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Only One Life

Posted to Sludge News at 8/12/08

JOANNE MARSHALL'S STATEMENT National Press Club. Washington, D.C. March 23, 1999

"My name is Joanne Marshall and I come from a small town, Greenland, New Hampshire. Greenland is a suburb of Portsmouth, New Hampshire where the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the former Pease Air Force Base reside. It was once a rural community, and has a few remaining hay farms left and one dairy. The neighborhood where we live is a quiet neighborhood where folks gather while shoveling snow, planting their gardens or walking their dogs. I used to call it 'God's little acre.' A great place to raise families until it was disturbed in October of 1995, when large tractor-trailer trucks began rolling down our street in the early morning hours before most people were stirring. These trucks were depositing truckload after truckload of some smelly, murky stuff and piling it on a field next door."

"At first there was a faint smell of something in the air. Being down wind from the field, I smelt it most. In all my thirty or so years of living on this street, I never smelt anything like that. I was told the truckers were dumping, in short, a four-letter word beginning with 's' and ending with 't'—sewage, human waste. I remember thinking how inconceivable this was. On October 31st, a week later, I arrived home from work in a hurry. It was Halloween and my little girl was late trick or treating. Grabbing my bags, I bolted out of the car only to be greeted by such a stench, it took my breath away. Nausea hit me like a ton of bricks and as soon as I was inside I ran for the bathroom. That frightful night became the turning point of our serene neighborhood and the beginning of the nightmarish weeks and months to come."

'We called the police department, who knew nothing of the dumping and then the chairman of our Selectmen, who said he also knew nothing. We then called the owner of the field, an elderly widow, who told us that her hayer persuaded her to use this stuff on her field. She said she was told that this stuff would be beneficial to the environment. She was very sorry for the smell, but assured us, as she was assured, that it was healthy and okay."

"As days and weeks went by we became sicker and sicker. Not just my family, but our whole immediate neighborhood. We all shared the same symptoms; first nausea and vomiting followed by severe stomach cramps and migraine headaches. Then fever and flu-like symptoms, more respiratory. There was a continual battle of thick mucous, one that made it hard to swallow and discharge. At times it appeared as if our reflex system had slowed because you would gag on the mucous and sometimes choke to dispel it. Often it would wake you because your breathing passages were blocked by it."

"Upon discovering that my neighbors were experiencing the same problems, I contacted the Governor's office, which directed me to Health and Human Services, Risk Assessment. The gentleman I spoke with said that our symptoms were symptoms of sludge exposure. I asked if we could have someone come out and test this stuff, but he said he was not the one to do it. He gave us several names stemming from people at DES [Department of Environmental Services] to the Regional EPA office [Environmental Protection Agency] in Boston. Our efforts to contact these people were fruitless. Our phone calls were not returned and if they were, we were treated rudely or given another name to contact. Between my neighbors and myself, we went full spectrum in the contacts we were given, which resulted in nothing."

"Approximately three days later, the evening of Thanksgiving, I kissed my son, Shayne of 26 years, goodnight for the last time. Around four a.m. that morning, I was awakened to a frightful scream from my other son, who was home from college during the holiday. When I ran to the room, Shayne appeared unconscious, yet he seemed like he was gasping. 911 was called and all I could do was hug him and wait for the paramedics. We spent what seemed like an eternity in the hospital waiting room, only to be told my son was dead."

"The weeks that followed were even more brutal if that were possible. We couldn't grieve for our son because we were too busy fighting illnesses and spending sleepless nights watching over my little girl sleeping, trying to pass the mucous in her throat and fighting viruses. Trips to the doctors and hospital emergency rooms became a frequent thing for my neighbors and us. As one who seldom ever was administered an antibiotic in her lifetime, I went through approximately seven prescriptions of antibiotics within a year. Two of us were diagnosed with Pleurisy. Three to four of us developed abscesses and cysts that needed to be lanced. There were recurring allergenic illnesses in the young babies of the neighbors, but the doctors could not pinpoint the cause. The men suffered severe nosebleeds that were unstoppable. Some of the children suffered unbearable migraine headaches. Both my neighbor and I had tumor masses surgically removed from our breasts. One neighbor suffered heart failure and one was bedridden for weeks. The list goes on and on. By the end of two years, five cats (all mousers—two mine and three my neighbors) as well as my other neighbor's older dog died, all from tumors."

"Again to get someone to help us proved futile. Even when noted violations to the 503's [the EPA regulations for sludge] were cited, those whose salaries are paid by us seemed unconcerned and closed a deaf ear. Even the death of my son was not enough to rouse them and investigate the possibility and/or eliminate the connection. Instead they fumbled at trying to find other causes to prove it wasn't the sludge. Even when the autopsy report stated the immediate cause as respiratory and the underlying cause as inconclusive, none of our officials sprang to action. All our phone calls, eventually, went unanswered and we were left to deal with the unknown ourselves. Doctors wouldn’t?' or couldn't help. Their reply was that they didn't know what they were dealing with. Yet they were sure to load us up with plenty of antibiotics. It didn't seem to matter that one life was lost and no one knew why. It didn't seem to matter that proven records of healthy citizens prior to the sludge dumping were all experiencing illnesses of various kinds and medical problems. This was not a concern. Our officials and the people responsible appeared indifferent and uncaring; after all, it was only one life. . . ."