Paying For Travesties


In the late 1980’s, I lived in a different town than my current one in MA, USA. Every now and then, maybe about once a week, an industrial plant about a mile from my home would sound a whistle. Then suddenly the air surrounding my home would be filled with something that smelled sickeningly sweet. It tasted, too, that way and made one feel dizzy, faint and nauseous.

So I asked a friend, a chemist, about what would cause this physical reaction to me and my daughter, five years old at the time and playing outdoors, and me supervising her when the whistle would blow.

He said that it was a benzene based product based on my description. Benzene can destroy lives. It is highly cancerous. If it doesn’t kill you, it can at least shorten your life and bring severe health issues while being alive.

So I decided to do the walk to this industrial plant using its backside and the vision that I saw was shocking. And I recorded it since I brought my camera along with me — a film camera such as we had back in that time.

For example. I saw toxic powdery waste up against a tree — a huge mound of it — with a sign saying that you need to stay away as it was poison (yeah, poison blowing in the wind since it was very light and fluffy in composition).

Walking onward, I came across a sludge pond that was green. I snapped the image of it, too, from various angles while thinking that whatever was in it both was leaking downward into our water supply and up into the air through evaporation on warm days.

Then I walked home after taking a photo of the smokestack at the plant. I meant serious business, especially since my young daughter and other children in my neighborhood were involved.

So next I called my town’s health director and told him of my walk. I told him that I needed him to get the legal documents made up to inspect that which I saw. I told him to keep me out of it as I wanted to not go bankrupt for walking on the property for illegal trespass and being sued by the company. I told him that I would get my roll of film developed to provide proof of my allegations.

Then I went off to a store, got my pictures developed and sent them out to the health director. … I’m not one of these half-way persons. When I am hunting for something, I go all the way to the end.

The director of health called me back on the phone after receipt of my images and had gotten his court order to validate my findings. Yup, it was benzene and worse infecting my daughter and me, as well as all the rest of the people living near the plant. He had a stack emissions release for it and was allowed to look at the rest of my findings.

Next in the chain of events the plant became a Superfund site. Now I do have a problem with that happening. It’s because why in the heck should taxpayers pay for cleanup when a company should have to pay in full for its own toxic mess?

If they go bankrupt in the process — so be it. I am not responsible for their disgusting immoral ways and I am not responsible for the poor lung health or other health problems that they are creating for people like my (at the time young) daughter and me. Why should we pay for it to get fixed, especially since a company was illegal in operations?

One of the problems with my country, the USA, is that they will not reign in these corrupt companies. Another is that they will not stop “big business” when it fouls our land, air and water, but if some company does get “caught” by actions such as I undertook, we — the public — have to pay for cleanup.

Accordingly, we need a new standard for our overall health and welfare. We need a new system so that people like my daughter and me don’t get sick from someone else trying to maximize profits for some company at our expense. We need another way forward than having someone like me being forced to bring a camera illegally onto a property while her daughter is in school (kindergarten) while possibly gasping for air due to being exposed to benzene and maybe having long-term health effects from exposure to it and other poisons.

We, obviousl,y can’t deal with these sorts of problems at an ever larger scale as economies grow. We surely can’t unless a new model is created to deal with them that is effective. … They vex me and destroy health of people, other animals and plants across the world. They destroy the atmosphere, land and water for us all. So we need to tackle the current economic model that is, indirectly, making us all ill.

A lot of people try to be good humans. I can imagine any number of individuals doing what I did to tramp that land in a photo-shoot since this is the sort of activity that we have to do to correct and improve our world. And we do so even if risky from a legal or other standpoint. (Yes, my behavior was illegal to undertake property trespass and relatively speaking, I don’t care, nor the price that I may have had  to pay since the cleanup from illegal activity resulted from my action!)

We all have to rise up to this standard that I know must be in existence. If we refuse to do so, you do know about what will happen. Just watch your daughter, aged five, collapse while panting into the grass as benzene product fills her lungs. I bet that you’d then change really fast into my orientation.

I do not want to alarm anyone, but I want others to see what would have happened to my daughter if I had not worked for corrections. If others care about this planet, their children and their children’s children — they will do so too. There is no other choice in times ahead — period.

Sally Dugman is a writer in MA, USA.




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