Order amid Chaos

Linda Gillick

It started over 25 years ago when a hauler illegally dumped thousands of 55 gallon drums of chemical waste in our town of Dover Township (Toms River) New Jersey. The chemicals were from the manufacturing of plastics at the Union Carbide Chemical Plant in Boundbrook, New Jersey.

First, he dumped in our clean landfill by paying the workers off.. Then after there was an explosion and a fire, they stopped accepting. He went to a nearby farm and asked to store empty barrels on the property. He proceeded to empty the drums and bury the damaged ones. When the farmer discovered what he was doing, he told the hauler to clean up and clear out. The hauler refused. The officials were called in and arrested him and removed the drums. More resurfaced within months.

Private wells in the area became undrinkable and portable water had to be provided until public water could be hooked up. Meanwhile 30 percent of our public water supply was down gradient from this toxic plume. The pumping of these wells drew the toxins into our public drinking water. No one knew for years.

In 1979, children were starting to be diagnosed with cancer. My son, Michael, was one of them. He was three months old and developed Neuroblastoma. He was given six months to live. Between 1979 and the present time, we have 106 confirmed cases of childhood cancer. Central Nervous System cancer is seven times higher, and leukemias five times higher, than the national average.

As the numbers grew, officials chose to ignore our concerns. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came in to remediate the site and put the water through air strippers, telling us that would make it safe. They removed volatile organics to within "safe" limits, but they didn't remove semi-volatile organics. When a nurse from Children's Hospital in Philadelphia reported to the EPA that the number of children being treated from our town raised a concern, EPA asked the New Jersey Department of Health to investigate. The elevated numbers were statistically significant. They sent the report to our county health department. The head officer chose to hide it away in a drawer. An investigative reporter wrote a comprehensive article and included this information. There was a public outcry and over 1,000 people attended a rather out-of-control meeting in March 1996. That night I was appointed the chairperson of the Citizen's Action Committee on the Childhood Cancer Cluster.

In two and a half years we have started a full-blown, epidemiological study and undertaken the most comprehensive water testing ever done, I believe, in this country, if not in the world. An historical water modeling program is being designed to identify over the years which wells were having the biggest impact on different sections of the town. The children that developed cancer by diagnosis year will be merged with this data to see if there is a correlation.

What we have learned

What we've learned already has affected the drinking water standards of the nation. High levels of naturally occurring radiologicals were discovered due to the rapidity of the water testing. This was found to be present in 26 states besides New Jersey. A byproduct of acrylonitrile and styrene has been found in our water; it has never been seen anywhere else. Union Carbide admits this is from their plant. Toxicity testing is underway to test if it causes cancer.

Our water continues to meet all state and federal standards. This is not good enough, especially when you live near two Superfund sites that are both up gradient from our public drinking water. Laws need to be changed and improved now. We've given up too many children's lives and this is happening all over the country.

My son, God willing, will be 20 this February. Quality of life is limited. He's the size of a seven-year-old, and lives on high doses of medication, including morphine. I don't want any other family to endure what we have but, most importantly, what he has known all his life-pain and suffering!

We have an obligation to our children to fix what others have made unsafe and deadly. This can only be accomplished with commitment and joining together of a community. I hope that our children have not suffered in vain-that we can make a difference by finding the cause while others work to find the cure.