By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
ùThe health department did not include health risks associated with the highly contaminated Turnage well, which furnished drinking water to an apartment building and fed a neighborhood pool. Frustrated with federal and state studies, citizens began conducting their own amateur epidemiological studies.
The house where he grew up, a red-brick Hallcraft home near 47th Street and Fillmore, was exactly as he had left it. The original, dark-green linoleum still covers the kitchen floor and counters. The original metal cabinets still hang on the walls. And the green-flecked Formica table where the Pourchot family shared its meals still sits in the same spot by the kitchen window, looking out onto the garden where Jim and his friends played cowboys and Indians.
Pourchot had pleasant memories of his childhood in the east Phoenix neighborhood. But when he came home, things were less idyllic. It seemed to Jim Pourchot that an unusual number of neighbors were ill. Last October he decided to conduct an informal telephone survey of their health. "Much of what I do in life is search for the truth," says Jim Pourchot, who is given to theological explanations for practically everything he does.
Jim Pourchot is uniquely qualified to make telephone calls. During his tenure with the Campus Crusade for Christ, he says he sometimes made 200 calls a day. "I guess I just have the gift of gab--something I acquired from my past job description," he says.
Soon he had logged dozens of cancer deaths, as well as current cancer cases. Working from his kitchen table, Pourchot compiled lists for each neighborhood he studied. "Passed Away." "Living With Disease."
He estimates he phoned 175 families. In all, he logged 81 deaths, mostly from cancer. He tallied 71 cases of serious illness among those neighbors who were living.
It was not a scientific survey, and would have no value to a professional epidemiologist. Jim Pourchot is the first to admit this. But during his telephone conversations, Pourchot stumbled into an unusual pocket of illnesses on a small stretch of Brill Street. The section of the street in question butts up to the Motorola Semiconductor plant at 52nd Street and McDowell. Practically everybody on Brill Street seemed to be ill, Pourchot discovered.
There was, for instance, the McNamara family, which moved into the neighborhood at about the same time the Motorola plant moved in. Both parents died of cancer, and the children suffered from a slew of other maladies, including birth defects, kidney problems, autoimmune disease and cancer. (The plight of the McNamara family was profiled in the May 6, 1992, issue of New Times.)
Others on Brill Street told Jim Pourchot of more cases of birth defects and cancer. @rule:
@body:The rumors about illness on Brill Street eventually caught the attention of Tom Smith, a Republican state legislator from District 26. Smith's district includes neighborhoods from both the Indian Bend Wash and 52nd Street areas. He decided to investigate.
Tom Smith is a retired Marine Corps colonel who survived three wars. He was an infantryman in Guam, "got shot to hell in Korea" and survived three tours in Vietnam. After retiring, Smith moved to Arizona and became a school principal.
He is accustomed to taking matters into his own hands.
"When I heard about all this sickness around the Motorola plant, I went down to Brill Street and went door to door and asked them if they had any health problems," he says. "I did this to find out for myself if there was illness down there.
"I found a whole mess of people. I am convinced that there are health problems among people that are living and were living along Brill Street."
But when the state legislator informed state health officials about his survey, he says he was told that he was not a good scientist.
"DEQ and Norm Petersen both said, 'That's not a scientific study,' and I said, 'I'm not saying it's a scientific study. But what I am telling you is that I have walked along Brill Street and there is, in my opinion, an inordinate amount of people with medical problems,'" Tom Smith recalls.
Last summer Representative Smith finally convinced the health department to do exactly what he had done--to walk door to door and tally the illnesses of people living on Brill Street.
The so-called Brill Street study, however, has never been conducted for political reasons. When informed that neighborhood activists were accompanying the health department on the survey, Motorola asked to go along.
Led by neighborhood leader Norm Fox, the activists protested, saying that Motorola representatives might intimidate the residents of Brill Street, many of whom worked in the plant.
Motorola then offered to pay for the study, on the condition that it could choose the scientists.
The neighbors refused, fearing scientists paid by the polluter would bias the results.
All of this frustrates Tom Smith, who simply wants to know if there is, or has been, any health problem associated with contamination.