Last week, after 9:00pm, Stefie and I were driving home in our separate vehicles, she was following me home along a road that skirts several chemical refineries. Actually, every road to our house skirts some kind of chemical refinery.
However, I've grown up in refinery land and my father made a living by supervising a nearby plant. I grew up going through a few local explosions, chemical releases and mishaps that had the potential to be very scary. A few times an explosion would be so powerful as to cause windows in homes nearby to break. Our area has plants that produce some toxic chemicals that would cause death within seconds of inhalation.
That along with the plants that produce jet fuel can make for a thrilling roller coaster of a ride for a residential address.
But, back to last week, as my daughter and I were following each other home, with me in the lead, I found myself driving through a section of the Parkway that was suddenly inundated with a heavy chemical that felt as if I were breathing in hairspray that was being sprayed constantly into my airways with each breath. I began to choke and spew and I looked in my rearview mirror to see Stefie behind me at a distance, getting caught by the light. I knew she had just hit the area of chemical release and she needed to (safely) RUN THAT LIGHT and get the heck out of that invisible cloud zone.
I tried calling her repeatedly, but our phone kept giving me a "Network Failure" message. I was panicked. I had been forced to press the gas pedal to the medal so that I could get away from the mystery chemical, but knowing that Stefie was stuck back there did not make me feel good. Not being able to reach her by cell phone made me feel even worse...I knew we would not even be able to make an emergency call, if needed, from that location.
Since it was about 9:30pm, there wasn't much traffic, but a traffic light holding you up in the middle of a chemical cloud is not a good thing.
Finally, I got Stefie on the phone, told her to high-tail it through there and that as soon as she made it through the chemical release that she'd need to get into some fresh air. She did say that her lungs were burning and she couldn't figure out why it would suddenly be getting so intense inside the truck with that kind of smell.
I told her, "THAT my dear is the smell of a chemical release, don't ever forget it, and be glad you lived through it."
We rushed home and our lungs were very irritated. At first, I didn't know what to do. So, I began calling a few numbers which led me to call 911. This is how that conversation went...
The operator said, "This is 911, state your emergency."
I said, "I'm not sure who to call, but I've grown up in this area and am positive that my daughter and I just drove through a chemical release about 15 minutes ago; I'd like to know what chemical it was because our lungs are burning."
I gave her the approximate address of the Parkway where the chemical release had been evident.
The operator responded, "Yes ma'am, we know there was a spill or a release of some nature and we could send ambulances to you right away."
I'm feeling a bit startled, but I said, "I don't think we need ambulances because we are not in severe distress and it's now been about twenty minutes since we were initially exposed, but since we do have lung irritation, I just need to find out the chemical that was released so I can be prepared for any side effects."
The operator said, "Ma'am, that's the problem, the Fire Department and the Assistant Fire Chief have already been on the scene, they must have arrived just after you and your daughter had passed through the scene. They do acknowledge that a chemical was released, but they cannot locate the source of the chemical release because none of the chemical plants are assuming responsibility for it. So, at this point, we have no idea what chemical it was."
I thought...just great. We've breathed in something that might not even show increasing negative effects for quite some time and there's no accountability by anyone at 9:30pm because something or someone royally messed up.
Then, about four days later, on Sunday, I woke up to find that I could barely croak out a sound. My lungs felt swollen inside and this was not an episode where you could cough out congestion and clear your lungs to better breathe. For hours, I could not get enough air power to form words with enough sound to make them clearly heard. However, as the day wore on, I was feeling better, but I couldn't help but wonder if the lung irritation of that week had come to a head --- feeling as if there were internal scabs of some sort that were trying to heal over. It was not a great feeling.
Stefie didn't seem to have problems beyond 2-3 days of the event, but I did have more lasting trouble and that's probably because each of my lungs have had their turn at collapsing in the past and they are scarred pretty bad and weakened to start with, so this episode of driving through the chemical release was not healthy for them. Since I had no idea who the source of the chemical release could be traced to...I will have to simply hope that the chemicals were not the kind that cause long-lasting problems.
Later this week, I'll phone the Fire Department again and will see if they've discovered anything new in their investigation. I might try to find out what plants are in that area and what products they produce so at least I will have an idea of what we might have come across.
Needless to say, this event was scary and gave me pause to again consider the best reason for moving from this house is so we can live in a safer environment with more healthy airspace...living in the country will be lovely...it will be so nice to be surrounded by pure air and to finally not have to worry about the threat of sirens screaming in the air to give the "Shelter in Place" warning.
I'd much rather be standing in the country, breathing in fresh air filtered by the surrounding forest as we raise and grow as much of our own food as possible...away from chemicals.
However, today, as we sit in our house that is surrounded by such heavy petro-chemical areas, the real potential for danger is that we might find ourselves in the midst of a chemical spill as it flows through the air into our house before the Shelter in Place sirens even have a chance to be heard, which has happened quite a few times already. This area does make products that most of the country must use in one form or another, most of us are using many things that are products from these chemical plants, but I just don't want to be a neighbor of these petro-chemical companies any longer.
Anyway, as we drive past the refineries and look at their condition --- the obvious signs of decay and deterioration bothers me greatly; I often wonder how long it will be before the next big disaster is at our fingertips.
For the past few days, I've been a bit stunned by our scary experience. Words cannot express how thankful I am that my daughter and I are safe and sound after breathing in such scary chemicals that burned our lungs as we felt there would not be an escape. All we could do is drive faster to get farther away from wherever the chemicals were coming from...believe me, air is a precious thing that we often take forgranted! We are blessed; it could have been much worse.
However, I'm looking forward to a more peaceful, healthy and better smelling life than this address can offer. And after my experience this past week of being impacted by a chemical release, I'm more ready than ever to get moved to that fresh country air!
And, I won't be giving up on the Fire Department's investigation as they try to uncover the chemical that had been released into the air. Since I was not the only person calling 911 with problems breathing, I'm hoping the matter will soon be revealed and the people who were responsible, yet not accountable will be held to the fire on this one...there were houses right in the area off to the side of the road of that chemical release and I can only feel terrible that they might be enduring more releases that are untraceable. I hope it comes to an end soon so that no one will be in danger.