By Michael H. Brown
The recent train derailment and incineration of toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, brings this prayer and hope: that there won’t be any lingering and serious health effects.
Back in the late 1970s, I investigated first Love Canal in Niagara Falls and then toxic situations across the United States, and in any number of situations I came across bizarre effects.
Nowhere was more mysterious than what had occurred (and for all I know is still occurring) in a little town in central Michigan with an ironic name:
Ironic indeed — the names.
“Love Canal” [blood sampling, left].
It was a state, Michigan, that had encountered a myriad of toxic crises, but in those cases, environmental technicians could see or smell the problem.
They had wished the same was true for a bizarre medical mystery that was unfolding in the small town just southwest of Saginaw Bay.
That something was askew in the old German farming community of Hemlock first occurred to a brawny, parch-lipped farmwoman named Carol Jean Kruger. She told me of two Holstein cows that lost weight for no known reason and died. Not long afterward, large numbers of calves also succumbed — forty in one year alone — without apparent cause and in grisly fashion.
Their teeth were stained lavender and brown. Their hind legs were grossly swollen. Chronic open sores developed on bald areas where bristly hairs had fallen out in clumps.
Carol Jean began piling the telltale carcasses behind the central barn, a display that did little to sway the officials (who blamed the problems on poor maintenance), but for Mrs. Kruger, the exercise was an interesting one. She observed that the dogs would not eat the carcasses and that one calf, heaped on the pile in the warmth of late September, lay there for two weeks with no sign of decay.
Horses panted, ran high fevers, and died with tails turned brownish purple, and two Shetland ponies developed hooves that curved upward like the pointed shoes of an elf.
In the milking area, she noticed an odor like “burnt-brake linings or spent carbolics,” and outside an oily substance coated small puddles of water with an iridescent sheen.
You get the picture. Other animals fared no better. Rabbits had large tumors on their ribs and innards. Cats meandered away and disappeared. On the barn floor, several mice were seen dashing in concentric circles before they collapsed. Eggs of fancy pheasants, peacocks, and chickens failed to hatch.
Among the birds that did hatch out, two geese had their wings on backwards.
Worst of all: the seeming human effect. Among neighbors living in the fifty homes nearest her, Carol Jean counted twenty-two cases of bone and joint problems, seventeen of kidney and bladder difficulties, and sixteen of lumps and tumors.
Skin rashes and teeth “that crumbled like tissue paper” were also prevalent, she said.
Kruger herself had a brownish tincture to the whites of her eyes and the top row of her teeth broke off at the gum line.
One man named Ed Jungnitsch was picking stones from his backyard when he began to ache all over. Returning to the kitchen, he quaffed down two quarts of water.
The following Sunday morning, he found himself immobilized on the couch, suffering splitting headaches — as are now reported in East Palestine.
Ed spent fifty days in the hospital. “I couldn’t concentrate long enough to say a prayer,” he told me.
I’ll stop there. The list of maladies was long.
Was it toxic chemicals?
No one ever proved that. But the immediate area was riddled with deep-injection wells used by a massive chemical company for toxic disposal. Among the company’s products: the potent herbicide Agent Orange (which carried with it dioxin).
Across America, I found similar problems.
And so it is good to pray for East Palestine and the many, many places that have problems just as severe.
New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana. These are special hotspots. I interviewed one poor, elderly man in East Baton Rouge whose wife had just died after a poisonous cloud was released from a nearby chemical incinerator.
I interviewed a woman in a grossly polluted part of Elkton, Maryland, in a living room accented by statues of the Blessed Mother — consolation after the death of her little girl of leukemia.
Not pleasant stuff.
Miscarriages. Birth defects.
Is it a spiritual issue?
Let’s say this: evil manifests in many ways.
Let’s also say that it’s about time for the horrible chemical contamination of our planet — God’s Creation — to become a pro-life issue.