.”  They turned their attention to the Aerojet Ordnance DU penetrator core production plant in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  Contacts expanded to include environmental groups, universities, veterans groups and hospitals, labor unions and community activists.  

CPT sent delegations to Jonesborough in November 2006, May and October 2007, and October 2011. The European Union (EU) Parliament voted in 2008 to ban production and use of DU weapons and forbid deployment of EU troops where DU has been used.  The UN General Assembly considers DU products to be weapons of mass destruction.