Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Canary in the Mine

I think of myself as a rather large canary in the mine.

When I was a kid we would play daily on the Kalamazoo River that flowed near my home. The town was one of those small industrial towns that had many factories and a couple of foundries. Upstream was one of the foundries. We would follow the river on long summer days. There were lots of adventures there: critters to discover, animal prints in the mud to follow, frogs to catch - river stuff. There was one spot outside of town that we'd stop at that caught our attention where warm water trickled down from the rear of a foundry property. I'm sure very few people saw this part of the countryside except for maybe the occasional hunter. But us, being kids, we weren't just walking through the area - we stayed; we explored. The water was warm. It was intriguing and fun because if we waded in past the bright orange-colored shore and into the collecting pond of warm water, we would sink down past our knees into the sand below. We called it quicksand and would spend hours splashing in the unusual water pretending we were in a Tarzan movie rescuing one another from the quicksand.

Recently I learned that years later this site was cordoned off by the EPA in the late 90's as a toxic wasteland. The earth of the property is contaminated with a long list of carcinogenic chemicals that over the years seeped into the ground and drained down to the river. The EPA document shows this spot on the map as the same pool of orange, warm quicksand water we played in years ago. The waters were poisoned along with the earth and my young body also. Back in the early 60's there wasn't much thought given to the dumping of toxic waste beyond putting it into barrels and burying it. Today, the foundry sits empty, the land considered "brown land" - land that must sit idle because it can't be sold or built upon. The land, the water, the animals, plants and myself have all been the recipients of the dumping.

My body reflects the earth's; the same tracks cross both. One of my responsibilities as a resident of the Great Lakes region, is to be a guardian of the fresh water - your grandchild's drink.

This is the only water we get. What we have is what we get. There is NO new water. It's the same finite amount that's been recycling on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. The same water a dinosaur drank was then pissed out to the ground, evaporated and eventually fell as rain, re-entering our water cycle. This process has been going on and on for eons without problem, and now, look what we've managed to do in just a few short years of industry.

What can we do? Gratitude is always a good place to start; appreciating the fact that over 1 BILLION people TODAY do not have the right of clean drinking water. If we appreciate this gift we won't squander it; we'll protect it because there's a high probability that the 1 billion without clean water today will grow to be many more tomorrow. We are the lucky ones; we are the privileged. We share a responsibility to our children, and to our children's children, and the children across the world today who will walk many miles with buckets and jugs to a dirty watering hole, to carry some dirty, precious, brown fluid home for their families.

Again, I send a 'shout out' and a 'megwetch' to the Water Walkers (see previous post) calling attention and raising awareness with their feet.


Sandi said...

Growing up, I was a canary, too, but that sure knowledge just makes me sad and tired. By and large, our species is still so very immature. Like toddlers, we have spent lifetimes of grab, grab, grab. But some of you know better. Some of you want to give back, to protect, to enlighten. I live in the Mississippi river valley. Since being introduced to the water walkers, I will never look at this river in quite the same way again.

Linda Diane Feldt said...

Well, it is good to begin to have some answers to the question "why me?"
I remember going for walks in 1972 a the Gelman property. There was the pond of weirdly colored water, I was freaked out by it and it was just there, anyone could walk up to it. But we knew something was wrong, just didn't know how seriously.

I'm doing a training on Saturday for assessing the health of natural areas near the Huron. It feels like a very good thing to volunteer for.Take care.

el poquito said...

" Some of you want to give back, to protect, to enlighten. I live in the Mississippi river valley. Since being introduced to the water walkers, I will never look at this river in quite the same way again." - Sandi

Dear Mississippi River Valley Woman,
I think you could probably change all those "you's" to "I" as in" I want to give back, protect and enlighten" - especially in light of "I will never look at this river the same" Sounds like you've been touched by an ordinary (yet not at all) group of tuff women with strong heart and will, kinda like that face you see in the mirror.

hey LD! Good to 'see' ya. Why me? I gave up on that question long ago after realizing the real question was: "why not me?", but yeah, the foundry water probably didn't do a lot for my baby DNA.

But as I said: "My body reflects the earth's; the same tracks cross both."

Same thing for all of us on this little blue marble.

If you need a 'public health' and health of nat'l areas story for Saturday you're welcome to use mine, but also talk with 'em about the common farm and yard herbicide (scourge upon the planet) 2,4-D more commonly known as Round-Up and the NHL connection ('tis the season). It could have as easily been the corn fields I used to play in that hit my DNA. Sadly, that stuff's pouring into the Huron & Mississippi and every other body of water connected to the world's farmlands and green weed-free lawns. That would be everywhere. Oh, and NHL is fast on the rise. Hmmmmmm....

kathryn kopple said...

Remarkable and terrifying. Dave is working on a superefund case right now. These cases are slow and often getting the land owner to clean up is a tough proposition. I recycle water. Any drinking cup with water is collected and goes to the garden. Thanks for sharing, caring.

el poquito said...

You're a Pennsylvania Water Protector - raising awareness. I bet there's folks in California who don't come near your awareness.

re: Dave and superfund case. Oy. Yeah, damn complicated and timely. This spot I wrote about became an EPA Superfund site. Ironically, the spot I live on now has an underground toxic plume from an industry uphill just out of town that's been under contention since the 80's. Only now is there talk of serious clean-up and the possibility of being declared a superfund case. A strange recurring thread of my life span... and I'm sure many others who just don't happen to know. It's the story of Middle America and its factories.

The toxic holding pond was one of my "possible theories" that you run when first diagnosed with cancer. But who knows, right? Then I found the EPA document just in a google search. The clincher was the night I sat down next to a guy at U of M Cancer Center's Lymphoma Support Group. When we exchanged names we realized we were both from our old childhood neighborhood --- and yes, he swam in the same water and today has the same exact kind of immune system cancer. I know it's just anecdotal evidence, but it answered something for me not a lot of folks get an answer to: "What caused this cancer in me?"

Becoming the question: "How do I live WITH it - and how do I use it?" I talk - hopefully getting others to think a bit.

thanks for reading, responding and caring, Kathryn.
xo >>>>