“Pesticides are everywhere…most people do not even know that -cide means ‘to kill,'” said Becky Sheets of Staples, Minnesota. Sheets shared her story as part of Minnesota Clean Water Action’s newly launched Ripple Effects campaign.
Sheets explained how she developed chemically-induced asthma from exposure to three types of pesticides while working for a research center for crop production. Her exposure came mainly from crop dusting, a common practice in the many agricultural towns of Minnesota.
“We were always told that the products we were working with were safe,” said Sheets, “I evaluated many, many chemicals for agronomic purposes. We later came to realize that they are not.” Sheets said that her entire family has a range of serious health problems including several types of cancers spanning two generations. Sheets could not verify that her family’s aliments resulted from the pesticide contamination, only her own asthma, but all of the afflicted members live in Staples as well. In the YouTube video that accompanied her testimony, Sheets explained the necessary precautions to take in order to avoid serious health problems from crop dusting and described warning signs to watch for after contamination occurs.
Sheets said, “One of the things I want people to be aware of it that going into your house and closing the doors is not a really any part of a solution…Volatilization [of the sprayed chemicals] will occur for possibly a week to two weeks.”
Clean Water Action is a grassroots organization that works to educate communities and pass protective legislation against water pollution and other types chemical contamination. The organization was founded by David Zwick in 1972 after Zwick and Ralph Nader, who was a consumer advocate at that time, published a comprehensive study of water pollution in the lakes and rivers of the American Midwest. The study, Water Wasteland, concluded that the nation’s problems with water pollution were caused by companies that side-stepped pollutant regulations by working the political system to their favor. Wasteland caught the attention of two major fishing tackle companies whose donations helped found CWA. The organization was responsible for helping pass the Clean Water Act in 1972 and now has offices in 18 states around the country.
Today CWA’s primary effort in gaining “people-based power” against pollution is door-to-door canvassing. For the Ripple Effects campaign, launched the week of October 26, organizers sought testimonies from the people who have shared their experiences with CWA canvassers in the past.
“As an organizer, you hear compelling stories from people, but the public doesn’t seem to hear about them,” said CWA program organizer Kim LaBo. She said the goal of Ripple Effects is to attach a “personal face” to the general issues that CWA addresses and “to illustrate how these issues are impacting Minnesotans personally on a daily basis.” So far, Ripple Effects covers experiences pertaining to water pollution, pesticide contamination, toxic chemicals, and global climate change.
Another story came from a woman in Woodbury, Vicki Hendricksen, who shared her concerns about levels of PCFs (chemicals used in non-stick pans, stain resistant clothing, and other everyday products) in her drinking water.
“I wonder if the level [the state sets] is really acceptable,” said Hendricksen, “will this change years later when they learn more?” Vicki does not trust her tap water and currently only consumes water from the filtered spout on her refrigerator.
Hendricksen’s water paranoia first developed when the state discovered known carcinogenic chemicals in Bayport, Minnesota, where her sister lives. The first signs of contamination were found in the prison water supplies, but later more than 630 private wells in four surrounding communities were found to be contaminated.
Hendricksen added, “I always thought we were lucky living upstream along the Mississippi. My uncle lives in the state of Mississippi and says the water he drinks goes through three other people before it gets to him. Now I worry about our water in general-what are we doing to it; will it run out in the future?”
Unlike CWA’s canvassing program, which relies on winning over the hearts of individual members of the community, stories from the Ripple Effects campaign will be emailed directly to state legislators, who will continue to receive updates as the project grows.
The collection of Ripple Effects stories is set to continue throughout the upcoming year and anyone who visits the website can submit their personal account to CWA. For more information and more stories from Minnesota residents, visit the Ripple Effects website.