Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chapter 13.....(Summer 2000 ) About the Air and The Ash that fell like Snow....

As Spring came we began to really explore the new town. I was puzzled by so much around us, it was little things that made the me wonder. Spring came and yet there were so few birds and no nest building in the little trees around us. And no worms scurrying about with worms. It was quiet and no squirrels or small animals in the yard. And the neighborhood was eerily quiet, with very few children and very few babies out for walks. People did not gather in their yards or porches , like other neighborhoods that we had lived. And soon I began to realize why. It was all about the Air.

Most evenings the Air was full of different aromas, not BBQ smoke. But Smoke, that smelled of Burnt Skunk or Sulphur or Mustard smell, or Burnt bagels. Other Nights it was like Burnt Tires or Electrical Wire . It was an acrid smell that burned one's throat and nose and eyes. The Smell was different different days of the week, and always worse at Night or After 7PM. And on Weekends was the worst it smelled like burnt garbage or even burnt rotting meat. I began to always carry a bandanna when I was out and about and even driving in the car. And there were days that I would come out and find ash on my car, I would have to use a Snow Scraper to get it off my car. I would watch my neighbors also wordlessly scraping it off.

When I could I would walk to the Closest Coffee Shop and try to figure out why the Air felt Heavy, thick. And the days that it had the Burnt Bagel Smell it also made me and others sleepy, groggy. ( I would later learn after some FOIAS that the Burnt Bagel Sleepy Smell was actually Chloroform Emissions....) I would notice this as I sat and drank Chai tea trying to wake up. I could feel my heart racing, yet feel my eyes starting to close. It was an odd sensation. Even worse I would sit at the coffee shop and watch others fall asleep. I would watch them leave in a stupor, leaving behind books, raincoats, and umbrellas, slightly muddled and confused.

This same spring is when I would walk down to the Cornwall Beach, later known as Dead Whale Beach. ( The Beach with the Faded crusty Chemical Plant Sign). I would walk down there stunned that there were so few sea gulls and so few birds by Bellingham Bay. I had lived in the NW for many years at that point and Birds on the Shoreline are a part of life in the NW. As a mom , we would always bring extra bread or crumbs with us on beach adventures because frankly the birds flock to the beaches and expect attention and food.

That spring while out with my son two separate times we came across a Bird Flying into an obstacle. The one time he and I were standing in a parking lot and we saw the bird , a large male adolescent gull fly in a weaving drunken fashion right into the lamppost. We ran over and scooped the injured bird into a laundry basket and brought him to the car. He was a bit stunned, body rather limp and eyes glazed, we wrapped him in a blanket and then I sat in the parking lot flummoxed WHO to call in such a situation. So I called the Local Vet that we were using for our cancer ridden Scottie and he gave me the name of a lady named Lois.

So off we drove with the Wounded Gull in the back seat and my son tenderly checking on him. We arrived at Lois's house and there we met Lois and George ,a lovely older couple,and we quickly realized that they loved all creatures and that this was the right place for the Wounded Gull to get care. Lois gently looked in the basket and then we helped her take him to a darker room where she put him a box with a blanket. I was amazed at how she did it with ease and such care. " Oh , this poor fella, I don't know if he will make it". I explained I thought he was sick as he had flown drunkenly into the Lamp Post. She nodded knowingly. I was silently confused why Drunk Birds would be a norm, an accepted occurrence.

In the years to come I would learn that Lois was a fierce Advocate for the Environment and she was a never ending source of wisdom and courage. I was truly blessed to have met her that fateful day with the sick bird in tow.

That Spring of 2000 the talk of the Town revolved around the Plant, The Plant was having energy issues, and in a very odd way this would bring renewed interest in the Plant and their Stacks and what they were contributing to the air and it would also lead to many people meeting each other to fight for Better Air. It became a time of forging alliances and creating a network of people to help each other. And according to the locals that had never happened before in over 30 years.

By the time the Air Battles heated up that summer, there was as series of events that created a wave of concern that could not be stopped by the Plant or the Local Government ( who of course were strongly aligned). For some reason the Plant was having energy issues, which I thought was very odd, yet no one had an answer. I also by then had started asking neighbors about the horrible smells and was the Plant Burning or Incinerating Garbage at Night. It was a question no one wanted to answer. I would ask and people would shrug nonchalantly. Occasionally people that had always lived there would explain that the Air was just that way, it had always been that way.

