The Pain of Maryvale

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

The maintenance manager later changed parts of his story when contacted by lawyers for the companies he once worked for.

Last month, the Department of Environmental Quality estimated it will cost billions of dollars to clean Arizona groundwater. A very early estimate of the West Central Phoenix site suggested a $20 million cleanup cost, but that estimate is now considered to be low.

The settlements accepted by the state in regard to west-side pollution are tiny in comparison:

* In 1991, the Nuclear Corporation of America, also known as Nucor, which owned a company that from 1962 to 1965 operated an electronics plant in the West Osborn Complex, settled with the state for $1.275 million.

* This year, United Industrial Corporation, which owned an electronics plant at the complex from 1959 to 1962, agreed to pay cleanup costs that cannot exceed $4 million.

* Corning Glass Works, which owned an electronics plant in the complex from 1965 to 1971, agreed in July to the most laughable of the settlements--$750,000.

In announcing the Corning settlement, Russell Rhoades, the DEQ director appointed by Governor Fife Symington, said the Corning money would "provide a significant contribution toward the cost of cleanup."

And Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, whose lawyers represented DEQ, said the Corning settlement "demonstrates that the Attorney General's Office is committed to aggressively pursuing Superfund litigation."

Actually, the state was all but forced to agree to the small settlement with Corning because a lawyer in the Attorney General's Office had failed to properly prepare the case against Corning. When a new state lawyer was assigned to the case earlier this year, he asked for an extension of time to conduct further investigation and introduce new evidence.

A federal judge turned the state down, saying the state had already "had more than adequate time to build its case" and was simply "not diligent."

The Attorney General's Office refused comment to New Times.

Rudy's Story
Rudy Bosquez Schroeder remembers how thrilled she was when, as a child, her parents purchased the little tract home near 37th Avenue and Earll Drive.

Rudy's parents bought the home 41 years ago, in part because the real estate agent had said the city would soon build a park in the neighborhood.

The park was never built, but no matter. Rudy and her three sisters and brother used the playground at nearby Madrid School as if it were their very own backyard. The school grounds were situated next door to what Rudy only knew as the big factories on 35th Avenue and Osborn Road.

The drinking-water wells on Earll Drive had not yet been closed when Rudy's sister Rosa was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that has been associated with TCE-contaminated drinking water, in 1980.

And they weren't shut down when Rudy was diagnosed with leukemia in 1981. Since then, Rudy and Rosa have been exceptionally close.

The illnesses forced both women to give up good careers; Rosa was a manager for a bank and Rudy worked as an accountant for the city of Phoenix and the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

Rudy has encouraged Rosa through an unwanted divorce (stemming from the illness) and through three hip replacements resulting from bone deterioration caused by steroids Rosa had taken to combat the lupus.

Rosa in turn tries to lift her sister's spirits.
Rudy and her sister have seen a lot of illnesses, especially leukemia, in Maryvale. Their next-door neighbor died of leukemia, a friend's son died of leukemia, Rudy's former boss died of leukemia.

For a reason Rudy can't explain, she has survived. "Why do I keep on? That's a good question; I wonder myself," she says.

The mother of two grown sons, Rudy now lives in the northeast Valley, as far away as she can from Maryvale. She can't afford to get angry at the notion of large factories dumping chemicals into the ground right next door to a grade school and close to drinking-water wells. Or at her conviction that the state seems to stand by the companies, not the people.

"People in Maryvale were deceived by state environmental officials; they assured us . . . that there was absolutely no connection between our health and the environment.

"Nothing they have done makes me feel any better."
But getting angry just makes her illness worse, she says, so she tries not to think about these things. She tries, instead, to stay alive. She takes 13 drugs a day. The medicine, especially the pain medication, has already damaged her short-term memory. She must now write important daily events in a spiral notebook she carries with her.

"Every once in a while, it hits me in the head. Bang! I realize how much I've lost," says Rudy.

She knows she may die soon. Good, she tells herself. I'll go to heaven. I won't be in pain.

"Then I think, God, let me stay around," she says.
"I'll take the pain.

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