“One American Woman’s fight against a Canadian Mining Company”
Reported by Bob Keating, CBC Radio
Bill: We’ll hear about one American woman’s fight against a Canadian mining company.
Bill: Some people just dig in and refuse to let go. We’re going to meet someone like that this morning. Bob Keating has a feature report about a woman from Washington State and her pointed questions to a Canadian mining company.
Intro: And now the story of a woman who just refuses to give up.
JAMIE PAPARICH’S family is from tiny Northport, Washington. Northport is just across the American border – about 25 kilometers from a lead-zinc smelter run by Teck Resources in Trail. Paparich is convinced the smelter and what it discharges into the air and water is making the people of Northport sick. And so she’s been on a campaign to get an official study done of Northport residents. And as Bob Keating tells us in this feature report – it seems to have worked.
IN: Jamie Paparich
OUT: CBC, News Northport Washington
JAMIE (audio): My Grandma has Parkinson’s, my grandpa died of leukemia, one of my aunts died of.. …(fade under)
BOB KEATING: Jamie Paparich says she sees sickness in her own family. The Paparich farm is on the Columbia River – in tiny Northport, Washington. 10 – kilometers from the border, downstream, and downwind from Teck Metals smelter in Trail. A smelter that discharged lead, mercury, cadmium, and other compounds into the air and water for decades. Paparich is convinced there is a link.
JAMIE: The pattern is just undeniable. Something is making these people sick.
BOB: And so Paparich began doing research. Asking Teck for air and river quality reports, the American departments of health and ecology for studies they had done. Anything she could get her hands on.
JAMIE: From that moment on I became obsessed. I poured over every report I could find.
BOB: Paparich says she uncovered anecdotal evidence that people in Northport have a high incidence of diseases such as Crohn’s and colitis, thyroid problems, and certain cancers. But it was only anecdotal. So she decided to do her own questionnaire.
Using the internet and Facebook she tracked down three generations of Northport residents. And she asked them personal questions about their health.
JAMIE: It was hard to get people to talk about it. Because they are modest and they don’t want to complain. Then when they are telling me I am thinking, this is horrible.
BOB: Paparich got over 300 responses back. She says the illnesses reported mirror what she sees in her own family.
JAMIE: My God this is not Okay! Y’know my grandpa let them on his land. He shook their hand said come on it, can I help you? What do you need? In the end, they looked him in the eye and said you should be fine. He died of Leukemia. To me, that is not okay.
BOB: Paparich’s ‘unofficial’ survey was published in a local community health newsletter. And began getting attention.
JOE WICKMAN is with the Northport environmental group Citizens for a Clean Columbia.
JOE: I don’t think anybody realized how widespread it was. You just hear anecdotally somebody has this and somebody else has it. You just think…’that’s kind of weird’. You look at this and it’s kind of scary.
BOB: Now the Paparich’s survey has got the attention of medical researchers at the other end of the country. A team from Massachusetts General Hospital wants to hear more. Because of Jamie Paparich they are going to do their own study of Northport and the prevalence of diseases such as Crohn’s and Colitis.
DR. MINDY SMITH helped Paparich with her questionnaire and says that is exactly what they hoped would happen.
MINDY: I think what already happened is what we hoped. We hope it would draw attention from epidemiologists. They’d be interested in doing the kinds of studies that would help discover the links between the chemicals and illness and get bench researchers looking at triggers and potential treatments.
(AUDIO) ………Walking sounds………This until you can see gravel at the far end was a pile of slag. MATT WOLLOHAN walks along ‘Black sand Beach’ in Northport.
BOB: It got that name because this stretch of beach on the Columbia River used to be deep black. But it wasn’t sand at all, it was slag that drifted downstream from the Teck smelter.
MATT: And when we first moved here we thought it was unique to have a black sand beach. We had no idea we were looking at a giant pile of slag.
BOB: That slag is now gone – replaced by brand new sand. Teck spent a couple million dollars cleaning up this beach. To Wollohan it was a goodwill gesture to the people of Northport by the mining giant next door. Wollohan says Teck is becoming a better neighbor.
MATT: Yeah, I think they are. I think they see value to improving the area. The quality of life has improved cause they cleaned up their act. And I think if things keep moving in that direction it can’t become anything but a better place to live.
BOB: Wollohan also has health issues – and took part in the health questionnaire.
Teck does not want to talk about Jamie Paparich and her unofficial study. In an email to CBC the Manager of Energy and Public Affairs Richard Deane says there have been several studies done on air and water quality in Northport, Washington Deane says no link has ever been found between the smelter and diseases such as Crohn’s and Colitis.
Yet Jamie Paparich works on. Asking people in Northport personal questions. Fully believing there is a link between her Canadian neighbor – and sickness people keep telling her about.
JAMIE: It’s presumptuous of me to say, and I’m not a doctor but from what I’ve read. From how many people in small-town have such similar things, I do 100 percent believe it.
BOB: In Northport Washington, I’m Bob Keating for CBC radio.