So that spring and summer I began keeping a log and tracking the smells and the air and keeping notes in it. I was just trying to track what I could not figure out. And by summer I would write letters and make phone calls to the Air Authority in Mt Vernon about the air. But that spring I was still mostly just gathering information, I had not started filing FOIA's. By August I would start filing FOIAs in earnest.

That spring of 2000 GP , The Plant had started negotiating with the City to start using Diesel Generators for power. ( It was unclear WHY this source of power was sought). The City started sponsoring Information meetings about the Coming Power Change to prepare the Citizens. I was puzzled why the City would approve a plan that would allow the Plant to Run 60 giant diesel generators on it's docks, and had anyone considered the health effects of that ?

So while homeschooling my son and doing normal Mom things, like taking my son to outings and play groups and the Library, I would stay up at night trying to figure out what was in the Air. Reading on the computer and library books. And I was beginning to wonder were all the sick people we kept meeting, was their declining health related to the awful air. The amount of sickness downtown was staggering. People pale , losing hair, walking with limps and poor hand coordination and confusion. I could not shake the feeling Something Was Really Wrong.

In June, the talk of the town was the Planned Generators and people were not happy. The newspapers carried articles about it and there were to be planned meetings with GP and the Dept of Ecology and oddly enough the NWAPA ( the Air Authority was not coming). And supposedly EPA was coming to Town to meet with GP and the Citizens. And the Plant started to leverage some clout, they started a whisper campaign that the Plant "Might have To Close" and that there would be "Layoffs" if they did not get their Generators. And they laid off the first round of workers to support the rumors they had started.

And then on a Hot June Day, the Plant had it's first Shut Down Day. It was shut down suddenly, and the town was buzzing. But at a coffee shop I also learned that EPA was supposedly in town for Inspections and Meetings. I silently hoped at that point that the situation would be looked at closer. 60 Semi Sized Generators sitting on the waterfront spewing Black Bus Smoke seemed unreasonable , or at least in violation of Air Quality Laws.

That week there was also a really bad fire at a local home. It could be seen for miles with billowing black smoke. At the time my husband and my son and I were shopping at a local downtown store and we stood out on the sidewalk and stared at it. My Son of course cryptically said " Gee I sure hope Something Major isn't burning again, like the Pipeline of last year". He was nine and already carrying that concern with him.

Later the Rumors about this Fire swirled for months. The Fire completely burned the house down to the ground. The Fire Dept which was TWO blocks away did not get there right away, Neighbors and the postmen tried to put it out with hoses. They tried to bang on the door and see who or if anyone was home. They thought no one was home because the doors and windows were all locked shut. (It was a hot day, if someone had been home the windows would have been open). The Owner of the Home died in the fire. And yes he did work for GP and yes he was on the Safety Committee. And yes it did look suspicious that he was home during the day, and yes it was the week EPA was in town. And then the stories in the newspaper caused more confusion, the fire was caused by candles, or he was a smoker, and yes, his body was found near the door raising questions was he trying to get out ? Why didn't he respond to people banging on the door ? The Rumors swirled for years. And when the house was raised, they took away all the debris and soil, 6 ft down, just like they do in arson cases. That fire created a cloud of confusion and worry that the City never acknowledged...... But the waterfront neighborhoods buzzed for many months.

I was sitting at a local coffee shop weeks later and met a local and he saw me reading the paper, and asked what I thought about the generators plan. I said I thought it was a terrible idea, it would be like breathing Bus Air everyday. He laughed. Then he saw I was reading about the Fire, and he said "Whatcha Think? ". I said " What do you mean ? " Do you think it's kinda strange about that fire ? Man sitting home during the day burning candles ? " I nodded quietly, trying to figure out what he meant. " Ya know he would not be the first GP worker to die a strange death , People forget about Ed ".... I sat and wondered what he was trying to say. I looked back at him "Who ?" "Oh, You might not have been here then. Ed Dahlgren, was a good guy, worked at the plant, he was the Environmental Safety Guy." "So What Happened ? " I asked, feeling a chill down my spine.

" Oh , he supposedly committed suicide. But not everyone thinks that 's what happened."

"What do you mean"

" Well, He was pretty sick the last couple of years. But he was not that kind of guy. Anyways they say he shot himself down at the Railroad Tracks, and then waited for the Train to finish the job. "

I sat stunned, and asked "The Tracks down by Cornwall beach , down by the Plant"

He nodded knowingly.....

