Andrew G. Williams did not seem to mind that nationally known environmental activist Erin Brockovich failed to show up at a community meeting Thursday night about toxic chemicals dumped, possibly for decades, on land on the citys north side.
Instead, Mr. Williams, 42, who grew up near the Starbuck site that was part of the New York Air Brake plant, was satisfied that more than 125 people arrived to find out about trichloroethylene, or TCE, and other toxic chemicals dumped there. TCE is a suspected carcinogen and may cause nerve disorders.
For the past several years, Mr. Williams, who now lives on Washington Street, and two brothers who were his boyhood friends on East Division Street have suffered from a variety of nerve disorders they attribute to their childhood neighborhood and its proximity to the plant and Kelsey Creek.
The commonality is the neighborhood, Kelsey Creek and New York Air Brake, said one of the brothers, Scott W. Barker, who contacted Ms. Brockovich last winter about the contamination.
Though she was ill and could not make the trip, Ms. Brockovich sent environmental investigator Robert W. Bowcock, who answered audience questions and gave the crowd advice about how to handle the situation.
In 2008, the state Department of Environmental Conservation found unacceptable levels of the TCE under at least four buildings on the site and under one neighboring property. One of the affected buildings is owned by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency.
The state departments of Health and Environmental Conservation tested more than 50 structures, including four buildings on the Air Brake campus, 44 homes, North and Starbuck elementary schools and a church for TCE vapor intrusions. About 1,200 taxable parcels were in the testing area, which primarily extends north and west of the companys Starbuck Avenue campus.
But Mr. Bowcock, of Los Angeles, said the entire study was never released to the public, adding he had never seen that anything like it before.
He believes the toxic chemical seems to be emanating from the plants former foundry and landfill site, just north of the existing structures, and may have gotten into the creek. It also may have ended up in the soil in surrounding neighborhoods.
If there was nothing to the contamination, DEC would have held a press conference and a parade to announce the results, Mr. Bowcock said.
During the two-hour meeting, neighborhood residents and people who had once lived there told stories about how family members have suffered from cancer, nerve disorders and birth defects.
Amy L. Corbett, who lives on Cleveland Street, said she always wondered whether the death of her 16-year-old daughter, Jennifer M., from brain cancer in 1991 had something to do with the contamination. She encouraged the others in the audience to become involved and make the government clean it up.
Lets do this together, she said.
From 1974 to 1985, Gary Fayette worked at New York Air Brake when it was owned by General Signal Corp. He remembered dumping TCE from a tanker truck into the landfill.
We just took the tanker truck and let loose, he said after the meeting.
Mr. Fayette and his siblings grew up at 431 Hoard St., where his youngest sister, Ann W. Wise, still lives with her family. Several family members have suffered from nerve or kidney failure over the years, he said.
In 2008, DEC installed an air mitigation system under the basements sub-slab of the East Hoard Street home, the only structure that received one.
The exhaust system something that resembles a thermometer in the basement and is connected to a vent and pipe that run up the side of the house remains there. At the time, DEC gave some simple instructions about how the family can check to see if it is working, said Ann Wises husband, William F. Wise III.
No ones ever been back to look at it, he said.
The most recent interest in the TCE contamination was prompted when Mr. Williams visited Columbus, Ohio, to see his old friend when he was getting treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. Thats when Scott Barker, 48, began to compare notes about similar symptoms he, his brother James P. Barker and Mr. Williams has suffered from in recent years.
The trio then started researching the site and Scott Barker started a Facebook page that yielded information from dozens of people who lived near the Starbuck Avenue site and had the same kinds of stories, they said.
At the end of the meeting, Mr. Bowcock said the next step is up to residents. He urged them to work together and demand the state government find out about the contaminations extent and clean it up. If they do that, he told them hell help in their efforts.