By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The soil samples showed lead in the ground at a level nine times higher than considered safe under federal and state standards, Grossman says.
Grossman, now living in New York, finished her film early this year, focusing on the health problems and the mine. When it was done, she sent copies to investigative news shows like 20/20 and Dateline.
Nobody did a story, but Grossman felt she had to do something.
"Even when the camera was down, I wanted to help, I wanted to let people know what was going on in the community. I didn't expect this to be aired on NBC. . . . I didn't hold any grand illusions, because this was my first effort, but I still felt people should know about this," she says.
While Grossman worked on the film, Betty Amparano says she was being pressured to sign a lease on the house she was renting.
The lease required Betty and her husband, Ray, to pay the rent every other Thursday, pay for utilities and trash removal, and keep the house in good repair.
The lease also said: "Tenant is aware that the house sits in a mining town whereby, toxic and possibly cancer causing dust and fumes are scattered on the ground and in the air by the local mining corporations, but by signing this lease agrees not to hold landlord liable for any damage caused by said contaminates [sic] but to look only to the causer of said conditions, namely the mining corporations."
The Amparanos refused to sign, and were kicked out. They moved to a different rental in Hayden.
Grossman's test results and the unusual lease clause convinced the Amparano family to get tested for other toxic chemicals: lead and arsenic.
The blood tests, conducted in April of 1997, showed all had lead in their blood and most had arsenic in their bodies. All of the Amparano children had dangerous levels of lead--more than 10 micrograms per deciliter, the level at which damage begins. Children absorb the metal at a rate five times greater than adults.
The Amparanos began to wonder if the mine and smelter might have something to do with the high levels. They began to question the place they'd been living most of their lives.
As children, Betty Amparano says, she and her siblings used to play in the arroyo below the slag heaps, where the seasonal rains would deposit run-off.
A thick layer of purple dust is still as vibrant as ever in the arroyo behind the houses of Hayden.
"We used to call it the Purple Planet," Amparano remembers. They even used the purple dust as blush, Mary Corona, Betty's sister, says, putting it on their eyelids and cheeks while playing makeup.
Betty and her siblings would also run through the puddles that collected below the tailings piles, jumping in and splashing one another. One pool in particular they called the "Wishing Well."
"We'd throw coins in and, later, they'd change color," Mary Corona recalls.
There were no fences or warning signs to keep them out then, they say, and no signs or fences mark the arroyo today.
Their school was just across the street from the ASARCO plant, and they recall attending classes while the plant churned out smoke.
Tee shirts left out on the line overnight would sometimes come back in with holes burned in them, they say.
ASARCO used to reimburse people for damage to their cars, including paying for new paint jobs when holes would mysteriously appear, the residents say.
"If the air was doing that to our cars, just imagine what it must've been doing to our lungs," says Terry Martinez Olmos, Betty's cousin.
Olmos has also lived in the area her entire life, and used to work as a caterer at the plant. She and her husband, Gilbert Olmos, a town council member, have agreed to be plaintiffs in any lawsuit that's filed.
The Hayden residents recite a litany of illnesses, from shortness of breath to cancer. Betty Amparano says she has recurrent flulike symptoms, bouts of hyperactivity and depression, as well as cysts and blisters and rashes. Jill Corona reports frequent headaches, nausea and fatigue.
Jill's baby son, Trystan, has had respiratory problems and high fevers, Jill says. At one point, she says, he had to be placed on oxygen. "It was like asthma every single night," she says.
Jill's cousin Christopher Robago has been disabled almost since birth because of a "cerebral malformation," according to a letter from his doctor. At 28, he still depends on his mother and father for full-time care.
Gia Cervantes, 20, another cousin of Jill's, was recently diagnosed with cancerous cells in her uterus. She also says that she has had to call paramedics when her infant son William was unable to breathe at night.
Teresa Olmos had a hysterectomy after a series of tumors and cysts, she says, including one operation that found her pelvic girdle filled with a gel-like substance that the doctors could not identify. Her second child, Keith, was stillborn with spina bifida in 1990, even though a genetic search found no history of the disease in either her or her husband's families, she says. She says she has had as many as three surgeries in a single year, and she makes sure she is checked regularly for cancer.