Angela: “You need to come back when smoke is coming out of the chimney at the coke plant behind us. We see the smoke coming and go into the house. The soot gets everywhere. I clean my bathroom, but the soot is back in the tub by the time I take a bath. I found out how bad this was when I kept getting bacterial infections. The doctor told me to take showers instead of baths to get clean enough for dialysis. I am 51 years old and on dialysis three times a week. My right kidney was removed because of cancer. I also have asthma. I was working but had to go on disability.”
Julia: “My dad worked at US Pipe, but he caught black lung. I have serious heart conditions. I know this smoke is bad.”
John: “My mom was a nurse, and my dad worked in a plant around here. We were always dealing with asthma. My dad died with COPD and lung cancer. I am 48 and have asthma and COPD. The only thing I hear is cancer, cancer, cancer. Many people have gotten sick here and died—not from natural causes. We grew up around here playing marbles on the ground and were always digging in the dirt. Now we know the dirt was contaminated, too. They dug up the soil in my yard because it was contaminated. Apples and plums still don’t grow here.
We are trying to have a nice day, but we are breathing in this air. Later on, we will have to get breathing treatments. All of us have asthma pumps. If you come back here tomorrow, we will have one ready for you.”
Angela: “We’re the breathing gang. This neighborhood is where we stay and call home. It’s all that we have. This is poverty, baby. I don’t want a lawsuit—they can keep the money. I just want them to move me to a place where I won’t have to deal with this. Let me live whatever time I’ve got left in peace.”
(I interviewed Angela, Julia, and John for a story about the effects of pollution from the Bluestone Coke plant in Birmingham for Alabama Public Radio. Here’s the link to the story.)