" But you don't believe that ? Why ?"

" You seem smart and like you care, and maybe think too much. Don't make that a habit here, it will get you trouble. But Here's the thing. Ed was a good guy, he was a friend. He loved his family, more than anything, would not do anything to hurt them. And about the gun, well , he didn't own one. He was a real nature lover, didn't like animals even being shot. And about him being able to shoot himself, that's not really close to how he was. The Last couple of years he couldn't even hold a pen or write. He had some kind of muscle nerve disease going on. "

I sat and stared and asked, " What about the gun . Did they find the gun at the scene ? "

He shrugged and got up and started to walk away ,"Things aren't always as they seem here, and the City and the Plant and the Paper sure try to paint things a certain way. But there's also what folks know is the Truth, and they don't always match if you know what I mean. Watch things closely, think it'll see. " He limped away and I watched him filled with a cold dread.

By July I had started calling the Air Authority about the Air. I had also started taking photos of the Billowing Clouds of Ash in the sky. And by July I had other families also journaling air quality in different downtown locations. We would meet and compare notes at local coffee shops. Parents and grandparents were starting to worry about their kids and the quality of the Air. All agreed that the Air was The Worst it had ever been.

I started going to Meetings in the Evenings, City Council Meetings On Monday Nights. I had been watching the meetings on a local TV station and realized that was the right place to go ask some questions about the Air and the Diesel plan. There was a section at the beginning of the Meeting where Citizens could go ask questions. I thought well, I am certainly capable of doing that. ( Anyone who knows me also knows I am very shy and don't like microphones or stages etc. But I thought that the only way to get Answers was to go ask some questions. I learned that there was a 3 minute limit at the mic so I carefully crafted a 3 part Question and practiced it. )

So I started going to the meetings, I would sit where I could see everything and I always brought a pen and paper so I could take notes. I soon realized that I was the only one taking notes, and that for some reason it made the Council uncomfortable, and would draw quite a few stares and even some glares. I decided I would wait until I understood the council more before I asked my question. So for many weeks I went and watched and took notes. And by the 3rd week people had started asking who was I ? Was I a journalist ? Who did I work for ? I explained each time I was just a downtown mom, a nurse, and that I was trying to figure out why the Air was horrible. That was all I said. And soon I had others sitting with me.....with Pens and pads of Paper.

I decided to hold on to my Air Questions until I had more Facts and understood alot more about the History of the Plant and the Town and the relationship, the Hold that the Plant had on the Town. For me, from my eyes, it seemed to be very much an abusive relationship, or one where the Town was held hostage for the Jobs. I had never lived in a Company Town, but watching that relationship was heartbreaking and sad. The GP Plant had been there for so many generations that it was an integral part of the town. At some point the Interdependency had become dysfunctional , but no one seemed to notice.

In the Late 1920's is really when the Legacy began. Owen Cheatum ( yes that really was his name) had a cousin in the NorthWest and hence began the Lumbering and Logging Relationship. A Plant was set up on the Waterfront and thus the Logging and Lumber industry began a more established presence in the Town. In the Late 1860s to 1880's town was originally a Seaside Town with a Dock and Boats coming and going, the Town was originally called SeaHome , and the tall old Victorians with their Widow Walks would watch the Shoreline. There also had been Indians in the area, they had land all around the Shoreline and the Lake, and the Lake Whatcom belonged to them. One of the Historical Documents at the library explained that Whatcom means "Tears of the Mountain". There was the Nooksack tribe and the Lummi's , and the Lummi's mostly lived on the Island in the Bay and also up further north in the County. They fished the same area as the Immigrants that came. The Immigrants were from all over, coming West, after working the Mines in Kentucky and West Virginia and Factories in New England, they came to Log and Fish in the NW. Logging in the NW was what helped build the Big West Coast Cities like Seattle and San Francisco. They also helped log the wood that was needed for the Expansion of the Railroad.

So most of the History that I was gathering made sense, yet there were holes in the History that did not make sense, and I would learn over time that was much Buried History, that was buried to help the growth of the plant. But even that first summer I was puzzled by how the Indians were treated and and how the Plant seemed to quickly dominate the History. The other industries seemed to have been shoved aside, the Fishing and the Tin Company and the Fish Packing Industry of the early 1900s, a profitable industry was soon cast aside by the time the Cheatums brought the Lumber Business to town. And by the 1940s, the Plant on the Waterfront was contributing to the War Efforts in multiple ways and would later receive special recognition from the Navy for their work. And by 1962 the Waterfront would be officially operating strictly for the Paper and Pulp Mill and Chemical Plant, with papers and contracts signed between the State, the City and The Company. The people of the Town were never a part of those Interactions and Agreements.

I would sit and watch the City and County Council Meetings and take notes and watch the interactions between the Elected and the citizens and clearly there were problems. The Council and Mayor seemed to act like they "RULED" the town, in an almost royal fashion. They had a way of being dismissive, almost rude , yet it seemed accepted. People were still asking questions about the Pipeline Explosion of 1999 ,and yet they were waved off with chuckles and eye rolls. I was shocked that they would act this way with the camera rolling. All the meetings were filmed, but the officials didn't seem to even notice. Then the meetings were rebroadcast on the local government channel for others to watch. I went to one Meeting where I watched City Council and City lawyers lecture the Citizens about Federal Law was trumped by Local Laws, and no one stopped or questioned this Statement. Another time there was a discussion about a Downtown property and the Mayor piped up that the Citizens needs to trust him because He was a Lawyer. Again there was silence.

And as I went to the meetings and watched the Meetings replayed on the TV I did come to realize that the Taped meetings might be a way for people to connect and fight for better air. At the time it seemed like such a simple idea, such a simple plan. It would turn into a very powerful tool in the months to come.

By the End of that First Spring after meeting with many neighbors and watching the meetings I had already decided to do a Health Survey , at least of my little Neighborhood and see where that would take me. I also realized that the City Meetings were a good place to announce about the Health Survey. I had no way of knowing that the Little Neighborhood Health Survey would turn into a massive Project. That it would be a way to map and document the damage and the illness in an Entire County, a way to track the Dumping and the Damage. The North West Health Survey was the First of it's kind in the Country, the CDC and the ATDSR and the EPA all would eventually want the Survey and would not want the Results to be publicly known. The Survey as a Tool would later be used by Canadians studying Pollution Fallout and Monsanto victims in Aniston Alabama, and Inuits in Alaska suffering Mining Contamination ( Big Dog Mines). I refused to "Give "the Survey to the Government as a Tool, but I willingly gave it to many other groups and communities in need for free.

The survey tracked whole families, I allowed them to give themselves different codenames and I GPS'd their location. At first I would be given a name of a person that wanted to be in the survey, but when I got there I would quickly learn the whole family was sick. I would sit and listen to coughs,and watch as moms and kids would pull their hair out in handfills. Moms would show me their children's teeth and that they were missing baby teeth or their adult teeth were falling out. They would tell me about their Tumors and their " Non Alcoholic Hepatitis" and Strange Unheard of Blood Disorders. I would sit and write down all that they told me. What started as a simple neighborhood Survey was quickly turning into a Community Survey and then a County Survey. People downtown with relatives in the County or out by the Lake wanted to be in it as well.

And the room that had been my Homeschooling office, quickly began to become full of Maps and Documents and Books on the County. I would go out for coffee or to the market and very quickly my name as "The Nurse" was getting passed around and people would say " Are you the Nurse doing the health Survey ? " and I would nod and set up a time to meet. I knew something stunning was happening when Plant Widows and moms sought me out in the Grocery Store Parking lot and the City hall Bathroom. I knew that it was a small town, but I also knew that it was a County in a very Silent Deadly Crisis.

When I would show up to do the Interview, there were too many things that began to strike me as larger than life. Mom would say that she had had Cancer, I would say oh, which kind. Oh she would say well, " I am not sure how you want to count which one for your survey ? " I would stop and say " excuse me ?" " Well which one you want to count, I have had Melanoma, Breast Cancer and Bladder Cancer and I got a tumor in my arm that needs biopsy. And the Tumor Board here said that Only One Tumor counts in their number. " I said that I was looking at it ALL and Counting Everything. I asked was she told WHY not all were counted ? " Oh Something about I got care in Seattle so those tumors don't count in the Numbers for the County. I sat horrified.

And then I started doing the Survey with Groups of Grandmothers that were doing Cluster Studies by the Lake and Downtown. I met them by accident and was invited to a Tea where they got out their maps and explained which neighborhoods were most effected. These lovely women were mapping something so horrible with such care...about their own grandchildren. They also showed me the schedule for the Mothers of Dead Children Meetings ( held by a local funeral home.This lovely funeral home and Cemetary had set up meetings for Moms and also a special place in the Cemetary.). I sat quietly sipping my tea and listening to them, to their stories. Wondering how was I ever going to Map and Track such Sadness, Such Loss.

I was on the porch one hot muggy morning scraping the "Dust" off the Deck Railing, cursing it and complaining that it was taking the Paint Off. The air still hung heavy, acrid smell, like Burnt Electrical wire and also Burnt Metal, like a Toaster had been on fire. I joked about the Burnt Toast Smell. I looked at my little Budgie hanging on his Perch on the Porch, it was the first summer that he had hung so quietly on his perch. Not Peep, no singing, no loud expressive chirps. Not even complaints when his feeder was empty.

My Son was watching me, and he came over and ran his finger in it ..The silvery black Dust....." I wonder if it is magnetic ? " I stopped and puzzled that, and he ran inside and grabbed his Magnet Bin. He was back out and he picked up the biggest Red Magnet, the U Shape hung over the railing and very quietly and carefully he ran the magnet over the Railing and the particles quietly were drawn up. He smiled up at me. " I told ya ".....I nodded. " You are a pretty smart kid-anyone ever tell you that ? Leave me the go clean your room ok ?" He nodded shyly and ran back inside while I kept sweeping....and when he left I played with the Magnets. It was amazing how much Those Magnets "Liked" the Dust....It was disturbing.

That Fateful first spring of 2000 I bought my Husband an Anniversary present. It was the oddest present I ever bought him. It was our Favorite. It was an old RumRunner that was in the newspaper. It was called " The Mystery" I bought it for a Six Pack of Beer and 20 Dollars, and then we had to figure out how to get it out of Bellingham Bay and get it to the back of our house, our Garage and fix it up. It was an Old Wooden Boat, it had been used in the 20's and 30's moving liquor up and down the NW Coast. It was a 28 footer, a wooden Classic. We researched it, and while we lamented how to get the hideous Howard Johnson Colored paint off it, it sat out behind the garage that spring of 2000. And that Spring and Summer the Air was so toxic, that the paint fell off. We had it up on Barrels and underneath there were piles of Paint. I would go out in the eves and sit out there and from that Height I could watch the Stacks spewing. I would sit there with Xena our Cat, who lived on the Boat. And I would take photos and try to figure out what the heck were they burning and WHY ? I would sit and wonder What did they do with the Ash ? Was the Ash part of the Lumps on the Side of the Road ? Was Metal in Ash Bad for the Kids and animals in the neighborhood ? Was that Legal, To burn Such things near a Neighborhood ? I wondered was I naive and why hadn't people complained ?

I had my first bad Nosebleed sitting out on the Boat with the Cat. We were watching Cats fight in the Alley, I was perplexed I have never seen such nasty cats, crazed going at each other. Xena seemed perplexed too, we both sat watching and I sat with a bandana on my nose. By that summer I had seen nosebleeds everywhere, the Beach, the Coffeehouse and the Playgrounds. I merely carried extra hankerchiefs and tissue in my knapsack. Along with Eye drops and throat lozengers, it all became just common daily life.

It was a hot summer morning....I was sitting on my little peeling deck drinking tea with my silent Canary and my sleepy Basset Abbey. I was sitting there in my Chicken Robe....looking over the Health Survey and trying to decide if I should Paint the hideous deck......Suddenly I looked up and there was a large Tanker coming down the Road, a man was standing on the Back with a Spray Contraption and he was squirting the Road and the yards near the Road. Abbey started running down by the Fence and barking frantically. I ran down and grabbed her and started yelling at the Tanker and the Man Spraying.

"What the Hell are you doing ? What are you Spraying ? WHY are you Spraying ? "

I quickly grabbed Abbey and put her inside and then I ran out and Yelled again at the slowly moving truck and I actually followed them in the Street. I also had grabbed my camera off the Dining room table and started taking photos. ( and yes I was still in my PJS with the Chicken Robe. The Chicken Robe was a Robe with a giant 4 foot tall Chicken on it. ) Finally the Truck stopped and the Man on the back stopped spraying. I ran up and talked to him , I asked what he was doing.. I also explained" I have a Latex Allergy , I don't do well with alot of Chemicals. What are you spraying ? We have alot of elderly and babies on this Street - is THIS a good Idea ? "

The Sprayer stared at me blankly and shrugged. " I think it's ok it's just Some Round Up and Some Other Chemicals to kill bugs and stuff"

"But why the Street and our Homes ? I don't get it ? And why don't you have gloves or eye ware or even a mask ?"
"I don't know... I mean I think it's safe ." He had no facial expression.

