From a Mom Whose Son Has Cancer
My name is Janine. I am a resident of Kauai, a small farmer, a mother and a grandmother. I have been growing food for my family since my daughter was born 30 plus years ago, and have been farming full time since 2000. I learned how to grow food from my grandmother, how to save seeds, when to plant and fertilize, when to pick and how to store.
My lessons from her guided me as I learned how to grow food in frozen Montana, foggy Washington, hot arid Oregon and rich, fertile California, and now humid and warm Kauai. But wherever I was there were certain rules - one of the most important is to know your soil. Know what is in it, know what is not in it, and care for it - if your soil is healthy your crop will be healthy.
In 1997, I was in graduate school working toward my masters in social work, I have a BS degree in child development and worked with children with disabilities and their families. My then 4 year old son developed a virus he couldn't shake. We went through several rounds of various anti- viral/biotic drugs trying to kick it, but they did not make a difference. Finally, our family doctor ordered a blood test to try and find out what was going on, and immediately sent us to the hospital. Further tests showed his bone marrow was packed with 92% cancerous cells which had started spilling into his joints of his little knees, he had acute lymphocytic leukemia. We spent the first month after his diagnosis in the nearest children's hospital, and it was there a friend started sending me news clippings from where we had recently moved, Bellingham, Washington. In a rural, agricultural community where statistically one child should have developed leukemia, there appeared to be a growing cancer cluster. Our son was part of 17 children under the age of 15 who developed leukemia within a 2 year period, the largest cluster of children were under 5 years old.
This began my research into the world of pediatric cancer, pesticides, epidemiologists, chemical companies, farm bureaus, and lobbyists. What was known was that as the largest area of raspberry production in the U.S., the farmers greatest threat came from nematodes. The way they knew to attack these nematodes was to saturate the soil with a pesticide, and they tried many over the years. Several, including ethylene dibromide, eventually soaked their way into the water system. All the pesticides were at one time considered safe to use, were regulated and were applied according to the current rules and restrictions. By the 1990's several were no longer considered safe and had been removed from the market.
We drank filtered water, I grew peaches, apples, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, carrots, squash, herbs, and bought the rest from local farmers markets. We ate a lot of fish which we could get local and fresh from the boat. After my son was born I would bathe him every night in the water that was known to be contaminated, known by those in agriculture and elected leaders in Bellingham, but not the people in the community. I believe we had the right to know, but the community leaders decided we did not.
The cancer journey my son endured is now his story - treatment for childhood cancer is not pretty, as brutal as treatment is for adult cancer it is far worse for children. At 4 years old it was not his fault, he didn't smoke or drink, he didn't work at a gas station (benzene is the only "known" carcinogen for leukemia), but his mom did give him a bath every night. My choice of becoming a full time farmer was based primarily to be there for my family, for my sons three years of chemotherapy, for quality of life and the lifestyle that comes with farming, and to provide my family with healthy, nutritious food. I loved the work I did before I became a full time farmer, but I have never regretted the choice to farm. Of the series of events that led me here however, I do regret not having the choice of how I would use our contaminated water.
You have a choice now, you can pass a bill that requires these companies to tell the community what they are spraying, where they are spraying it, and when. There are many reasons they resist telling this information, and one of those reasons include the potential for cancer clusters down the road and their liability. All you have to do is read the warnings on the labels, they know some of the risks are real. I know that now too, I have lived it. By shining daylight on their practices it might alter some of their choices, especially near the schools. Or the community - once informed - could decide they want them to change their practices and put the children first and expand a buffer zone. I don't know. But I do know that the pesticides that caused the cancer cluster that my son was in were regulated and deemed safe, until they weren't.
If I could do anything at all, have any superpower, I would make it so that no one else hears the words that their 4 year old child has cancer. This bill is one small step that could have real potential to protect our children at little risk or change to the ag/chemical companies.
We have the right to know.
Mahalo for your time,
One of Thousands of Testimony Letters
Sent to County Council in Support of 2491
"All the pesticides were at one time considered safe to use, were regulated and were applied according to the current rules and restrictions. By the 1990's several were no longer considered safe and had been removed from the market."
"If I could do anything at all, have any superpower, I would make it so that no one else hears the words that their 4 year old child has cancer.
This bill is one small step that could have real potential to protect our children at little risk or change to the ag/chemical companies."