Fredas Cook drove his wife's car with Bhavana while Tim Jones and I rode in the back seat. It seemed more like a sentimental journey than a toxic tour as we passed by streets without names while the names of the missing homes and their owners were spoken aloud. Road after road, which looked much the same, different only by the mines' names and the size of the chat pile remaining. Watering trucks passed us and trucks loaded with chat raced by.
Weeks can pass quickly, too. Earlier this year AARP provided LEAD Agency the opportunity to have two assistants work with us and all this time "the Toxic Tour" was on the must do list for them. In December LEAD Agency got lucky again when a young woman from Western Illinois University sent an email out of the blue asking if we had an internship available for her. It was all she lacked to finish up a Masters in Public Health. So naturally after looking over her resume, YES was a definite answer. Bhavana came to spend 150 hours. We considered her background and the issues we face in this county and her plan came together on the project she has taken on.
But one day this week she took some time for her first tour of our superfund site. What she discovered as we drove through the Tar Creek Superfund Site were the similarities our site has with her home state in India. There the mining is for coal, where ours was for lead and zinc, but waste can look much the same when it is left behind. We visited the Baxter Springs Museum where the photos of the young men who worked the mines looked back at us. We drove by abandoned poultry barns, which reminded she and I of an article we read just that morning about how the overuse of antibiotics in her home state's poultry houses could cause drug resistant diseases.
During a conversation over a meal we discovered a random connection of polio. Bhavana is a licensed pharmacist in India and one of her service projects there was to work in a community experiencing high incidences of poliomyelitis, most often called polio. She explained how she was able to find families and administer polio vaccine drops to prevent the disease. Across the table our guide reflected on his experiences as a child who had contracted polio after the flood in 1951. The disease, which is spread by a virus, can cause paralysis like it did for him for awhile. Though it is rare in the U.S. now, in her country it has not yet been eradicated.
My grandfather and another doctor were hired in the 1880's to vaccinate the Cherokees in the Cherokee Nation in what was Indian Territory for smallpox. Word would spread they were coming and Cherokees would be there waiting since they knew what horror smallpox was. I think Bhavana must have seen that eagerness in those neighborhoods in India as mothers made sure their children received polio vaccine.
Whatever we can do to prevent diseases and ensure there are cures that work for us, we must do and those curious souls amongst us must be encouraged. I won’t ever find a cure, but I will not stand in the way of those who might. And certainly once Bhavana's project is completed here correct treatment for some may be sought sooner.
Not all diseases caused by bacteria or virus have vaccines. Preventing some diseases can be done by knowing more about exposures to toxins in our environment.
During events in 1984 and 1985 Union Carbide released chemicals in both India and in West Virginia that killed people and in 1986 Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and established the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).
Since the creation of the TRI Program, the information has provided a way for citizens to better understand possible sources of pollution in their communities that pose a threat to human health and the environment. This understanding can be the basis for actions and citizen empowerment. TRI also creates a strong incentive for companies to reduce pollution and be good neighbors in their communities.
The 2016 data has just been posted by TRI so I had to take a look. Typing OK and Ottawa and clicking GO, the pounds of toxic substances released in the county popped right up listing the industries releasing them. It was over a hundred thousand pounds released that year.
Then I breathed out and wondered how bad Craig County compared. I spend my days in Ottawa County, but I sleep in Craig County. So I went back to the home page and replaced the county with Craig and with resolve pressed GO, only to find ZERO toxic substances released in the county. There is a relief in that but a concern. On that report page for Ottawa County, the amounts have fluctuated over the years and each are listed with numbers creating concern.
The public and that’s us, we have the right to know these things and I would recommend you take a look.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim