Doby's Bridge protesters filled a town council meeting on June 10 while more parents and children held signs outside the window. Protest organizer Rick Hayes is pictured in yellow tie on back row. (Photo by Greg Rickabaugh/Fort Mill Sun)

Doby’s Bridge parents released this lengthy reply today to recent actions by the Town of Fort Mill and the school district.

Fort Mill, SC (July 16, 2019) On Friday, the Town of Fort Mill and the Fort Mill School District each issued an official statement regarding the 7-Eleven gas station and convenience store planned to be developed next to Doby’s Bridge Elementary School (DBES). Both statements had a similar tone and aligned with each other regarding the research conducted and the various organizations at the state and national level that were contacted. The statement expressed the Town of Fort Mill has concluded the gas station/convenience store next to DBES possess no health or safety concerns for the students and teachers.

Parents who oppose the gas station/convenience store location have not only asked questions of, but have also expressed concerns to the Town of Fort Mill and Fort Mill School District that the gas station/convenience store located in such close proximity to the school should have never been permitted in the first place. Regardless of the town’s interpretation of the ordinance, parents remain convinced a convenience store is not a permitted use in the overlay district node (COD-N).

Based on their interpretation of the ordinance, both the town and the school district have known for years this zoning applied. They should have taken action to ensure undesirable uses such as this were not allowed. Residents in the area have been under the impression this parcel was going to be a “marketplace” based on the signage MPV has posted at the site for years.

The town’s announcement of moving the location of the gas pumps by a few hundred feet and working with 7-Eleven to include additional vapor recovery systems and vegetation stems from the voices of hundreds of Fort Mill residents who oppose the location of the gas station/convenience store. Without this movement, no action would have been taken. Thank you to all who have worked so hard for your voice to be heard. You have made a difference.

We acknowledge the Town of Fort Mill and the Fort Mill School District finally made a public response to our concerns after weeks of silence. From the beginning, we have asked the town to speak with us about a solution to improve the situation, and for the school board to stand up for the concerns of the parents and teachers. Phone calls and emails went unanswered and parents took to demonstrating their concerns and overall disappointment of town and school officials in public forums and on social media.

During this period, the town and school district claimed to speak with someone at DHEC who deemed a gas station this close to the playground was safe. However, after contacting numerous professionals at DHEC, we found no one at DHEC reported a gas station within 200 or 400 feet of a school is safe and poses no significant health and safety risks to those at the school on a daily basis.

In regard to the statement made about our research being outdated, we looked through everything we shared and all research has been within the last five years. Any research prior to the five year period has been recently updated, making it applicable today.

Our research findings conclude the following:

Current Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR ), National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations and recent scientific peer-reviewed literature are all consistent in their conclusion. Elevated benzene exposure among humans, including those in close proximity of a gas station over time, can cause cancer. Elevated levels of benzene

exposure, as defined by ATSDR, include air emissions from gasoline service stations, gasoline storage operations, exhaust and evaporation from gasoline service stations, motor vehicle exhaust, burning oil and benzene waste. The benzene exposure from these operations, which take place at a gas station produce elevated and prolonged levels harmful to humans. These elevated and prolonged levels emitted from a gas station are significant and extremely dangerous to humans, and current federal DHHS/CDC/ATSDR recommendations clearly advise families not to play near fueling stations.

The federal EPA recommends gas stations be at a minimum of 1,000 feet from schools to be considered safe. There is a plethora of literature to back-up the dangers of a gas station in close proximity to a school. Humans that breathe benzene over time may experience harmful health effects in tissues that form blood cells, especially in bone marrow. These effects can disrupt normal blood production and cause significant decreases in the immune system and its function. Prolonged benzene exposure is harmful to the immune system, increasing the risks for respiratory infections, asthma, and multiple types of cancer. Long term exposure to benzene can cause cancer of the blood-forming organs, or leukemia. Benzene exposure is strongly associated with the development of acute myeloid leukemia. Such exposure has also been shown recently to be harmful to reproductive organs, fertility and a developing fetus. The harmful effects of benzene exposure as measured in adults mimics the effects in children. These health effects can be and are likely significantly amplified in younger populations, at a time when their development is ongoing. This research can be found on kidshealthandsafety.com/our-research.

The Fort Mill Mayor, Town Council and School District stated that they had information from DHEC stating that the location of the gas station is safe but refused to disclose the information or the source. As previously mentioned, many calls were made to regional, state and local EPA and DHEC with a final comment from DHEC’s public relations representative, Fran Marshall, stating that no one from DHEC could or would determine that the proximity was safe because the state of South Carolina has no setback requirements. Ms. Marshall also stated that as of July 15, 2019, no application for the gas station has been submitted nor a permit been issued.

There is clearly a disconnect between federal recommendations and local interpretation or disregard of the data. It is our intent to weigh both recommendations, but since we now know that DHEC never deemed the proximity safe, we, as a community, are relying on the current federal recommendations as the basis for not building a gas station next to DBES. The most current research clearly shows such a scenario is unsafe and places all students and staff at DBES at risk. Therefore, we strongly urge local government and the school board to prohibit the development of a gas station beside the elementary school.

In addition to the health concerns mentioned above, many continue to have apprehensions with other potential dangers such as an elevated percentage of criminal activity that occurs at convenience stores compared to other businesses. Although these are not everyday occurrences, these factors must be taken into consideration when proposing a business next to a school, where young children are present. Let’s also not forget the sale of alcohol and tobacco products.

Parents, friends, teachers and members of the Fort Mill Town Council and Fort Mill School Board, we want to bring this issue to a conclusion, but we are not there yet. Many of us would much rather spend our time with family or friends, engaging in more pleasurable activities, or working on other topics to maximize the potential of our town and schools. It was not our intent to be at odds with the Town of Fort Mill, but we cannot stand by as parents and citizens, turning a blind eye to irresponsible decisions that place a higher value on business and money than on the health and welfare of our children, teachers, future students and residents of our community. When considering all of this information, our stance remains, no gas station next to Doby’s Bridge Elementary School. We hope those who have clung to this position alongside us throughout the past few months will continue to support this effort.