We stood staring at each other and I realized he did not have a clue what the Wild Woman in the Chicken Robe was upset about.

So the next day, Monday I called the Public Works Dept to voice my concerns about the Spraying of my Neighborhood. And of course I get a man on the phone and who obviously has been told to expect my call.

"Oh, you must be the Woman in the Chicken Robe ? Look we spray to cut down on weeds and bugs, you don't like it then write to the City and send a complaint. No one has ever complained before. It's harmless, like dish liquid."

Apparently my Chicken Robe was viewed more offensive then the Actual spraying of chemicals on unsuspecting folks Lawns. I was having a very hard time wrapping my head around that. On another note when I was sitting on my deck drinking tea-my neighbor across the street Elmer would yell over " So I see you got your Chicken Robe on today , So will you be chasing Trucks or Yelling at the Public Works today ? "

And I would yell back. " Well, My Wonder Woman Cape is in the Laundry, so you will have to settle for the Chicken Robe, as long as I wear it the Neighborhood is safe."

Years later moving far away, I found my son had carefully packed it away.....the Courageous Chicken Robe......

Six Days after the Spraying Incident I was sitting on the Deck and I realized Abby did not look right. Her Right Eye was Huge, twice the size of the other. I called the vet and I was told to go to the Emergency Vet since they were closing for the afternoon. I had already buried our lovely Scottie that Spring after his bout with Cancer, I was terrified I was about to lose my lovely Abby. I threw her in the car and my son and I took her to the Vet. She had an Accumulation of Fluid behind her eye, in her brain. I sat there and said DO whatever you can to help her. And she had surgery. My Son and I sat there for over 4 hours and waited for her. And because I was a Nurse he let me take her home and baby her through the Night. By the next morning she was her old self, by 10 am I found her as usual trying to nose open the Frig to get some yogurt, her favorite. I was so happy I cried.

But in the back of my head I always worried what did they spray in our neighborhood ? What was it ? It was bad enough to deal with nightly Stench and ash and Smoke from the Stacks did we really NEEd Anything Sprayed on us ?

Meanwhile the Horrible Nightly Stenches and the Ash all were continuing. I had started mapping downtown and mapping the ash. And I thought alot about my son and the Magnets and the Peeling Paint on my Old Boat....and the peeling Deck and the Silent Canary. I also made sure the NW Health Survey addressed the Air Issues, I made sure to add Respiratory and Asthma and Cardiac issues to the Survey. But as I went from home to home I became used to handing out tissues for nosebleeds and noticing the encrusted windows that had not been open in years. I also began to see that the little town was not really shabby, it was not the fault of homeowners that their homes were dingy and peeling of paint, or dead plants and trees in the yards...

So that Summer of 2000 while setting up the Health Survey and the Non Profit EEN, I also set up an Air Hotline for folks to report Air Quality. I did this after I had called NWAPA and gotten nowhere. The NorthWest Air Pollution Authority claimed they got no complaints about the air, so I would have folks call and then call me and that way we could track the complaints.

I also started to FOIA them, my very first FOIA that summer for the Complaints. I also made an appointment to go see the Director of the Air Authority. I got a phone message saying that there had been no Air Complaints, and I knew at that point that I needed to go see the Director.

So I showed up at the Air Authority wearing my usual Mom outfit. Overalls, High Tops and a Tshirt and my hair in a long braid. I had decided I would not dress up to meet with this person who had left the dismissive rude message on my machine. I decided he would meet me as I am everyday.

I was politely shown to a large Conference Room and I waited reading a Book on Pollution. ( Yes, I brought Reading Material with a Message. ) Finally Mr Air Authority arrived. He was dressed like Mr.Rogers and a wearing a sweaty annoyed smirk. I stood up and shook his hand. He made some snarky joke about my attire that he thought I lived in Town or was I merely a Farmer ?( I would realize later the signifigance of his snide remark). I responded that I was a Mom and a Nurse and that I did indeed live in Town, within Walking Distance of the Waterfront and the Plant. At that he turned to shut the door.

