Resources and Information

 
 
 

AIR QUALITY Handouts

*Click on the titles to view the handouts.*

FACTS: Danger in the Air, Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease [American Heart Association/American Stroke Association]

Air Pollution: Particulate Matter (PM) and Gaseous [Wisconsin Environmental Health Network]

Particle Pollution and Your Health [United States Environmental Protection Agency]

Ozone and Your Health [United States Environmental Protection Agency]

Ozone and Health of Wisconsinites [Clean Wisconsin]

Water Quality and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

*Click on the titles to view the handouts.*

CAFO’s and Water [Wisconsin Environmental Health Network]

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: Human Health, Community and Environmental Impacts [Sierra Club, Iowa Chapter]

Nitrate in Drinking Water: A Public Health Concern [Iowa Environmental Council]

Tests for Drinking Water from Private Wells [Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources]

Other

*Click on the titles to view the handouts.*

Protecting Your Child’s Health From Toxic Stress [American Academy of Pediatrics and KidCentral TN]

Mold Factsheet [Occupational Safety and Health Administration]

Mold [National Toxicology Program]

Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix [Beyond Pesticides]

Prenatal Environmental Health Assessment [Wisconsin Environmental Health Network]

The Struggle to Breathe

Air Pollution and Asthma


Click play above to listen to Randy’s story.


Randy’s Written Story

By Seth Jovaag

About a decade ago, Randy Radtke got out of bed one night and found that he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t know it at the time, but in his mid-50s, he was experiencing his first full-on asthma attack.

“It feels like creeping strangulation,” explained Radtke, who lives in Lake Mills. “You can feel it in your throat, you can suddenly feel it in your sinuses, you just can't seemingly get a breath.

“I didn’t really have a diagnosis until that one morning when I got out of bed and I just couldn’t breathe at all and was suddenly up against the wall gasping.”

According to the CDC, 24 million people in the United States have asthma. About sixty percent of them end up limiting their physical activity or missing school or work.

“I stupidly didn't think you could get asthma as an adult,” Radtke said. “When my family practitioner said, ‘It’s asthma,’ I said, ‘Wait a second, isn't that a kids’ situation?’ He said no, there's a growing prevalence of people who have asthma as adults.”

Now in his 60s, Radtke has worked as a teacher, a newspaper editor, a state representative, and, most recently, as a lobbyist for the American Lung Association. Given that line of work, it’s not surprising that he has some theories about where his asthma may have originated.

Growing up in Watertown, Radtke and other kids in his neighborhood often ran behind “foggers” that sprayed chemicals like DDT to keep mosquito populations in check.

“It wasn't uncommon to be behind the fogger and to have 20 or 30 kids from the neighborhood pretending to swim or run through it,” Radtke said. “My theory is that having inhaled that repeatedly as a child eventually had an impact on my lungs. Whether that theory has any basis in scientific evidence, who knows.

Theories aside, Radtke now has a firm grasp on what exacerbates his asthma. Three major “triggers” are wood-burning stoves, diesel fumes and smokehouses. He tries to avoid all three. If he’s walking his dog on a cold day, he’ll avoid walking past a neighbor with a wood-burning stove, for example. As gas stations, he’ll steer clear of diesel trucks and check the flags to make sure he parks upwind of the fumes.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s impacted my life greatly, but what it does is that it changes the way you think about what you can and cannot do and it changes the patterns of where you're going to go,” he said.

Thanks to his inhaler, Radtke says asthma isn’t so scary anymore.

“What are you going to do? You just live with it, you roll with it, and you just try to work through it,” he says.

But he also admits that his wife of 48 years is a little less blasé about it all.

“She'd like me to be even more careful than I already am. She was in the bedroom the morning it happened. (She) was like, ‘No, you're calling your family practitioner, you’re going to get to Watertown, we're going to find out what this is.’ It was (scary), not only for myself but for her as well.”

