Had she been living on a toxic waste dump?
December 18, 2013
A VG Serial: ToxiCity
Maggie bent her head and looked at the floor.
Luckily, the local bank was sympathetic and gave them a loan. Maggie paid the mortgage and the penalties. They’d been current since.
Now she held the developer’s number on a scrap of paper in front of her. She had to find out, even if it meant dealing with that sicko again. This was her son. She punched in the number.
“SGF Development,” a female voice answered.
“Mr. Feldman, please.”
Maggie gave her name.
“And what is this in reference to, Mrs. Champlain?”
When Maggie explained, the disembodied voice said Mr. Feldman wasn’t available but she would pass along her message. A couple of days later Maggie got a call from someone who said he was Feldman’s lawyer. Maggie asked him about the land.
“A consortium headed by Mr. Feldman bought the land from Illinois Edison in the early seventies. Why do you ask?”
“Is it true the land was a dump at that point?”
“I couldn’t tell you. But Mr. Feldman did have it cleaned up. That’s standard procedure.”
“Who cleaned it up?”
“Again, I couldn’t tell you without looking at the records. Why are you asking?”
Maggie explained about the children’s cancer. When she heard how chilly the lawyer’s voice grew, she realized she’d made a mistake.
“Let me look into this, Mrs. Champlain. I’ll call you back.”
He never did.
Joan’s cousin, an environmental lawyer with a bluestocking Chicago firm, said he’d check it out. A week later he called. Joan invited Maggie and Frannie Yablonski over to meet with him. Art Newell was bald, with a broad chest and short neck. Maggie thought he looked like a young bull, except for his eyes, which blazed.
“The site was cleaned up by a company called Prairie State Environmental Services.” He drew out a sheaf of papers from his briefcase. “Apparently, the utility kept coal tar—that’s the by-product you get when you make coal gas—in large storage tanks underground. The developer found them when they were digging the septic tank system, and they hired Prairie State to come in to take them out.”
“So everything’s okay,” Maggie said.
“Not exactly,” he said. “In the process of removing those tanks, there was an accident. Some of the workers broke into a buried tank and kicked up a cloud of coal dust and other crap. The workers were overcome by the fumes.”
“When was that?”
“A year or so before you all moved in.”
“What happened to them?”
“The workers? It’s hard to tell. There’s not very much on them. But, judging from similar incidents, they probably got nauseous and had trouble breathing. Temporarily. I’m sure no one was permanently disabled.” He scanned his papers. “Now, listen up. They finished the clean-up, but a state inspection subsequently determined that the soil around the tank had been contaminated by a leak.”
“What leaked?” Maggie started to feel uneasy.
“The stuff you were talking about before?”
“Right. The residue that’s left after they make the gas. It’s full of something I call the ‘Eens’.”
“The ‘Eens. Benzene, xylene, napthalenes. They’re all highly toxic chemicals that can cause cancer. They were probably released into the air when the accident occurred. But —” Art pointed to his papers. “The thing is, they were also leaching into the ground and water in your back yards.”
Maggie fidgeted. “Why didn’t anyone tell us about it?”
“Come on, Maggie,” Joan said. “Who’s ‘‘gonna tell you you’ve been living on a toxic waste dump ever since you moved in?”
Episodes in the novel will be published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Please click the following title,ToxiCity, to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman’s books on Amazon.