DURHAM, N.C. — On Saturday, Warren County marks a major milestone with a picnic. More than 20 years ago, a protest movement against the state dumping soil with the cancer-causing chemical PCBs put Warren County and the environmental justice movement on the map.
"I say those that were arrested, thanks be to God, they were able to put themselves in harm's way because they laid down in the road in front of those trucks that was bringing this chemical," resident Betty Kearney said.
The landfill was put right next door to Kearney's farm.
"First of all, you didn't know what you were going to be drinking in the water," Kearney said.
The protest involved citizens and prominent civil rights members. It was Mary Somerville's job to lock them up in the tiny county jail.
"About 70 or 80 [people arrested], you know, each day and the place was full," former jail administrator Mary Somerville said.
After the arrests, officials started decontaminating the PCB-soaked soil. After spending $18 million, the state has declared the landfill harmless and cleaner than federal standards.
The landfill now belongs to Warren County. The toughest job for County Manager Loria Williams is convincing the public that it is safe.
"How safe it is compared to what you would find in your own back yard or what you would find in the typical county landfill," she said.
Still, residents said they will remember the early days and events associated with the landfill.
"We, older people, will tell the younger generation what happened," Kearney said.
The picnic on Saturday will also celebrate the official end of the PCB landfill. The land is expected to become a public park.