And when he did that I got up and opened the Door, I wanted to be very certain that the girls at the Desk heard our entire conversation and I knew they were watching. I had seen their eyes track me, my hunch was that he was not a beloved Boss and most likely not very kind to them. I could tell by the way they looked down when he walked by.

" It really is very stuffy in here " I said as I opened the door back up and smiled at the girls at the front desk facing the Conference room. I heard more than one muffled giggle, and I knew my hunch was right about him. And I heard him muffle a "Hrrrumph" and knew that the Meeting was about to be very interesting.

As I sat down I could see Sweat starting to quietly bead on his upper lip and forehead. I decided that Honey would be tried, but also mixed in would be my Firm Nurse Voice. Every meeting I ever went to over the next 3 years I would strategize on the way, and also once meeting the people involved. I was careful and precise. I always felt like I would only get one chance to either send a Message about My Concern for my town or to get the Needed Data to show what was making so many so sick.

" I was so surprised by your phone call. We get so few phone calls from Bellingham.GP has worked very hard to improve their stacks over the past few years. As you are new you most likely did not know that. " He sat there and lied with sweat on his brow and a nervous quivery smile on his lips.

I sat there and looked back at him and looked him in the eye, and then handed him a Tissue from my pocket ( to wipe the sweat).

" Well, Mr.Randles, I am really interested in you saying that, but I am having a hard time believing you. I live right downtown. I am a Mom and I can tell you that there are days and nights that me and my neighbors can not leave the House. We have trouble breathing and there is Smoke in the Air and ash on my car. My Son's lips even turn blue and so do the Babies lips on my street. It's very very bad at Night, it smells like Rotten garbage is Being Incinerated in my back yard. I can even see the Smoke from the Stacks from my own house. And as to you saying that there are NO Complaints. I think you need to check you phone logs and your files from this summer, carefully".

I started nicely and ended on a very firm note and looked him right in the eye and handed him another tissue as the sweat rolled down his forehead....and I said " It is awful hot in here all the sudden isn't it ? "

He gulped and answered me, " But MsCummins. I am sure you are mistaken. It can't be as bad as you say it is. I am sure you are confused or upset. "

I stared at him calmly and looked him dead in the eye, never raising my voice, yet speaking loud enough for the girls at the Frong Desk to hear, " I am sure you don't have a hearing problem MrRandles. I am sure that I am speaking clearly, and I am sure you actually can hear me. We have a Problem here, it is called a very Large Plant, a Chemical Plant in the heart of a very nice little waterfront Town Spewing Who Knows What from it's Stacks making folks Sick. I intend to go to every single Government Agency to get to the Bottum of this Situation. There are People who are sick and People who are effected by it, and I will not be lied to or Trifled with or treated like some Dumb Hick or Some Dumb City Slicker. And as a Mom who can't take her son outside alot of days, and who has to Clean the Deck of Ash before he can go out, you can bet that I am not going to go quietly away just because you won't listen of Give me the Facts or the Truth. Do we understand each other ? "

He sat and stared at me and gulped like he had just eaten a large crow.

I put my pad and notes and pens and Pollution Library Books back in my knapsack and turned to him, " I will be resubmitting my FOIA to you , and this time I hope you find the Phone and Complaint Logs that I asked you about. May be look harder. Because I have neighbors that are sick and they would and will be very unhappy to know that No One took the Time to write down their concerns after they called on the Phone. "

As I left I offered him my hand and said, " I do thank you for this meeting, I surely hope the next meeting goes better." He sat numbly and I quietly left the room.

And I left the office nodding quietly with a determined smile to the girls at the front desk. They all stood and stared at me. I had the odd sensation that this little meeting had not been the normal meeting. It was my very first One on One Meeting with a Government Official about the horrendous Pollution of my little town.

I went out to my car and sat quietly writing notes from the meeting and making a list of what Materials and Information to FOIA the office for. And as I drove home the Song "Name" by the Goo Goo Dolls came on and I quietly choked back tears, realizing that the People of this Town were Invisible to this government Agency, and no one listened to them or even knew their name. And I realized I was bound and determined that I would make sure that every office knew my name and knew their story. It was one thing to see Red Trucks in the Middle of the Night Dumping in a Creek and a Lake, it was another to Confront a Government Official that was knowingly Lying. I began to realize that the Battle Lines were drawn and that I had entered a new phase of my Life and that there was No Turning Back.