Media Releases

EPA Administrator Meets with Just Moms STL, Says She Will Investigate Relocation Option

EPA Administrator Meets with Just Moms STL, Says She Will Investigate Relocation Option
March 30, 2016
Immediate Release
Karen Nickel 314- 229-4896
Dawn Chapman 314-566-9762
Karen Nickel and Dawn Chapman, Co-Founders of Just Moms STL met with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy this afternoon to discuss relocation of the families who live near the burning Bridgeton Superfund site.
Both women explained the dire and urgent need for families to have the option to leave the area with their homes purchased. They stated that the fire is closer than anticipated and is frightening local families.  They are concerned about what will happen if the fire reaches the Manhattan Project radioactive wastes. St. Louis county officials are preparing to assist residents and schools to shelter in place in the event of a nuclear plume.  Local schools have sent letters to parents, asking them to provide extra doses of medication that students need on a daily basis.
The spokespeople for Just Moms STL explained that under the Superfund Authority Administrator McCarthy has the authority to move families immediately. Just Moms pleaded with her to begin by moving Spanish Village closest to the site, the mobile home park and then downwind.

“Administrator McCarthy said she is going to see how the EPA might be able to relocate people near the smoldering and radioactive landfill,” said Karen Nickel, co-founder of Just Moms STL. “We hope that Administrator McCarthy will move people immediately.”
 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report on the extent of radioactive wastes at the smoldering West Lake Landfill in St. Louis County. The report shows the newly discovered radioactivity is closer to the ongoing smoldering fire than previously known. The EPA has so far refused, for over one year, requests by local residents to test the entire North Quarry as a grid for radioactivity.
Attorney General Koster has publicly supported the federal, bipartisan legislation that will put the Army Corps of Engineers’ specialized nuclear waste cleanup program in charge at the West Lake Landfill. The Corps’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) is currently in charge of all the ongoing radioactive cleanup sites in the metro St. Louis area.
Karen Nickel and Dawn Chapman of Just Moms also had a meeting with the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which advises President Obama on environmental policy and helps steer his environmental priorities.  Nickel and Chapman pressed on the need for immediate action.

Lois Gibbs of the Center for Health Environment and Justice, Ed Smith of Missouri Coalition on the Environment and Chuck Stiles, the Assistant Director of the Teamsters Union Solid Waste & Recycling Division were also in the CEQ meeting. Along with supporting the need to relocate families exposed to toxins, Mr. Stiles raise labor aspects to this crisis that are yet unaddressed.

Backyard Talk

Flint, MI: A Clear Case of Environmental Injustice

An independent panel appointed last October by Michigan Governor Rick Synder to investigate why things went so wrong in Flint released its findings last week. The Flint Water Advisory Task Force report blasted the state’s handling of the crisis and painted a picture of “government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction and environmental injustice.”

While there was plenty of blame to go around, the five member panel singled out the state-appointed emergency managers who were trying to save money, the state departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services for their role in handling Flint’s water issues, and Snyder and his staff for their lack of oversight. According to the report, “Neither the governor nor the governor’s office took steps to reverse poor decisions by MDEQ and state-appointed emergency managers until October 2015, in spite of mounting problems and suggestions to do so by senior staff members in the governor’s office, in part because of continued reassurances from MDEQ that the water was safe.”

The report also concluded that, “The facts of the Flint water crisis lead us to the inescapable conclusion that this is a case of environmental injustice.” The New York Times reported that the panel’s report “put a spotlight on a long-running civil rights issue: whether minorities and the poor are treated differently when it comes to environmental matters, relegating them to some of the most dangerous places in the country: flood prone areas of New Orleans that were devastated after Hurricane Katrina; highly polluted parts of Detroit and the Bronx; and ‘Cancer Alley’ in Louisiana, where residents who live near factories suffer disproportionately from disease.”

According to the Times story, the report concluded that “Flint residents, who are majority black or African-American and among the most impoverished of any metropolitan area in the United States, did not enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards as that provided to other communities.”

The Task Force also singled out the activism of local residents and credited the “critical role played by engaged Flint citizens, by individuals both inside and outside of government who had the expertise and willingness to question and challenge government leadership,” along with “members of a free press who used the tools that enable investigative journalism.”

The Task Force report does a good job of unpacking the numerous failures especially at the state level that led to the crisis in Flint and how things got so out of control. But what underlies everything is the patented disregard for the people who live in this predominately African American city. The case for environmental injustice was never so clear.

Read the full 116-page report of the Flint Water Advisory Task Force and its 44 recommendations here

Backyard Talk

Floored by Health Authorities Decision

Around every corner there are threats to our health and safety.  The CDC found cancer risks from laminated flooring imported from China could reach 30 in 100,000, but didn’t think it important enough to suggest people remove the flooring.  REALLY!  How is 30 people out of 100,000 getting cancer from the flooring not considered assault with a deadly weapon?  The weapon being the flooring and the deadly being cancer.

I include the CDC/ATSDR statement to show just how inept our government health agencies have become.

On February 10, 2016, CDC/ATSDR released a report entitled Possible Health Implications from Exposure to Formaldehyde Emitted from Laminate Flooring Samples Tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. On February 12, CDC/ATSDR was notified that a private individual who reviewed the report suspected that a conversion error might have been made. CDC/ATSDR staff reviewed the report and discovered that an incorrect value for ceiling height was used in the indoor air model.  As a result, the health risks were calculated using airborne concentration estimates about 3 times lower than they should have been. Neither CDC/ATSDR nor the report’s peer or partner reviewers or reviewers noticed the error.

Change in conclusion for short-term health effects

After correcting the measurement error in the model, CDC/ATSDR revised the report’s conclusion about possible health effects from exposure to formaldehyde. In the report that used an incorrect value for ceiling height, we concluded that exposure to the low end of the modeled levels of formaldehyde in the CPSC-tested laminate flooring could cause increased irritation and breathing problems for children, older adults, and people with asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In the updated report, which used the correct value for ceiling height, we concluded that irritation and breathing problems could occur in everyone exposed to formaldehyde in the laminate flooring, not just sensitive groups and people with pre-existing health conditions.

Change in conclusion for long-term health effects

We also increased the estimated lifetime cancer risk from breathing the highest levels of formaldehyde from the affected flooring all day, every day for 2 years. The lifetime cancer risk increased from the previous estimate of 2 to 9 extra cases for every 100,000 people to between 6 and 30 extra cases per 100,000 people. To put these numbers into perspective, the American Cancer Society estimates that up to 50,000 of every 100,000 people may develop cancer from all causes over their lifetimes.

Our recommendations remain the same.

Although the conclusions in the report have been revised, CDC/ATSDR recommendations to protect health have not; we continue to recommend that people with the affected laminate flooring:

  • Reduce exposure –  We provide information on how residents can reduce exposure to sources of formaldehyde in their homes
  • See a doctor for ongoing health symptoms – We recommend that residents who have followed the steps to reduce formaldehyde in their homes and still have ongoing health symptoms (breathing problems or irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat) only in their homes, should see a doctor to find out what is causing the symptoms.
  • Consider professional air testing if irritation continues.

What happened to the acceptable cancer risk of 1 in a million?

As you can see the agency tried to justify their inaction by saying that the American Cancer Society estimates that up to 50,000 of every 100,000 people may develop cancer in their lifetime.  That number  may be higher than that if people are also exposed to this flooring.  This outrageous cancer estimate proves that we need to remove these cancer threats as they are found and not just suggest that people see a doctor for ongoing symptoms

So lets see now, if you have contaminated tomatoes, onions or other food related disease the health agencies are all over it.  They tell consumers to not buy or wash thoroughly the vegetable or food product of concern.  However, when you have a consumer product that can affect everyone exposed to it there is no immediate health alert or no product recall what so ever.  WHAT!

