The Pain of Maryvale

How the state of Arizona went soft on polluters and mistreated the victims of the Maryvale cancer cluster

There is another undeniable reason Flood has not completed the Maryvale cancer-cluster study: The state won't pay for a staff to assist him, and he is burdened with other tasks as medical director for DHS' Office of Chronic Disease and Epidemiology.

Flood acknowledges this lack of support with unusual candor.
"From my perspective," says Flood, "they give the minimum needed to say, 'Yeah, someone's working on the study.' But they sure don't give us much more support than that.

"It's mostly lip service."
At least one member of the CDC panel appointed to oversee the study says he hasn't heard from anyone connected with the study for three years.

"Looks like we were out of the picture," says Steve Lagakos, a Harvard University scientist who was one of the first to link the Woburn leukemias to TCE contamination in the early 1980s.

"I don't know whether they abandoned this committee I'm on and never bothered telling us, or what."

Joey's Story
Each day, on her way to work, Bobbie Cabler dropped her infant son, Joey, at her mother's house in Maryvale. Bobbie's mother loved baby-sitting Joey, loved to rock him and hug him and give him his bottle of formula.

The attentive grandmother made sure the formula was not too hot, not too cold, mixed, half-and-half, with canned liquid and water she drew from the kitchen tap.

Bobbie was a kid herself back in 1976, when her son was born. She was 16 years old, proud, tough, sure she could make a doomed marriage survive if she just worked at it.

But Bobbie soon learned there were some things she couldn't fix.
When Joey was a little less than 2 years old, he got leukemia. Bobbie remembers carrying Joey home after the diagnosis, propping him against a pillow on the living-room couch. Her husband took a snapshot of the sleeping child, a photo she carries with her even today.

The leukemia took a particularly rapid course, and Joey died in his 18-year-old mother's arms a few days short of what would have been his third Christmas.

After nearly a decade, Bobbie remarried and had two more children. Outwardly, she's happy.

But inside, she grieves, and will always grieve.
Time passes. Joey would be 18 years old if he were alive. Bobbie is 36, but she remembers Joey playing with pots and pans in the kitchen sink as if it were last week.

"I have a little angel no one can take from me," she says.
"I want to see him again. Maybe if I lead a good life, sometime I will."

In the late 1950s, farmland near the intersection of 35th Avenue and Osborn was converted to industrial use. It was an area prized by semiconductor manufacturers and aerospace firms. Dozens of companies--including large ones like Nucor, United Industrial and Corning Glass Works--at different times owned factories in the industrial zone, which thrived from the early 1950s to the 1980s. (Even today, a few factories still exist in the zone, although not nearly as many as during the area's heyday.)

Today, the area is called the West Central Phoenix Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF), or state Superfund, site.

Recently, the state settled a lawsuit with two large companies suspected of being major groundwater polluters in an area of the West Central Phoenix Superfund site known as the West Osborn Complex. The area is located just a third of a mile northeast of two city wells found to be contaminated with TCE. And the area is "upgradient" of those wells, meaning that contaminants reaching groundwater in the West Osborn Complex would naturally have flowed toward the city wells.

The settlements the state reached were for small sums that won't begin to cover the cost of stopping the spread of the plume of groundwater contaminated with TCE, let alone repaying the costs of removing the solvent from groundwater.

The state agreed to these minimal payments even though there are documents in files of the state's environmental department showing that high-tech firms routinely dumped large amounts of TCE in the area.

A 1988 state Department of Environmental Quality report acknowledges that workers had complained to the agency about one company, Corning Glass Works, which owned a factory called Components Incorporated, which was located in the West Osborn Complex in the early 1970s.

A 1989 DEQ report says: "A record of anonymous complaints were found in the files of ADEQ [concerning the Corning Glass Works site]. Complaints refer to large vats of TCE located within and outside the buildings. The complaints indicated potential dumping of spent TCE . . ."

Corning Glass Works later said the charges were "empty" and provided "no evidence" that its factory "may have contributed to the discovered contamination . . ."

But a shop and maintenance manager for several companies from 1959 to 1972, including the Corning-owned plant, reported that "TCE was used in every building. People would use one-half buckets of TCE at their work area and throw it away when it got dirty. People threw TCE away all over the place like dirty water. Then the companies began using more and more TCE and the materials went down the ground to septic tanks. When the chemical resale value went up, companies recycled TCE."

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