Mothers, teachers concerned about leukemia deaths at California elementary school

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Clean air buttons distributed by AQMD
Clean air buttons distributed by AQMD

California State Senator Joseph Dunn, school officials, and environmental professionals met with Kennedy Elementary School parents in a town-hall style meeting in Santa Ana Thursday evening. The parents aired their concerns over health issues at schools and workplaces, including a rash of leukemia cases in the student population, and began a dialogue they have been working toward for years.

Representatives of Markland Manufacturing and of AQMD also spoke at the meeting, explaining their positions. The outcome of the meeting was that Senator Dunn and members of the community will tour the Markland facility and meet with county officials, and another public meeting will be held in a couple of weeks.

Town hall meeting called in response to concerns

Concerned parents and teachers gathered at Kennedy Elementary School in Santa Ana, California for the 6:30 p.m. meeting hosted by California State Senator Joe Dunn. Principal Felix Mendoza, Donald Markland - President of Markland Manufacturing, members of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), and representatives from the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD), Orange County Water District (OCWD), California Safe Schools, and California Environmental Rights Alliance participated in the meeting. Senator Dunn organized the meeting to address concerns of teachers who work at, and parents whose children attend both Kennedy and nearby Franklin Elementary School.

Five boys attending Franklin were diagnosed with the same type of leukemia in Spring 2002, raising the initial concerns. Attempts to gain an investigation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) into possible causes were not successful as the case cluster, though intense, still fell into the range of natural chance.

During the corresponding time period, in December of 2002, the Orange County Sanitation Department had cited and fined Markland Manufacturing, a business located directly across the street from Kennedy Elementary, $21,000, a second time, for illegally dumping nickel, copper, lead, and arsenic into city sewers. These toxic substances have a range of health risks from carcinogenic to reduced IQ and increase in fatality risk. Markland Manufacturing is a steel plating company located directly across the street from Kennedy Elementary School.

Recently, Markland applied for a permit from the AQMD to expand its facilities. Whenever a company changes equipment, and those changes affect air quality, the AQMD must issue a notice to all residents in the affected area. In response, parents called Senator Dunn's office voicing their concerns, and Dunn organized a town hall meeting to address the issues. He invited experts in air, water, and sewage to address the community. "Leukemia is an air quality issue," said Dunn.

Meeting report in detail

Socorro Molina, whose son Steven was diagnosed with leukemia

Senator Dunn began the meeting by thanking everyone at Kennedy Elementary School, Principal Felix Mendoza, and the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD). He then introduced the first three members of the panel: Parents Gloria Maldonado and Socorro Molina, and teacher Tammy Sanchez.

"I was concerned about the permit," said 10-year resident and Kennedy parent Gloria Maldonado. "I contacted the school administration, and I was ignored. Where is our city council?"

Next to speak was Franklin parent Socorro Molina. Her son Steven was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in May of 2002, along with four others at Franklin, and she wants an investigation. She says apartment kids are suffering from leukemia and dying.

Franklin teacher Tammy Sanchez

Tammy Sanchez is a teacher at Franklin, and several of her students have been diagnosed with leukemia. She noted that all of the children who were diagnosed leukemia lived in front of Franklin Elementary. She went to the school nurse, and together they wrote a letter to the CDC asking for an investigation. They responded by saying that the cases were "within the range". "That's hard to believe," said Sanchez. She then turned to the Leukemia Society, and they too turned her down. In April of 2004, one of her students, Reynaldo, passed away due to leukemia. That summer, another boy at Franklin died from leukemia. "They all lived in apartments," she said. She kept searching, and in November of last year, another student at Franklin, Manuel, passed away. On January 2 this year, two twins that were going to attend Franklin died from acute lymphocytic leukemia. In February, a student at nearby Santa Ana High School died from leukemia. This weekend, a teacher from Franklin died of lung cancer. "I don't know what it is, but something isn't right in this area. There is clearly something amiss here," said Sanchez.

Donald Markland, president of Markland Manufacturing

Senator Dunn then allowed Markland Manufacturing President Don Markland to respond to what the parents and teacher said. He responded, "[Before moving to our current location], I met with the City Council and the School Board; I went above and beyond what is called for." He said that the city told him that his business would be assisting in city beautification. When confronted about whether his business was responsible for the health issues, he said, "I'm not really a technical person. I hire assistants."

Next, Senator Dunn introduced members of the AQMD: Anupom Ganguli, Carol Coy, Jill Whynot; and other experts: Ron Wildermuth, Communications Director, Orange County Water District; Kelly Christensen, Source Control Supervisor, Orange County Sanitation District; and Joseph K. Lyou, Executive Director of California Safe Schools.

Anupom Ganguli of the AQMD

First to speak was Anupom Ganguli. "All residents deserve to live and work in a safe, clean environment," Anupom said. He said that "75% of air pollution comes from the burning of diesel fuels. Air quality is a major health issue, of particular concern is children." He went on to say, "Teens in highly polluted areas are five times more likely to have lung problems than teens not in polluted areas."

