The Garden.

Phytoremediation. That's a big word. I'm probably not pronouncing it right. I'll get there. It only took me a week to say cadmium correctly. Phytoremediation is the term used to describe using plants to clean soil of contaminates. Certain plants suck certain things right out of the ground and help clean up bad patches. It's fairly affordable, low impact, and can be really pretty. Making beautiful out of ugly.

As I find myself learning about phytoremediation I'm really wishing I'd taken those Master Gardner classes I thought about BC (before child).  See that table below (borrowed from HERE), I know just enough to recognize some elements and some root plant names, but not enough to just know what to go get for my yard. So I'm researching.  I've heard and seen some things that say lupine, sunflowers, some types of ferns, and even hydrangea are good at pulling contaminates from soil. So it looks like I'll have a wacky looking garden this year, but it's going to be full of colorful flowers.

Table 1. Phytoremediation processes, mechanisms,
and related pollutants/plant species (Gupta et al, 2000
Now that I think about it, it makes sense. Hydrangeas can change color based on the pH levels in soil. If you want a blue hydrangea you need to add aluminum to the soil. To get a pink hydrangea there must be no aluminum in the soil. Can you guess what color the hydrangeas in my yard are? They are not pink! From what I understand they never will be. It's a little like that experiment we all did as kids with food coloring and carnations. In fact Sugar's class just did that experiment a few weeks ago, right about the time this story broke. They were trapped inside because they were not allowed to play in the contaminated soil, and they needed indoor activities.

It seems like this idea is still kind of new in that it's not all over the Google. I totally thought it would be.  Even digging, I had trouble finding lists of other plants that might work. I'm going to keep working on it. It seems like a good way to do some passive good. Maybe I will just drop seeds all over the place.

Maybe I can be the Miss Rumphius of my neighborhood. Not a bad thing to aspire to.

Ok, my brain hurts from all the science. I leave you with pretty. Because we can still find pretty on dark days.

The Letter.

I write today because I know there is a possibility you will begin using toxic metals in your production process again before installing filtration systems.  If this is true, if you will again use arsenic, cadmium, or chromium, the elements you suspended for health concerns, then you are willingly and knowledgeably poisoning my child and many others who attend the CCLC childcare center. You are willingly and knowledgeably poising my home, my neighbor’s homes, and countless other family’s homes.  You do this knowing the levels you are spewing from your furnaces are dangerous. Despite the fact that it fits into the grossly negligent permit given to you by DEQ, you know.

I was quoted on the news last night saying I didn’t want you to go out of business. It’s true. I support the arts. I support business. I support employees who need a paycheck and take pride in what they do.  I don’t want your company to go out of business. I want you to install systems that will allow you to work alongside your neighbors in a safe way. I want you to invest in systems that protect you as a business and protect the air my child breathes.

Don’t tell me it costs too much. Don’t tell me it would take time. Don’t tell me it’s difficult. None of those are valid responses. If you enter into an industry that deals with toxic elements you must be prepared to deal with the full cost and impact of those elements.

As I type this people are working to clean up this neighborhood. CCLC has taken steps to clean play areas for children, they are looking to remove dirt and grass and replace it with something new, something lacking toxic metals.  Neighbors have started replacing the dirt in their gardens; spring is just around the corner. If you were to start production without a proper filter again, those efforts are all for naught. You will have undone the hard and expensive work done to protect my child. Please don’t do this. Don’t endanger her more. I am already not sleeping, I can’t take more worry. This has disrupted our life in ways you can't imagine.

If you are not willing to halt production until the measures can be taken I’d like to invite you over to dinner, in my home. We can have a talk about the little playhouse that sits in the back corner of our yard, a spot for my two year old to play and grow her own flowers.  We can sit in the back yard and look at the decades old apple tree; producing apples that my dogs love to pull off the branch and eat. I can show you the rose bushes planted by the elderly couple who lived here before us. They had a large garden too. He died of lung cancer.  We can have a lovely meal, but it won’t come from my once thriving garden.  I wouldn’t want to poison you.

I know you are not the only polluter in Portland. I hear you accusing others. I see them too. My eyes are open now. I will write similar letters to them.  My urgency today is you though. You are willfully endangering my child, her development and overall health. You endanger my family pets that love us unconditionally and can’t be told not to go outside.  You endanger me, the caretaker of a family that needs me. You endanger countless others.  If you put those metals back into production, you do this knowing you are potentially harming people.  That is not being a good neighbor. That is not being a good human.

Just install the filters. Invest in your neighborhood. I think you’ll find that we’re a pretty friendly group when you aren’t actively poisoning us.


Erin Meeker
Mother, Wife, Daughter, Neighbor, Friend
SE 27th & Gladstone

Photo by Mark Colman

The Guilt.

From May of 2015, before we knew.
I took Sugar (my daughter, her nickname for this blog) to the park yesterday.  It was a rainy wet day.  She wanted to ride the merry go round. I let her climb on, and just as her hands grabbed onto the metal bar I thought, I bet that’s covered in arsenic and cadmium and chromium. 

It likely wasn’t. The rain had probably washed it away. Probably.

But there I was, at the park with my toddler, thinking about toxic metals. 

It’s our neighborhood park.  A five minute walk from our house.  It’s not the nicest park in the city.  Not even close. It borders Powell Boulevard, so it’s get a lot of loud traffic, some vagrants, probably some unsavory visitors. But it’s still our park. And the merry go round is pretty damn fun for a two year old. So we go.

But I’m mad that a trip to the park results in me questioning what she touches. What I’m touching.

Now there is a certain amount of guilt associated with allowing my child to go to the park.  If I let her go, she may be exposed to more things. The dirt is dirty. Like really dirty.

What if she eats it, as she is prone to do when she plays in it, then picks her nose, and eats it? She’s two, we’re working on it. 

Do we stay inside? Do we avoid the park, the sidewalk? Do we hide? How do I explain that to my child who wants to play?

Then that guilt snowballs. And maybe it’s just me, but I suspect there are many other parents in our area feeling like this right now.

We picked our house because of the large yard, the view of the west hills, the easy access to downtown, the hardwood floors tucked under the worn carpet. We didn’t have children then. We only dreamed about the possibility.  Now there is overwhelming, irrational yet overwhelming guilt that I picked this house and my child lives in it.  My dogs spend hours in the yard, rolling in and eating the dirt.  My entire family has eaten sugar snap peas and strawberries straight out of the yard. I picked this!

We picked Sugar’s childcare center because it was close, around the corner. The facility was bright and full of happy faces. They have documented curriculum. They have outdoor play areas, lots of them. Now there is overwhelming guilt that I picked a place where her outside time included incredibly high levels of metal toxics in the air. At times 165 times higher than recommended baselines for cadmium.  Do you know what that breaks down to? 1 in 6060 people getting cancer.  But then consider that children are considered more susceptible. I picked this!

DEQ and OHA will tell you that those numbers only matter at a 24 hour exposure, over a lifetime. Well folks, my kid does spend 24 hours a day in her neighborhood. And while she hasn’t lived her life out, it’s been her lifetime thus far.

So guilt. Lots of guilt. Cry in my car on the way to pick her up guilt.  Tossing and turning in bed guilt. Guilt.

I know we didn’t make our choices with the knowledge that something terrible was in the air. But I still feel guilty.

As some not so kind people on FB have pointed out to me, I am twit for living where I do.  Now bear with me, I know I’m not a twit, but I can follow some train of thought here. I choose to live in an inner SE neighborhood that has always had some form of industry in it. The train horns I so love to listen to at night carry with them pollution.  I drove past this glass company every single day for the ten years we’ve lived here and never really thought too much about what they do or how they do it. There was a metal smelting plant years ago, now an empty lot. The man that lived in our house years before us worked there. He died of lung cancer.


You can see why the guilt starts to add up.  What have we done?

But then I think about this company. That they knew. They claim they did not.

I’ve said this many times in the last few weeks:

How can you shovel arsenic/cadmium/hexavalent chromium into a furnace and not think that something bad will come of it? How?

So they blatantly let things go. They decided not to install filters that would capture the particulates they were releasing into the air.  They let us trust them to do that.

I just blindly trusted them. Guilty as charged.

Now I know better.