IMG_4872.JPG

Image by Seth Jovaag

Hazardous homes

Environmental issues follow woman from Chicago to Madison


Click the play option above to hear Debra’s story.


Debra’s Written Story

Written by Seth Jovaag

 

For most of us, “home” is a place where we can put our feet up after a long day and breathe easy.

But for people like Debra Henning, that’s not always the case.

Henning was six years old in 1961 when her family moved to a high-rise apartment complex on Chicago’s south side. For more than three decades, she lived in “the projects.”

At first, Henning said, her new home was a little shocking. For the first time she was hearing profanity and witnessing fights in the hallways. But after a while, her family settled in. Neighbors knew each other and shared food. They grew vegetables and helped maintain the building together, Henning said.

“We cried together, we laughed together, we shared together,” she said. “Everything was togetherness. To this day, me and the people that grew up together, we have, like, 50- to 60-year relationships.”

Henning got her own apartment after her first son was born in 1974. By the 1980s, the projects began to change for the worse, she said.

Crime was rising, and Henning herself witnessed traumatic violence. But beyond that, the environment itself was growing toxic.

Residents lived among asbestos tiles, rusty pipes and the sight of rats, mice and roaches, she said. To keep warm in the winter, Henning would turn up her gas stove—her child’s first bath was next to the oven, in fact. Worse, apartment buildings used incinerators to burn massive garbage piles filled with everything from plastic bottles to diapers.

It seemed people were getting ill all the time, Henning said. Kids wheezed with asthma. Adults were laid up with respiratory problems or cancer.

“It got pretty ugly,” she said. “You walked around in this stuff and inhaled it every day.”

In February, researchers in the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Center for Environmental Assessment released a remarkable study. People of color, it concluded, are much more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air. Specifically, people in poverty are exposed to more fine particulate matter than those who aren’t, and no matter where you look, non-whites are most affected.

Henning’s stories from Chicago sound like anecdotal examples from that larger study. But when she moved to Madison in the 1990s to be closer to her sons and grandchildren, she didn’t leave her troubles behind.

In her Madison apartment, there were fumes from a leaky boiler that made her dizzy, weak, or forgetful. Later came mold from a wet basement that caused respiratory problems for her and her neighbors.

“I would go into these coughing spasms for a good five minutes, non stop,” she said. “It was like my lungs were cleaning out. It was uncontrollable.”

When she was younger, Henning said she was taught not to show weakness. You feel sick? Go to school. You’re sad? Get back to work. Complaining to her landlord didn’t come easy. Yet, when she finally did, he didn’t believe her.

“It was hard for me to deal with him,” she said. “I felt like I was really losing it because the more I (complained), the more (he was) ignoring me.”

In the end, with support from her sons and her doctor, Debra was able to move to a better place. Physically, she’s better now, but psychologically, she’s not fully healed.

“No, that didn’t stop. Today, if I smell anything close to that (natural gas), it draws my attention. And I just gotta stop and put my mind right, focus, (and tell myself) ‘That's just a smell, you're not in harm's way, calm down.’”

For years, Henning was bitter that her home wasn’t always a place where she could breathe easy. But now, she’s trying to focus on what’s going right in her life.

“Overall, from where we come from, I succeeded. I’ve got two sons living and breathing: no gangs, no jails, no drugs, excellent fathers. What more can I ask for? So, I'm grateful. I don’t want to be a millionaire. I’m just grateful.”


Debra is seen here with her granddaughter.

Debra is seen here with her granddaughter.

 
 
 

“Continual Stress”

One farmer’s struggles with air and water pollution in Kewaunee County.


Click the play option above to hear Lynda’s story.


Lynda’s Written Story

Written by Seth Jovaag

 

When Lynda Cochart was a toddler in the early 1950s, a tree fell on her father and broke his back, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Cochart’s dad was a dairy farmer in Kewaunee County in northeastern Wisconsin, on the same land where his father farmed before him. As bad as the accident was, it didn’t derail his career. Lynda remembers how her dad would literally crawl from their home to the barn each morning while she and her brother held one of his legs. Improvising like that, her dad farmed until his death at age 89.

“That’s how we learned to work so hard,” Cochart, 70, said of her father’s example. “He could do anything.”

Lynda’s dad, in many ways, was her role model: a guy who never complained and never gave up. More than 40 years ago, Lynda followed in his footsteps when her family bought a farm next to her father’s land. Today, she still grows hay and raises a few horses, cattle, ducks, chickens, and even peacocks on 279 acres. Inside her kitchen are jars of homegrown pickles and fat tomatoes. Her home is pretty and peaceful.

But farms in Kewaunee County aren’t all this way.

Cattle outnumber people in Kewaunee County by a nearly 5-to-1 ratio, and the county is home to 16 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, which have a thousand animals or more.

Not surprisingly, all those cattle generate a lot of manure: approximately 700 million gallons per year, according to a 2017 article by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Lynda’s home is within two miles of two CAFOs. Even for a born-and-raised farm girl, the smell is too much.

“It's choking to me,” she says.

Lynda says the fumes have driven many neighbors away, and she worries the air is making those who remain sick, including herself. Odors have been shown to affect the mental health of those living close to factory farms. Furthermore, factory farms increase asthma in neighboring communities, particularly in children.

Manure in Kewaunee County has also made a mess of the water. Up to 60 percent of private wells tested in 2016-17 contained fecal microbes like cryptosporidium, rotavirus, and e-coli. These cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and can easily be life threatening to those with lowered immune systems. Infections are more likely to be caused by germs with antibiotic resistance around factory farms. Lynda got a resistant staph infection in 2012 she suspects came from her water.

As a Kewaunee County native, it took Lynda a while to believe her water was contaminated. She remembers years ago asking Mark Borchardt, a microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, to level with her.

“I said, ‘Can it really be that bad?’ And (Borchardt) said, ‘Lynda, your water breaks my heart,’ ‘Well, I shower in it,’ I said, and he said, ‘Well, certainly keep your mouth shut and your eyes closed when you shower.’ That was awful.”

For years, Lynda and her family would drive more than 20 miles round-trip, three times a week, to fill jugs with safe tap water at an area high school. She’d also drive to her son’s house to shower. It felt “crazy,” to do those things in a water-rich state like Wisconsin, she says.

But during that time, Lynda also joined a growing number of people raising questions about CAFOs. She’s since spoken up at countless meetings, been on TV, and testified in court. There have been some small victories along the way—new wells for residents, including hers, and a court order in 2014 for a CAFO to install its own monitoring wells.

Still, after all these years, Lynda offers only bottled water or canned soda to guests. She still doesn’t trust what comes out of her faucet. She recalls using bottled water to clean up a small cut on her granddaughter, rather than risk infecting her with tap water. She worries whether the contamination could hurt her animals.

“The other day I didn't have a bottle of water in here and I had to take my thyroid pill in the morning with a glass of (tap) water,” she says. “It was hard. I filled enough for two swallows and shut it off. That was all I could take.”

When Lynda’s arm injury got infected in 2012, the pain was excruciating. Her doctors were shocked she didn’t seek treatment earlier. But, like her dad, she tried to tough it out.

Having unsafe water in her home is different, she says. “Toughing it out” is not an option. With her neighbors’ and relatives’ health at stake, Lynda says she’ll keep pushing for change, even if it wears her down.

“I've buried two children in my lifetime, so I’ve learned to really handle what life throws at me. But this has been ongoing for eight years. It's on your mind steady.

“It's continual stress,” she says. “It just never ends.”

Image by Seth Jovaag

Image by Seth Jovaag

 
Image by Seth Jovaag

Image by Seth Jovaag

 
Image by Seth Jovaag

Image by Seth Jovaag

 
 

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