LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. – A Lawrence County woman is fighting mad. Two years ago, her son was born with advanced cancer of the liver; his first year of life was a constant fight for life.
Now, she says she believes she knows why it all happened.
Kaiden began developing symptoms when he was only three weeks old. Doctors thought it was bronchitis, but it just kept getting worse. An emergency trip to Huntsville Hospital revealed the frightening truth – a mass in his abdomen.
Kaiden was rushed to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, what doctors called his only chance.
“They gave it a name and it was hepatoblastoma,” said Tricia Engles, Kaiden’s mother. She would live at the hospital for six months while Kaiden was undergoing treatment.
The tumor was the size of a softball; 20% of his bodyweight.
“There was days he wouldn’t even wake up, for days at a time and it was just on morphine,” remembers Engles. There were months of extensive chemo therapy.
Only recently, did Tricia discover what she believes caused the cancer; the water she and her family were drinking. They are customers of the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority. In June, WMEL General Manager Don Sims was widely criticized for issuing a warning to customers not to drink or cook with the water because of PFOA and PFOS levels higher than new guidelines released in May by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA report said, “The developing fetus and newborn is particularly sensitive to PFOA-induced toxicity.” Among the health effects, according to the EPA, is cancer of the liver.
“I’m angry. I’m very angry,” Tricia says. “You can do just about anything you want to to me. But when it comes to harming my children, I just can’t take it. It’s not fair. He didn’t deserve to go through that. He didn’t deserve the pain that he went through. There was days that he wouldn’t even wake up, for days at a time and it was just on morphine. He didn’t deserve that.”
Today you’d hardly know Kaiden went through all of that. He’s healthy and active. He lost some of his hearing as a result of the cancer treatment and his development has been slowed somewhat. But doctors are confident he’ll overcome that and enjoy a full recovery, so long as the cancer doesn’t reappear.
But Tricia says she’ll never get over it. “It’s the worst feeling in the world. You have no control. So many of us parents, we want to control everything. We want to make everything okay. We want to make everything better. And I couldn’t. I couldn’t.”
Sims declined to comment for this story, saying only, “Maybe this will help people understand why I did what I did.”
Sims recently announced that four consecutive samples of their water were well below the new guidelines for both PFOA and PFOS compounds, however he says he will not be completely comfortable with the water until a temporary granulated activated charcoal filtration system, projected to remove at least 99.9% of the two compounds, is installed and operating.
Both compounds still leach out of the Morgan county landfill where it flows down to the Dry Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Decatur and is dumped right back into the Tennessee River, just upstream from the West Morgan East Lawrence treatment plant. The permit Decatur Utilities has to operate the wastewater plant allows them to discharge an unlimited quantity of the compounds into the river. The compounds are otherwise unregulated.
Tricia is talking with a group of attorneys and it`s quite possible she and Kaiden will become part of a lawsuit over the contamination.