Why do tomatoes get more attention, investigation and result in consumer warning to be careful than toxic chemicals in the environment that is literally killing children?  Young children are sick and dying across the country and our politicians don’t seem to care.

Will we ever stop the poisoning of our children, our water, our soil, our plant?  I fear not because we are not a problem veggie.  We all deserve to be protected, just like the government protects a tomato.

Homepage News Archive

Environmental advocate: Keystone landfill expansion debate is nationally important

Kyle Wind, Scranton Times-Tribune. 
Friends of Lackawanna hold an panel discussion on the expansion of Keystone Sanitary Landfill with the help of CHEJ.
Keystone Sanitary Landfill’s expansion proposal has national importance because its approval could affect how the Eastern Seaboard disposes of garbage in the coming decades, an environmental activist said Monday.
“I think this is a really important fight at a national level because we have to stop this foolish burying of waste and thinking somehow it has just gone somewhere else,” Lois Gibbs told 400-plus people at a Friends of Lackawanna forum on Pennsylvania’s trash disposal policy.
Ms. Gibbs founded the Love Canal Homeowners’ Association in 1978 amid the Upstate New York environmental crisis that became the catalyst for national legislation known as the Superfund Act. She founded the Center for Health, Environment & Justice in 1981 and continued her activism over the decades, which includes working with groups fighting against landfills.
“This is the largest landfill I have seen in my 37 years,” Ms. Gibbs said, eliciting reactions from hundreds of attendees ranging from murmurs to exclamations. “I cannot imagine what it’s going to look like with a 50-year permit. … I’ve never seen a 50-year permit.”
Keystone officials have cited their environmental record and say they believe the Dunmore and Throop operation is part of the way forward, but Ms. Gibbs sees expansions like Keystone’s plan as ensuring it remains cheaper to send trash to places like Northeast Pennsylvania rather than come up with better solutions.
Keystone consultant Al Magnotta attended the forum and described it as well-conducted and informative — but also felt it’s not quite that simple.
The average American generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day, according to Duke University’s Center for Sustainability and Commerce.
“At this time, there’s no other financially feasible disposal option available,” Mr. Magnotta said. “Thus, the way I see it, the solid waste disposal sites must be environmentally responsible and protect the health and safety of the public. That is the goal the owners of Keystone Sanitary Landfill have assigned me, and I intend to do my best to achieve it.”
Friends of Lackawanna, the grass-roots group that opposes Keystone’s expansion, organized the event to discuss why Pennsylvania is one of the country’s leading garbage importers and how the state can be a catalyst for better public policy.
Along with Ms. Gibbs, speakers included Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey; state Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald; John Quigley, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection; and Stephen Lester, science director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice.
Mr. Casey talked about his proposed TRASH Act that so far hasn’t made it past the committee level. The legislation would allow states to set minimum environmental standards for trash coming from other states and allow states to charge a premium for accepting garbage through community impact fees.
Mr. Blake discussed the process of getting the health study surrounding Keystone’s proposal by the state Department of Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Mr. Quigley assured him DEP won’t make a decision on the expansion until study’s results are in, Mr. Blake said.
“We can’t expect decisions to be made by a regulatory authority without full information,” Mr. Blake said. “I am looking at writing legislation … to see if in fact we should make this a requirement going forward. It really ought to be every time a landfill starts or a landfill expands.”
Contact the writer:,
@kwindTT on Twitter
To read the full article, click here.

News Archive

Attorney Pat Clark, Friends of Lackawanna, and Corbett event on March 21, 2016

Attorney Pat Clark, Friends of Lackawanna, talks to Corbett about an event on March 21, 2016 titled “Let’s Talk Trash” at the Radisson in Scranton
To watch the video, click here.

News Archive

Planning board meeting turns personal

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(Adam Orr|Jefferson Post) Lou Zeller, left, speaks with members of the Ashe County Planning Board on Thursday,

JEFFERSON-An Ashe County Planning Board meeting turned testy at times last week as board members sparred with a local environmental activist and some made plain their views on Ashe County’s Board of Commissioners.
“I may no longer be on the planning board after this but I am appalled at our commissioners that would listen to the complaints of a few and take away from the many, listen to their friends and ‘not in my backyard…and tell the world that if we don’t like where you’re putting your business, or we don’t like the kind of business you’ve got, we don’t want you in Ashe County,” Darrell Hamilton, an Ashe County Planning Board Member, said.
By the end of the 90-minute session, however, the group acquiesced to the wishes of county leaders and stiffened certain provisions of a new draft ordinance that will regulate high impact industries like a proposed asphalt plant in Glendale Springs.
How’d we get here?
Thursday’s action ultimately stems from an application filed by Appalachian Materials nine months ago. The company requested permission to build an asphalt plant in Glendale Springs in late June of 2015.
The proposal stated the plant would sit on a 30-acre land parcel on Glendale School Road next to an existing rock quarry owned and operated by Radford Quarries.
Local environmental advocates campaigned against the plant for months and asked the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to approve a temporary moratorium on polluting industries, a move which commissioners unanimously approved on Oct. 19.
That measure placed a six month hold on the construction of the Glendale Springs plant until April 19, 2016. Commissioners also reserved the right to renew the moratorium for an additional six months, if necessary, at that time.
In the interim, commissioners instructed the planning board to review and update the county’s polluting industries ordinance. The High Impact Land Use Ordinance was the result of those discussions.
Not good enough?
When that ordinance was finally presented to county commissioners on March 7, however, commissioners told members of the planning board the ordinance needed more fine tuning.
The new ordinance, crafted by the planning board with the help of similar ordinances across the state, breaks down polluting industries into two categories. Class I includes asphalt plants, incinerators, quarries, stone crushing operations, concrete mixing plants, pulp mills, chip mills and saw mills. Class II includes chemical manufacturers, chemical storage, explosives manufacturers and warehouses, fuel storage centers and medical waste disposal centers.
Commissioners voted 5-0 that the proposed setbacks for Class I facilities under the proposed ordinance should be increased from 1,000 to 2,500 feet and from 500 feet to 1,000 feet for Class II facilities.
Ashe County Commissioner Gary Roark said on March 7, he will not vote for the proposed HILUO as it stands and expressed his overall disapproval of locating another asphalt plant in the county.
“I have no intention of padding the wallet of someone (asphalt plant) outside of Ashe County,” said Roark. “We already have an asphalt plant in county and others within striking distance of U.S. 421.”
Back and forth
That’s an attitude Ashe County Planning Board Member Arvill Scott said he takes issue with.
Scott said he was insulted by the county’s board of commissioners and said the High Impact ordinance was never designed to single out asphalt plant operators.
“That would be singling out one industry,” Scott said. “There are many industries that have a high impact on the citizens of Ashe County. We’ve included them on this as a ‘high impact’ and it keeps returning to the asphalt plant.”
Scott also spoke directly to Lou Zeller, Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, and accused Zeller and company of spreading fear about the proposed plant throughout the community.
Zeller fired back that comments made by Scott and Hamilton were nonsense and that the protests sounded like “petulant teenagers” who refuse to do their schoolwork.
A rubber stamp?
Ultimately, planning board members are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.
As an advisory committee the group has the authority to draft proposed ordinances – like it did with the first version of the High Impact Land Use Ordinance – but commissioners ultimately have the authority to accept or reject the planning board’s recommendation, tweak its proposal in any way the commission sees fit or draft its own language, a point Hamilton highlighted.
“If the only real changes commissioners requested is about the setbacks – they want tighter setbacks – I don’t see why they didn’t just make that change themselves or tell (Ashe County Planning Director) Adam Stumb to do that,” Hamilton said. “I’m not sure why we need to approve that.”
Ashe County Planning Board Director Gene Hafer also said that whatever setbacks the commissioners ultimately approve can’t be so restrictive as to prohibit any “High Impact” industry from opening shop in Ashe County.
Planning Board Members decided by a 3-0 vote – Planning Board Member Priscilla Cox was absent from the meeting and Scott abstained – to approve the commissioners request for greater setbacks.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or
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Backyard Talk

New Research: The Hidden Costs of Air Pollution

Exposure to air pollution is linked to a variety of physical health issues, including short-term infections and irritation, and long-term issues like bronchitis and asthma. New research at Columbia University suggests that there may be even more insidious effects of air pollution on unborn children, particularly on their ability to regulate emotions and behavior.

The new study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, was the first to look at early-life exposure to PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and study its impacts on childhood behavior. PAHs are widespread air pollutants, and are commonly emitted by vehicles, coal plants, industrial manufacturing facilities, and waste incinerators. Due to disparate siting of such facilities in low-income and minority communities, children from these communities are more vulnerable to the impacts of PAHs, which range from cancer to a variety of behavioral issues.

The recent study measured the levels of particular ‘biomarkers’ – compounds that are produced in the body as a result of PAH exposure – in the blood of mothers from New York City. They found that children of mothers with high exposure to PAHs had significantly worse scores on a test that measures behavior and emotional regulation in children. Essentially, PAH exposure may be a predictor of a variety of mental health problems in children and young adults. One study author was quoted in the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health press release:

“This study indicates that prenatal exposure to air pollution…may underlie the development of [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][childhood psychiatric problems] such as ADHD, OCD, substance use disorders, and eating disorders.”

The study particularly focused on women from low-income and minority communities, who are at greater risk of exposure to PAHs. Based on the study, increased exposure to PAHs faced by environmental justice communities may leave the next generation susceptible to not only physical health risks, but also behavioral and emotional issues.

To read more about research at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, visit their webpage.


Backyard Talk

Climate Justice in Houston, TX

By Dylan Lenzen

With 2015 marking the hottest year in the historical record, the threat of climate change continues to grow. Not only will the United States and other countries have to move rapidly to try and mitigate climate by eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions produced by our society, but they must also make sure that cities, communities, and individuals throughout the world are protected from the likely effects of the warming that we have already created. Incredibly powerful storms, like hurricane Katrina, are just one type of environmental disaster that we might expect to grow in both frequency and intensity in the future. Without adequate protections, cities and communities in the United States could suffer incredible harm, with potentially billions of dollars in damages from single storms. Much of that harm is likely to be experienced by economically impoverished and minority communities throughout America.

An example of the potential threat that a future of intense storms provides, can be found in Houston, Texas. In a story co-published by Pro-Publica and the Texas Tribune, the authors describe the incredible risks that superstorms pose for the city, even following warnings like Hurricane Ike that many hoped would inspire future safeguards for its citizens. Despite the $30 billion in damages the storm caused in 2008, the city has failed to implement any meaningful protections that have been proposed, such as an “Ike Dike,” that would involve massive floodgates at the start of Galveston Bay to block future storm surges. At the same time, scientists predict that a future perfect storm, with even greater strength than Ike, will occur and is only a matter of time before is realized. In fact, the likelihood that it could occur in any given year is “much higher than your chance of dying in a car crash or in a firearm assault, and 2,400 times as high as your chance of being struck my lightning.

When a perfect storm hits Houston in the future, the greatest damage is likely to result from the Houston Ship Channel, which is lined by one of the world’s highest concentration of oil, gases, and chemicals. A future storm with enough strength to disrupt this region could have major effects to the American economy that depends on these resources. But even more troubling is the potential environmental disaster that could result from a powerful storm. Over 3,400 industrial storage tanks are spread throughout the region, containing oil, gas, and unknown chemicals that scientists say could cause an environmental disaster on par with the BP oil spill. And as the state senator representing much of this industrial region, Sylvia Garcia, states, “My district is working-class, Latino, and [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][has] many people in poverty. Even if we told them to move to safe harbor, they don’t have the car or the way to get there.” So clearly, as is the case in many other environmental disasters or hazards, the burden is overwhelmingly felt by minority and low-income communities.

In conclusion, not only do we need to hold our leaders accountable for mitigating climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. We also need to make sure that they are establishing the right safeguards and building new infrastructure that will keep Americans safe from the dangers that climate change poses, especially the most vulnerable communities.

Find out more about hurricane risk in Houston


Backyard Talk

Which came first, people or pollution? Researchers try to answer important environmental justice question

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Image Credit: Ricardo Levins Morales

Researchers have known for decades that polluting facilities and waste sites are more likely to be located in low-income communities and communities of color, which makes these areas extra vulnerable to the environmental health impacts of pollution. However, we lack a clear understanding of how these disparities come to exist. Do the demographics in areas surrounding hazardous waste sites shift over time, or are polluting facilities placed disproportionately in low-income communities?

Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published two papers that attempt to answer this question. Their first paper is a review of previous studies on environmental injustice. According to Mohai and Saha, the study authors, previous research racial and socioeconomic environmental hazards have lead to contradictory findings. However, they also noted a major gap in the research. Most of the studies have been what they call “snapshot studies,” looking only at hazardous waste facilities and the populations that surround them at a single point in time, rather than looking at demographic change over longer time spans.

They used these longitudinal methods in their second paper, which was unique in a second way. Previous national-level environmental justice studies have used a method of assessment called the ‘unit-hazard coincidence’ approach. This means that demographics are analyzed within geographic units, like a census tract or zip code area, which also contains a hazardous waste site. “Not taken into account by this approach is the precise location of the hazard within the host unit,” Mohai and Saha write. Under this approach, effects on neighboring areas are ignored, which Mohai and Saha believe may lead to underestimating the degree of racial and socioeconomic disparities. Their study used a more precise distance-based method, rather than just looking at effects within arbitrary boundaries.

By analyzing a database of commercial hazardous waste facilities sited between 1966 and 1995, the researchers found strong evidence supporting the ‘disparate-siting’ hypothesis – that polluting facilities are disproportionately placed in low-income communities and communities of color. The researchers concluded that racial discrimination and sociopolitical factors are strongly at play in the siting of hazardous waste facilities. In other words, industries and governments are likely to take advantage of vulnerable areas lacking economic resources and political power, choosing the “path of least resistance” for deciding where our waste goes.

Mohai and Saha recommend more research to strengthen our understanding of these processes. Overall, their work highlights the political and social factors that proliferate patterns of environmental injustices, and asks us to take a closer look at how our government policies and industry practices reinforce racial discrimination.

Read the studies here and here.


News Archive

‘Humans of Frome’: Dawn Chapman

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Dawn & Dillon Chapman, photographed by Ciara Nolan
Dawn & Dillon Chapman, photographed by Ciara Nolan

“For this issue I have invented the first Humans of Frome Award – Mother of the Year and this year the award goes to Dawn Chapman,” says Ciara.
“Dawn is a busy production manager at a local engineering company, a job which she loves and finds professionally fulfilling, she is also the kind of mother who is an inspiration to us all.”
‘My mother said to me, If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope. Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.’
“I think of these words spoken by Picasso when I chat with Dillon Chapman about his plans for the future and his forthcoming GCSE options. At the age of 13 he is definite that he wants to study business and plans to set up a business making specialised wheelchairs and developing bespoke properties to accommodate people with mobility difficulties. It’s extraordinary that any young lad of 13 has such a fully formed plan, but this guy is no ordinary chap. Already, he has raised an astounding £89,000 through presentations and talks that he gives on behalf of the likes of the ‘Make A Wish Foundation’’ and other charities.
“Dillon’s mum Dawn, listens in to our conversation with a smile, her eyes twinkling with an enormous sense of love and pride in her teenage son. She interjects that Dillon started giving talks when he was just seven years old when they attended a fundraising night in a prestigious London Hotel. Imagine her pride when her young seven year-old firecracker of a son volunteered himself to stand on the stage and speak to the hundreds of well-heeled guests. He blew them away that night with his insightful and eloquent speech and the rest as they say is history.
“The Chapman family history is a rich and complex one; you don’t get to the age of 13 and have such fully formed ideas on the future without some real life experiences of your own.
“Some readers may already be familiar with Dillon’s story, he is a well known and liked face about town and even further afield these days since the BBC documentary ‘The Boy Who Wants His Leg Cut Off’ aired last year. Dillon suffers from an aggressive form of neurofibromatosis, a disease that causes tumours to form in his nervous system. His leg had grown out of proportion to his tiny frame and following 11 years of agonising pain, a long list of operations, interventions and mobility issues, this mature 11 year old decided to fight for amputation. The documentary follows the Chapman family on their journey to battle the establishment to allow this unprecedented amputation to be carried out.
“I’m delighted to say that the family won their battle and Dillon’s left leg was amputated last year, heralding a vastly improved new lease of life for this brave young man.
“Dawn laughs and explains that he missed only two days of school (as the operation took place over a school break). When she phoned the school to inform them that he would be coming back sooner than expected, they, of course were surprised but not overly as everyone who knows this family are always prepared to be amazed.
“Dawn says that Dillon’s words at the time were, ‘I’ve not had brain surgery, I’ve just had my leg off.’ They laugh together, something that they do frequently during our mid morning meeting at the barbers where Dillon is getting a very smart short back and sides.
“I watched the documentary with great interest, also following progress on Dawn’s Facebook page where she replied to every one of the well-wishers who had taken the time to get in touch, and one thing was becoming blatantly obvious….this powerhouse of a woman, this rock of a mother is someone with enormous emotional intelligence. I was curious to speak with her, and to understand how someone remains so strong through the weight of such enormous challenges.
“Dawn tells me that minutes after Dillon’s birth she turned to Mark her husband and told him that she was scared. She was scared of the enormity of motherhood, frightened of making the wrong choices, and fully aware that from that moment onward they were responsible for this little bundle and who he would go on to be in the world. When they discovered the magnitude of Dillon’s NF she says that they turned to one another and said, ‘Bring it on.’ She adds that they made a pact to never lie to their son, to involve him in everything, to help him to understand his condition and to support him in making his own decisions as he grew up. It took a moment for me to consider these wise, well informed decisions that Dawn and Mark made so long ago, how did two new parents know how to deal with the weight of their new and unexpected life-changing situation.
“Where does such a level of emotional intelligence come from? Dawn smiles when I ask and she sits back on the white leather sofa, in the warm barbershop salon on Selwood Road and with the spring sun lighting her soft red hair like a halo around her she grins and says, ‘sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to really know who you are.’
“She goes on to reveal that as a young girl, the 7th child in seven years, she was faced with many challenges but that she was very blessed with a family who had the ability to really love. Dawn lost a sister when she was 11 years old, her sister had physical disabilities to contend with.
“Dawn talks fondly of how her mother guided her through some of the unkind things that people might say when they were out and about in town. Telling the tale of how her sister asked why people stared at her so much, she remembers with fondness her mother’s reply, ‘Sure you are so beautiful they had to look at you twice.’
“Her sister died at home one day which was a huge shock to the whole family and a loss that they never really quite recovered from. Five years later, her beloved father died and her 45 year-old widowed mother continued with the task of guiding her large family through those difficult years. Sounds as though, there’s another exceptional mother in this story to celebrate.
“I walked away from our meeting with my head held high, enjoying the warmth of the spring sunshine on my face and the radiating warmth in my heart. A mere hour in the company of this woman and her ‘chip off the old block’ of a son and I feel like I can take on the world.
“The legacy of a brief morning interlude is an overwhelming feeling of happiness and the reminder that life is too short, you should love every minute and to remember you are blessed for however long you have someone in your life, so be sure to enjoy them. Live every minute as though its your last and you won’t go wrong.
“Happy Mother’s Day Dawn, Dillon is a credit to you.”
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