But I still feel guilt that is hard to explain.  Hard to reconcile. And it's all day long. And it eats at you. And there is nothing within my power, right this moment that can fix it. Nothing. I feel helpless to fix this because the damage is done. 

As if parenting didn’t carry daily guilt with it. Now I will always worry that a harmless cough is really something more.  

The beginning.

It’s hard to know where to even start.  Forgive me, if at time this post rambles.  My head swims with too much information and data these days. It’s hard to process that, and feelings, and still keep things in check.  When you wake up one morning, things are normal, you go about your day, then come home to news that your child has been exposed to heavy metal air pollutants, your head comes as close to exploding as I think it can.

I guess I should back up a little. This blog was started in 2008. My life was very different. I wrote about all sorts of things. Crafts, food, parties, infertility, running, my love of Portland, etc.  It evolved into many things over the years, and then I stopped writing. Sometimes your brain goes silent. Those posts are all still here, archived, but hidden for now, as I want to focus on life now.  I won’t erase them, they may come back even, but for now I need to talk about what’s happening right now. Like I really need to talk. I don’t want to burden my Facebook timeline with these thoughts because I know some will tire of it, and stop listening. So I want to post here, where people can choose to read or not. This blog was my outlet for many things, now I will use it to spill my guts about what’s going on.

“What’s going on?” you might ask.  Well lots.

February 2nd, 2016 is a day that I’ll likely never forget. It’s the day our childcare provider informed us that DEQ had been conducting air pollutant tests in the parking lot adjacent to the facility. This facility is also around the corner from my home.
Those tests revealed higher than normal levels for arsenic and cadmium.  They urged calm as they further assessed. I don’t know about you but when someone urges me to remain calm I often do the exact opposite. So I started reading, and researching. DEQ posted a press release, then took it down, then reposted a smaller one with less information. Right from the start things seemed off.   We went to a meeting facilitated by CCLC (our childcare center) where DEQ, Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and corporate officers from CCLC came to speak with us. We left that meeting with more questions than answers.  DEQ and OHA were what I would call evasive, or perhaps poorly prepared to answer hard questions.

When parents are afraid, they will ask hard questions. Mama Bear activates the instant my child is at risk whether that be from a bump falling off the slide, or arsenic being inhaled into her lungs. My Mama Bear was off the charts, but I tried to remain calm. That's what they told me to do! It’s hard to do that when you learn that DEQ has known about these harmful pollutants for years and failed to follow up on what was causing them, and where, geographically it was coming from. With ten seconds I was able to use a search engine to find who uses those metals. It was fairly easy to put it together.  So why did no one do anything? Why can a company do this? How could they not have known? How bad is it? How often does it happen?

So many questions.

But it boils down to this. It’s legal. What that company did, and is likely still doing with other toxic elements, is legal. 

DEQ can’t do anything. The company is working within the limits of its permit.  

The company has blatantly abused its neighbors trust.

I will always wonder.  Even if we are not sick now, I will always wonder. Our bodies are ticking time bombs.  There is no MacGyver to swoop in with a paper clip and some chewing gum to fix this. This is more like a MacGruber situation.  Google that if you need to.  Comic relief…kind of.

As I write subsequent posts I will try to include data and cite references where needed.  I’m not a professional though, so I might screw that up sometimes.  You may also see me make what seem like really inappropriate jokes. That’s how I deal sometimes. If I can’t laugh I might cry. I cry enough so I think I’ll try to laugh if/when I can.  Please don’t take offense. Despite my jokes, I take this very seriously.  Frankly, I will probably write mostly about how this feels emotionally, with a tiny side of science and a dash of legal. Because emotions are what are impacting me the greatest at this moment.  I mean, it all impacts me, but the emotions are hard to grapple with.  Really hard.  And honestly there are some freaking brilliant, dedicated neighbors, who have taken this on. My neighborhood is in very capable hands.  Like rock star hands.  I don’t know that I’m in a place to offer them anything except appreciation. They are that good!

Most importantly, thank you for reading this. If people listen and learn then maybe another community won’t have to deal with crap like this. Maybe other children won’t be exposed to cancer causing heavy metals.  Maybe the teachers who spend hours caring for them won’t have to worry about their own health. Maybe your neighbors will never wonder if the kale they grew in their organic gardens will actually kill them someday. Maybe.