The next AQMD representative to speak was Carol Coy. "Any business that has a machine that emits or causes air pollution requires a permit... Markland is a plating company, which deals with liquid metals; more specifically, chrome... When the chemicals evaporate, onsite machines refine as much air pollution as possible. Markland is getting a permit to modify a piece of equipment, and a public notice is required for all pollutant increases," she said. Markland received three emissions violations from AQMD. "They're in good shape," said Coy.

The final speaker from AQMD was Jill Whynot. Jill clarified that "AQMD has no authority over land use". Therefore, placement of manufacturing industries next to residences (as has happened with Markland Manufacturing) is left to the authority of county and city council.

Next to speak was Joseph K. Lyou, Executive Director of California Environmental Rights Alliance. "What we're concerned about is false negatives," he said. "Our focus should be how we can reduce emissions and pollution in our communities." Robina Suwol, Executive Director of California Safe Schools, noted that "the standards are based upon a 160 pound male," not on children who are a fraction of the weight and size.

The final speaker was Ron Wildermuth, Communications Director of the Orange County Water District. He said, "Your water meets all standards, or it doesn't get served."

Senator Joe Dunn

Dunn then opened the floor to public comments.

Socorro Molina, in response to Markland's comments, exclaimed, "Why in front of the school? Why near children?" Jill Whynot of AQMD responded by saying, "We have a proposed rule that will be voted on in a few months that would allow us to tell a business to not locate in a certain area."

Victoria Zaragoza, a resident of nearby Minnie Street, lashed, "I am outrage that there are so many pollutants. You [AQMD] don't test the air, you just test the companies. Between late 2001 and early 2002, 19 women living at the Williams Street apartment complex were diagnosed with cancer. We have high levels of lead. Our children have asthma and lung problems. It's not the norm. I want that to be clear. You have not answered our questions, you just talked around them. We take this seriously. It's our lives."

A mother of a 6 year-old at Franklin told the panel that her daughter is having nosebleeds constantly. "She has eight nosebleeds per month." When she went to her local doctor, she was told that the bleeding was caused by allergies. "I had to pay for a private doctor to tell me it was the school's environment," she said.


Another mother voiced concerns about her child: "My daughter had anemia. Next to where I live, there is a shop where they paint cars and cut metal, and it all blows toward me. When I called the city of Santa Ana, they told me to move. [This] city does not consider the Hispanics. I ended up calling the police. [When they arrived], they said 'is it life or death, because otherwise we are going to leave'. I want you [AQMD] to pay attention to not only to large businesses, but to the small stuff."

Lazara Bustos, a parent of three children, with one attending Franklin, had this to say: "Since I learned about the sick kids at Franklin, I've been concerned. I want an investigation of all businesses in Santa Ana. I went all the way to Sacramento and told them about all of the sick kids in the hospitals- too many sick kids. I gathered 200 signatures from parents to get inspections. We don't know if [the inspections] will happen." She continued, "The city slaps us with fines, when the rich businessmen exploit our workers with very low wages. They are becoming rich at the expense of the poor." She was told that leukemia was caused by nutrition problems.

Tammy Sanchez

Maria Parada's son Diego was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002. "He's fighting really hard. I thank God he's still alive." She began to cry. "I am really scared for all the other mothers going through this." About her son, she said, "I don't know if he's going to make it".

When asked about the citations given to Markland, the company's legal counselor, Steve Ellis, said that they "were just allegations". He claims that "some things" got into the sewers, and that it happened "over a year ago". Tammy Sanchez noted that Markland was fined in December 2002 for "illegal disposal of nickel, copper, lead, and arsenic into sewers". The Markland lawyer's response was "Is it currently happening, no. The sewers at Markland are more than 12 feet below the ground, not endangering residents." Don Markland then called up his Technical Consultant, who stated: "Employees were doing this independent of Markland administration".

Senator Dunn wrapped up by saying: "Even if Markland is fully compliant, there is still something amiss here". Dunn promised to have an open meeting with city and school officials. He will tour the Markland facility with members of the community, and meet with county officials to find out what is causing the health issues. Dunn also promised to hold another town hall meeting in a couple of weeks.

The panel. From left to right: Joseph K. Lyou, Executive Director of California Environmental Rights Alliance; Kelly Christensen, Source Control Supervisor, Orange County Sanitation District; Ron Wildermuth, Communications Director, Orange County Water District; Jill Whynot, South Coast Air Quality Management District; Carol Coy, South Coast Air Quality Management District; Anupom Ganguli, South Coast Air Quality Management District; Tammy Sanchez, Teacher, Franklin Elementary School; Socorro Molina, Parent, Franklin Elementary School; Gloria Maldonado, Parent, Kennedy Elementary School.


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page and notes page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page and notes page for more details.


Full image gallery on the Wikimedia Commons

Arial photo of Markland Manufacturing plant (to the north), and Kennedy Elementary (to the south). Notice the large black spot on Markland's roof.

Santa Ana City Council: