Living In Industry’s Shadow: Maywood Family Undergoes Tests

Second of three parts.

By Janet Wilson, California Watch

A Chihuahua with an injured hind leg hobbles along S. Maywood Avenue; a factory looms in the background in the city of Vernon. (Daniel A. Anderson/California Watch) Part two of a three part series ...

Adilene Martin is ready to be tested.

Now 22, she is the oldest of the Martin children. She’s sick of the itchy rashes she gets on her arms sometimes after showering, and of the discolored water that runs out of the faucets, which she photographs indignantly with her cell phone.

Her family lives in Maywood, a nexus of Los Angeles County industry and pollution, where nearby 2,000 factories churn out the region’s hot dogs, pesticides and other products and diesel trucks and trains ship them out.

The USC Annenberg Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and California Watch commissioned tests to measure the family’s exposure to dangerous substances that could be coming from their surroundings.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Viviendo en la Sombra de la Industria: Familia de Maywood se Somete a Examines Médicos

On a hot summer day, Adilene watches with interest as a phlebotomist straps a blue band tightly around her forearm and draws 10 vials of blood. She plans to do the same someday as a registered nurse.

Salvador Jr., 18, has been driving his mother crazy. He stays out late, has trouble in school, and rises groggily to go to church on his mother’s orders.

Junior, as his family calls him, has had asthma since he was a baby and was diagnosed with an inflamed liver a year ago, according to emergency room papers. Follow-up testing showed it had returned to normal, but no one could explain what had happened.

Junior is polite around company and secretly adores his mother. He also is frustrated and frightened by where they live. As a pudgy seventh-grader, he was beaten by older teens with brass-knuckled fists.
He has since slimmed down, lifts weights and eats healthily.

He lies on the lab table, nonchalantly scanning text messages as the needle pricks his arm.

Sisters Anaiz (right) and Adilene Martin get ready for church in a bedroom in the family’s Maywood home. (Daniel A. Anderson/California Watch)

Effects of childhood lead poisoning linger

Anaiz, now 21, like her older sister is always perfectly coiffed, with eye shadow, lipstick and mascara applied to her heart-shaped face. She’s had a boyfriend for the past few years. She’s shy, but always listening, head on her mother’s shoulder or a step behind her older sister as they head out in the evening.

She sleeps a lot and is often depressed. Her parents discovered from medical check-ups that she had lead poisoning when she was 18 months old. She’s had asthma since she was a toddler and now has irritable bowel syndrome.

Her life’s work has been school. She remembers being forced to repeat kindergarten and how kids teased her at her first elementary school, and second, and third. She remembers the fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Correa, who worked patiently with her and let her go to “regular” class when she wanted, or stay in special education when she didn’t.

She says she always felt she was capable of doing more.

At 15, she developed abdominal pains. Doctors found an ovarian cyst. After surgery, the pains continued.

She shuttled between the emergency room and school several times a week. She continued to struggle with schoolwork and knew something was terribly wrong. At 16, she broke down sobbing, begging her mother to tell her why. Josefina had intended to wait until Anaiz was 18, but she relented. It might have been the neighbor near our old house spraying cars. It might have been you eating some dirt as a little girl. It probably was from your father.

“She was so sad,” Josefina recalls. “She kept saying, ‘Why did this have to happen to me?’ ”

The illnesses took their toll.

She participated in graduation but didn’t receive a diploma. She began adult education, but the stomach pains continued.

“I would go to the restroom, and I would bleed from the stress,” she says softly. Finally, a doctor told her it was not worth losing her life to go to school, and she gave up.

She lies down patiently to have her blood drawn. She’s been doing this her entire life.

Josefina, 45, is the worrier and the warrior along with her husband. She came to the United States at 12, noting firmly that her parents came legally, with green cards. She was working by 18 at a metal pin factory on Slauson Avenue, Maywood’s truck-clogged spine. She had always been healthy, but the smell of glue and fumes from paint made her dizzy. She kept her head down, sorting freshly glued buttons. Within months, she was gasping. She’d developed a lung infection and asthma. She met Sal; they married, went to civics classes and became citizens. They began a family in Lynwood, near his job.

“Those were the hard years,” Josefina says.

Anaiz’s lead levels were high, with no apparent cause. Finally, a doctor asked if Salvador Martin had a mustache. Another child had been poisoned by her father’s facial hair. Sal refused to shave his trademark mustache, but began changing and showering when he arrived home from work, before saying hello. Her lead levels came down for good when he left the job.

Sal, 49, lost his longtime supervisory job at a factory that closed in 2009. Luckily, he invested years ago in property with rental units. Although he is most at risk after decades of potential workplace exposure to contaminants, he declines to be tested.

“I don’t want to know,” he says.

He prefers to be proactive. He and other neighbors are fighting to penetrate the byzantine bureaucracy of Maywood Mutual Water Co. No. 2, which serves their neighborhood, to get the water cleaned up. Between making rounds to factories seeking work and driving his daughter Adilene to community college, he attends organizing meetings.

But Josefina is ready because of what happened to her daughter. Because a few weeks ago, the water in the shower stung her, and when she opened her eyes, it was streaming brown onto her skin.

“Because I want to know,” she says.

The USC Annenberg Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and California Watch commissioned tests to measure a Maywood family’s exposure levels to dangerous metals and industrial byproducts.

Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews.com is publishing the results of those tests, as part of a three-part bilingual (English/Spanish) series written by Janet Wilson for California Watch.

Nov. 3,. 2011: Part 1— Living In Industry’s Shadow: After Years of Illnesses, Family Looks for Answers

Nov. 10, 2011: Part 2— Living In Industry’s Shadow: Maywood Family Undergoes Tests (this article)

Nov. 17, 2011: Part 3— Living In Industry’s Shadow: Maywood Family Learns What’s Inside Them

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November 10, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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