Opponents of the under-construction Rockwool factory in Jefferson County, W.Va., today took aim at the insulation manufacturer’s “green” image with a protest at a key professional association in the construction and building industry. Appealing to the core values articulated by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Washington, DC, members of community organization Resist Rockwool expressed their outrage and heartache through song and speech about Rockwool’s construction of a polluting factory in the vicinity of 30% of the county’s schoolchildren.
Last month, Resist Rockwool sent a letter to the AIA, asking it to live up to its commitment to prioritize policies and design practices which promote energy conservation, community health and resiliency. If the AIA takes the manufacturing process into consideration and no longer recognizes Rockwool’s product as “sustainable,” their hope is that the AIA will “deny Rockwool access to an important segment of the construction and building industry,” the letter says.
The group points to the 156,000 tons of greenhouse gases and toxic emissions permitted for the factory, which is sited directly across from an elementary school and within only two miles of three other county schools. The facility also sits atop porous karst geology, which has led to fears that retaining ponds for coal ash and other waste materials will leak into the ground water.
But, the AIA responded unfavorably to their appeal, calling Rockwool its “corporate partner” and telling the Jefferson County residents to take their concerns to their local officials. Resist Rockwool in turn is calling the AIA and Rockwool “partners in pollution.”
About a dozen people approached the AIA building on Wednesday and attempted to enter, but were rebuffed by security personnel. The “Sing Out” then assembled on the steps of the plaza outside the entrance. For about twenty minutes, they serenaded AIA employees and staff with songs about West Virginia, its history of coal mining and how—like the Tom Petty lyric—they would not “back down.” In the makeshift ampitheater, the amplified music resonated all the way to the upper floors of the AIA building. (Video here.)
The group sang “County Roads,” a John Denver song written specifically about the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley where Rockwool is constructing its planned factory. Zoe Levine performed an original composition celebrating the deep ties she feels to her birthplace: “West Virginia, the song of my heart, my home/Land of plenty, land of birdsong,” she sang.
Her brother, Milo Levine, also performed. He lamented that his infant might not be able to experience the natural environment in Jefferson County in the pristine state that he enjoyed as a child.
“The AIA talks about the importance of communities, the importance of health, and yet, they are supporting the greenwashing of Rockwool,“ said their father David Levine. ”Our way of life is at risk. We asked the AIA to stand up for the principles they espouse, and instead, they sent us a letter most likely written by Rockwool, their corporate partner. They took their blood money.“
Jefferson County resident Mary Reed said that Rockwool “picks out the weak to attack,” referring to the Title 1 school across the road from the Rockool construction site. The “Significant Impact Area,” she said, expands in a 35-mile radius and includes 710,000 people. “I call it the sacrifice zone,” she said.
Rockwool has exploited poor and vulnerable people in the 45 countries where it has built factories, asserted Stewart Acuff. “This institute of architects is the biggest hypocrite in Washington, DC today, because they say they stand for a green future, they say they stand for a healthy cllimate, and then they turn around and support Rockwool, a dangerous corporate polluter and marauder,” he said.
Resist Rockwool President Tracy Danzey asked the AIA to reconsider what she described as a “dismissal” of their concerns.
“The AIA needs to make a decision about who they are and what they support. We’re fighting for our lives here, we’re fighting for our community, and we’re not going anywhere,” she said.
Photos by Monica Larson