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Inconvenient Truth: Transcript of my testimony to the EPA at the NESHAP public hearing

When I tell people that pollution made me sick, I get one of two reactions: absolute agreement or utter disbelief.

I'm not sure why we’re so skeptical that we have a serious pollution problem in our country and that pollution is unhealthy.

I think it’s an understandable disbelief, though; it’s the same disbelief we feel when people do terrible things to other people on purpose.

But it happens, such as polluting our environment with harmful things---however inconvenient it might be to accept this.

It's inconvenient to believe that the industry that makes Houston so prosperous is also the thing that is most harmful to it. It's inconvenient to believe that there are harmful pollutants in our air, water, soil, food, shampoo, cosmetics, and yes, even our children's toys. It's inconvenient to believe that these things---these everyday things---could seriously harm us and our children.

But more than that, it's scary, so it's easier to turn our faces and hide from the inconvenient truth.

The truth stares me in the face many times every day. It’s in my hair, my cells, my brain, my endocrine system, my rising health care bills, and my family’s stress and anxiety about my health. It’s in the handfuls of medication I take daily to try to maintain something close to healthy. It’s in the fear I have of cancer, because we’ve already had that scare once.

It’s in the questions my children ask me for which I have no answers, “Mommy, why are you always sick, will you always be sick?”

I found the truth a month ago when—after two years of testing---my doctor said, “It’s the hydrocarbons in your area. They’re endocrine disruptors, and you’re a textbook case.”

Quick explanation

* The endocrine system regulates metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, and mood. It’s key to a healthy immune system and the body’s ability to fight disease.

* A mutagen changes your genetic information (usually DNA). Most mutagens are also carcinogens.

* A carcinogen causes cancer.

Endocrine disruption sounds relatively innocuous when you just say the words. But it’s not. It means there are mutagens in your body, damaging your organs, messing up how they work, creating a poor quality of life and health and potentially causing cancer.

These mutagens come from pollution…from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, among other common pollutants, such as pesticides. They bind to your fat cells. If your body can expel them as fast as or faster than they enter, then they might not do much damage, but if for some reason, they come in faster than your body expels them, you can end up very, very sick. Like me.

It might harm unborn babies, mutate bodies, and prevent children from growing and developing properly. Because these toxins attack the endocrine system, the reproductive and hormonal organs are at great risk.

However, my doctor’s diagnosis was bold: endocrine disruption in humans has been a fiercely debated topic for over 20 years.

But I knew he was right.

After countless missed diagnoses, specialist referrals, medical exams, and costly medical procedures and treatments (none of which worked), I finally had a diagnosis that fit exactly.

It explained my failing pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, the constant abdominal cysts, the pain, the forgetfulness, the weight problems, the fatigue, the depression, the migraines, the life-threatening allergies, and it even explained why it seemed as if my body had tumors: the PAHs disrupted my endocrine system and made my body malfunction as if I had cancer. In my body, PAHs act like tumors.

People can debate the effects of pollution and endocrine disruption in humans as much as they want. I know the truth. I know it’s real, and I know I must live with it and suffer from it every day.

Quick facts

* The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (part of the CDC) released a Public Health Statement for PAHs because they’re a hazardous substance that may harm you.

* The EPA flagged 1,408 hazardous waste sites as the most serious in the nation. At least 600 of the sites on the NPL have PAHs and are potential or actual sources of human exposure.

* 42 of these sites are in Texas, and 18 are in the Houston-Galveston area.

* My town hosts one of the worst offenders, which ranks on the Toxic Release Inventory list.

I’d like to leave you with a few parting thoughts:

By allowing any amount of pollution, which is harmful to humans, we are asking citizens of the United States to endure harm.

In her book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson wrote in Chapter 2, The Obligation to Endure:
“There is still very limited awareness of the nature of the threat. This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits. It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.

When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth. We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts.

It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts. In the words of Jean Rostand, “The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.”

If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.”

That was forty-five years ago.

People in Houston seem to accept being sick, having terrible allergies, and high rates of cancer as normal. At some point, common became confused with normal. It’s not normal. It doesn’t have to be like this; it shouldn’t be.

When I moved to Houston three years ago, I was very healthy. Since moving here, I have had to endure increasingly bad health…due to pollution.

My doctor’s ultimate prescription is for me to move away.

Is this the future of our town and community? That people will have to move away to preserve their health? Their children’s health?

It seems a sad prognosis to me, for Houston.

Please tighten emission restrictions. Help us clean up our town so that it isn’t known as the most polluted city in the USA…the unhealthiest due to pollution.

Help keep the wonderful people who make it a great city right here, because they don’t have to choose between health and community.

We need the EPA for that…we need you to set strict limits, enforce them with a zero tolerance policy for noncompliers, and set limits that put the citizens and their health and future as the highest priority.

The truly inconvenient thing is that we are being asked to endure this pollution and its harmful effects on our health.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Note: And think of me in the morning as I present this. For locals, here is the information:

The EPA is coming to Houston on November 27 to hold a public hearing on NESHAP (National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants). It will be the only one of its kind in the country. The hearing will provide an opportunity to formally ask the EPA to set fair standards, so that families living close to the refineries can have a chance to breathe cleaner air.

The hearing will be held at the Hartman Park Community Center, 9311 Avenue P. The hearing will begin at 9 am and continue until 9 pm or later, if needed, with meal breaks at 12:30 and 2:00 pm.

(That's the Pasadena/Galena Park/Ship Channel area.)

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
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Julie, it reads very well. You strike a good balance between details and clarity. I think it's very persuasive.

I will be thinking about you! Go win them over!

Suz said…
It's very readable. The tone is calm, but the fact you cite are nothing so much as alarming. I hope that they listen.
Sukhaloka said…
Very well written out. I hope it stands well at the hearing.

I agree with you - it's utterly alarming, and just because it's happening everywhere doesn't mean it's natural. I don't believe in "normal" any more.
Kyla said…
You are probably gone already, but good luck. This was excellent, Julie.
S said…

Melissa said…
You are already there as I type this, but just know I'll be praying for you and go and KICK SOME ASS!

Lawyer Mama said…
Good luck, babe. You should be there right now and I know you'll be great.

We want full details later!
Anonymous said…
woo Hoo. wild cheering.


go get 'em.
NotSoSage said…
This is amazing. You are amazing. I'm pulling for you!
Unknown said…
Excellent. Thanks for the education and best of luck.
Anonymous said…
This is beautiful, Julie. I am sending good thoughts for the hearing. AND I am holding you in the light (as my Quaker friends would say).
Liv said…
I'm just glad that you have the courage to stand up.
Julie Pippert said…
I'm back and it went okay (I hope...I think, anyway I think it went okay).

There were all sorts there, from professional environmentalists to paid jackasses for the refineries to individuals and even local politicians. Some spoke eloquently with Power Point slides, and some just winged it. Some needed translators.

Some of the stories really got to me.

It was a lot like the hearings you see on TV. There were three EPA guys at a table (and many more EPA people scattered through the audience and room). They called you up in pairs. I was paired with a nice local man who spoke as a community leader.

You sit at the testifying table (sure there is an official word for that) and take turns speaking into the microphone. They had a lighted counter for your time (five minutes) (green = good, yellow = two minute warning, red = you're finished).

So I had an okay start, got a little emotional when talking about my kids (the mommy are you sick questions---that really upsets me) and then I rallied for the rest, which (in my mind) was delivered clearly and audibly, as well as paced well.

It was filmed so I'm sure I can check YouTube to see if reality and my perception match, someday in 20 years LMAO.

Thanks for the support, guys. :)
Anonymous said…
My non-smoking mother died of lung cancer created by living in NYC. I fully believe pollution kills.

SO glad you were there today testifying.

Kat said…
Congratulations! I'm sure you were fabulous.
I completely agree and support your position 100%! So proud of you!
Anonymous said…
Bravo! WELL DONE!!
jeanie said…
Good on you for standing up and saying what needed to be said.

I am very sad that it has taken illness, pain and suffering for it to be said and seen.

I am going to send your link to some of my friends in your area - scar-y what goes on in the name of progress.
Bea said…
It sounds like it went perfectly - a bit of real emotion can only help your case.
Michele said…
Julie, thank you so much for visiting my blog and for your comments. I love discovering new blogs and I've added you to my list of favorites. It's nice to meet you and I look forward to reading more about you : )
Anonymous said…
I'm glad you've found some answers. I think the 'not knowing' can be so stressful in itself.
Best wishes
Girlplustwo said…
i am so freaking proud of you, dude.
Amazing! Well done, as always. I admire your courage and applaud your eloquent delivery of the message.
Magpie said…
Good job - really important stuff.
Ally said…
This was very well-said. I'm so sorry that you're going through this, Julie, and I hope that if/when you move away your health will be restored. But what a cruddy thing... to have to move away to be healthy. And for the lives of everyone else to be at risk simply because they live there (or at other similarly toxic placed in our country). Let us know how it went today.
Leslie said…
Wow! Very impressive. I am glad you felt proud of yourself when you were finished. It must have been something else, talking before all those people -- and your message was amazing. I am sorry that you have had such terrible illness.
Scribbit said…
I bet it was terrific, you obviously have a way of wowing with words :)
Christine said…
perfect! i hope it went well.

and this all makes me so sad and mad. we were watching the old school house rock yesterday and we saw the one about conserving fuel. man we really haven't learned, huh?
Anonymous said…
My grandfather worked for Oxy Chemical in Niagara Falls nearly all of his live. He came home wearing his job, quite literally. And my grandmother died of lung cancer, which spread, eventually, to her brain....although she did not smoke a day in her life. My cousin married her high school sweetheart and they bought their first home in Love Canal, New York. And they endured too many heartbreaking attempts to conceive and then carry a baby to term. It did not happen for them. And I was involved, for a long time, with one of the attorneys who worked for the AG's office when the Love Canal case finally went to trial. You would never have to convince me...or anyone who lives in my neck of the woods...that pollution can do exactly what it has done to you, Julie. Good for you for speaking up on behalf of so many people.
Rachel said…
I absolutely believe that pollution is huge in the increase in cancers and other illnesses.
This was an extremely well thought out and interesting 'read'. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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