Anniston, Ala., is the first city in the country where the federal government has distributed gas masks to residents living near a chemical weapons incinerator. Gas masks are the government’s solution to the chance that lethal nerve gas could leak during the destruction process.

The question of whether or not chemical weapons should be destroyed in a low-income community — average wage $27,385, population 48.7 percent white and 48.7 percent African American — never seems to have crossed elected officials’ minds. Anniston is a stop on the first-ever Environmental Justice for All (EJA) bus tour, Sept. 24-Oct. 1.

“During this tour we will expose how industry, government and the military have turned the places where people live, play, work and pray into toxic dumping grounds,” said Dorothy Felix, a lifelong resident of Mossville, La., and member of Mossville Environmental Action Now. Communities are organizing to end the injustice “by focusing on solutions that value and protect our health and health of future generations,” she said.

Raising public awareness is not the only goal of the tour, which will bring three buses with activists, health researchers, environmental scientists and public policy experts to cities and towns in the South, Northeast and West. It is to stir up a drumbeat for change in leadership in the 2006 congressional elections, according to EJA spokeswoman Ateqah Khaki.

Sheila Holt of Dickson, Tenn., used to be a body builder. In 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her father suffers from prostate cancer and her mother has cervical polyps. The Holt family is one of many families living in the mostly African American Eno Road community, where local officials decided to place a garbage dump, landfills and a toxic waste disposal site. Elected officials informed white families of the threat to their drinking water, but not the African Americans. The Holt family got their neighbors, family and friends together and sued.

Sheila Holt is on the tour bus with stops in Dickson, Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.; Port Arthur, Texas; Mossville and New Orleans, La.; Gulfport, Miss.; Anniston, Ala.; Berea and Louisville, Ky; Whitesville, W.Va. and Washington, D.C.

Another bus is traveling to Buffalo, Syracuse, Endicott, Albany and New York, N.Y.; Hartford and New Haven, Conn.; Boston, Mass.; Newark, Linden and Camden, N.J., also ending in Washington.

The Western tour includes Seattle, Wash., and San Francisco, Oakland, Fort Ord, Central Valley, Los Angeles and Calexico, Calif.

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