The fact that the citizens are unskilled in matters of science makes their efforts all the more poignant.

And it begs the question of why federal and state officials did not mount the sort of scientific studies that citizens require for their own peace of mind.

In the absence of professional scientific analysis, ordinary people have launched unsophisticated surveys. Relatives of the ill, others who think too many cancers have occurred in their neighborhoods, former Motorola workers with mysterious illnesses and minorities who suspect that a Motorola plant in a Hispanic neighborhood was less than safe--all have launched inquiries.

Because they are ordinary citizens, not trained disease trackers, they cannot scientifically document the suspected spread of cancers and central nervous system disorders; instead they remain people who cannot explain what has happened to them, people who feel they must take matters into their own hands rather than trust the government.

@body:The newspaper photograph captures a carefree moment.
Three young boys wade in a shallow pond, hunting for minnows. The youngest child holds a bucket.

The caption beneath the 1977 photo notes that the Durkin brothers--9-year-old Billy, 11-year-old John and 13-year-old Jim--are playing in Scottsdale's Eldorado Park lake.

Like hundreds of other young couples of modest means, Kathleen and Jerry Durkin, the parents of the boys in the photo, had moved to south Scottsdale because affordable tract homes bordered the Indian Bend Wash, a natural playground for their children. The Durkins chose a home near Eldorado Park, one of several public parks on the Indian Bend Wash. The Durkins, who had a total of eight children, were not disturbed by the fact that the Motorola Government Electronics Complex (the so-called "Scottsdale plant") and several other electronics firms were less than a mile away from their house--after all, they now say, the electronics industry was thought to be "clean."

Now they have their doubts. In 1977, just a few weeks after the Durkins had clipped the newspaper snapshot of sons John, Billy and Jim hunting minnows in the Indian Bend Wash, 13-year-old Jim was diagnosed with lymphoma.

Eleven years after Jim's ordeal, his brother John also contracted lymphoma. John was 24 years old at the time.

Two brothers with lymphoma.
"I had always had the feeling I must have gotten into something somewhere. Then when John got sick, I figured John must have gotten into something, too," says Jim, who is now 30 and suffers lifelong health problems from the radical treatments needed to cure his cancer.

Jim Durkin now knows that in 1983, as he was recovering from his lymphoma, the north Indian Bend Wash area where he spent his childhood became a federal Superfund site. The Motorola Scottsdale plant, less than a mile from the Durkin home, is the largest of the four suspected polluters of the Indian Bend Wash Superfund site.

TCE was the principal contaminant of the aquifer beneath the Indian Bend Wash--the very aquifer that was once thought of as a safe, potable water source for 350,000 people, including the Durkin family.

In early 1981, drinking-water wells in Tucson were found to be contaminated with TCE after officials discovered that a plume of contaminated groundwater snaked out from the Hughes Aircraft plant.

Because of the TCE discovery in Tucson municipal wells, officials in Phoenix and Scottsdale tested their wells in late 1981.

Upon testing for TCE for the very first time, officials found public-drinking-water wells in the Indian Bend Wash area were contaminated with TCE and lesser amounts of other solvents. TCE in one well exceeded federal health standards by 44 times. That well was immediately shut off, and eventually a total of five wells were removed from service because of TCE contamination.

Officials do not know how long TCE was in Scottsdale's drinking water prior to being discovered. They do not know if it was in the water for five days, five months or five years. They simply do not know.

What is known is that the TCE had invaded Jim's favorite hangout--Eldorado Park lake, the setting for the newspaper photo. When all the fish died in the pond, state officials blamed TCE-contaminated water that had been used to fill the artificial lake.

Now there are signs warning residents not to swim or wade in the park. TCE can be absorbed by the body through the skin during swimming, wading and showering.

Officials don't know how long TCE was in the Eldorado Park lake.
Officials cannot tell the Durkins anything about what may have triggered their sons' lymphoma. Neither the state nor the federal government has conducted a complete health study of the people who may have been exposed to TCE and other solvents in this Superfund site. Without the benefit of a credible health study, Jerry and Kathleen Durkin ask themselves the very questions that public health epidemiologists should have asked long ago. Doctors have ruled out a genetic factor as a cause of the cancers, but Jerry, who worked with TCE and other solvents as an aircraft mechanic before the boys were born, wonders if he unwittingly exposed his unborn sons to toxins.

But in the next breath, Jerry wonders why neighbors who were not exposed to workplace solvents are sick. The Durkins say there is an unusual amount of cancer on their street, among their neighbors, at their church. A family over on Culver Street has three members--the mother and her two children--who contracted unusual and virulent forms of cancer, they say.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets