Tue, 08/29/2006 - 5:56pmBy: Ben Nelms
Let me tell you about the birds and the bees. Many have vanished or are dying in north Fayette and south Fulton.
Let me tell you about the dogs and the cats. Many are sick and dying and refusing to go outdoors in north Fayette and south Fulton.
As for the people in the hot zone around the Philips Services Corp. plant in Fairburn, the current count has risen to nearly 600 residents who say they have been sickened since the onion-like chemical odor entered their lives beginning during the Memorial Day holiday.
Though company officials and Georgia Environmental Protection Division say different, anyone living or traveling through north Fayette and south Fulton last weekend and earlier this week know the smell is still present. Whether the chemical odorant and pesticide MOCAP are to blame, the smell is the same that has persisted since Memorial Day.
Much information has been presented since the onion odor entered the communities nearly three months ago. But suffering on the front lines of their homes are the animals that also call the area home and those that constitute the wildlife that populate the 40-square-mile hot zone.
And like their human counterparts, many dogs and cats are experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation and problems breathing.
The difference is that some of these animals, almost all physically small in size, have died. Most died between late June and mid-August, and all since the still-present onion-like chemical began around Memorial Day.
Of the animals identified thus far as sick or dying, nearly all live within a two-mile radius of the PSC plant on Ga. Highway 92, the hottest of the hot zone.
Kodie usually stayed in the garage while Lina was at work. The nearly 1-year-old miniature Maltese dog developed vomiting and diarrhea after the onion smell appeared. He scratched from the irritation to his skin and had difficulty breathing. Nothing Lina could do would help. A few weeks later in late June, Kodie was dead.
A few houses down the street a puppy died during the same time frame, his owner beyond irate at the July 19 public meeting at Bethany United Methodist Church, demanding answers from local and state officials.
For the past eight months, 18-year-old Laura Ayala and her family have lived with an uncle on Garvey Street since their house was hit by a tornado. Laura’s 11-month-old boxer began scratching in July, losing little chunks of hair. The scratching continues today.
During the same time, her uncle’s German shepherd puppy became lethargic, often refusing to eat or drink. The puppy died in late July and was found bleeding from its mouth and rectum.
That same bleeding was found with Tanya Coleman’s puppy about a mile away on Hwy. 92. The puppy began manifesting symptoms of bloodshot eyes, loss of appetite and weight loss and bleeding from the nose and rectum in June.
Her veterinarian said the puppy had been exposed to something toxic, though the substance was unknown. Coleman said she kept the puppy inside and it began to recover. Coleman and her family live immediately north of the PSC plant.
A half-mile to the southwest on Milam Road, Linda Waits 14-year-old cat died in July. Waits described the kitty as having matted eyes and a loss of appetite even though he was a big eater.
Her dachshund is no longer ill though he did not want to eat or go outside for several weeks.
Yet there are other things going on in her back yard. With a yard that looks much like a garden, Waits usually gets plenty of birds that love to feast on her apple and fig trees. But not this year.
“They are virtually untouched this year,” Waits said. “Normally, the birds wipe out the fruit.”
A short distance away on Sandy Creek Road, Angie McEachran took in three stray kittens in late June. They quickly developed swollen joints and runny eyes. All the kittens died during the first week of July.
The 5-year-old pit bull Tiger was the only animal of substantial size thus far known to have died. Living with his family off Milam Road, Tiger had no symptoms and had been in good health prior to his death in late June. He stayed in the garage while the family was away, much like Lina’s Kodie a few blocks away, and would play in the back yard once the family came home.
What you have just read are the stories of the animals whose lives were taken from their families. And there are others, many others in the community of north Fayette and south Fulton, dogs and cats experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, scratching, hair loss, weight loss, gagging, coughing, refusing to go outside, some no longer requiring flea powder because the fleas have not come around this summer.
In some cases, family members have to force the pets outside to defecate or urinate. They do not want to go. This has been the case with the dogs that live with Kee and Connie and Nick and countless others.
Then there are the others, the birds and bees and insects. Many are scarce this summer, deep inside the hot zone, if present at all. Residents around south Fulton and north Fayette cite a marked decrease in the number of birds and insects that customarily fill the summer skies and trees.
Just up from the PSC plant, George Nicholson usually can not keep enough food in his hummingbird feeders to keep the thirsty little birds satisfied. This summer, the minute creatures have all but vanished.
His next-door neighbor, Ed Mellon, has a different mystery on his hands. A beekeeper for 30 years, Mellon moved to south Fulton in 1998. Mellon began the summer months with nine active hives, each with 20,000-50,000 bees.
Two hives died in July and two more in August. Until now, he has never lost a hive during the summer months. Mellon lives next door to the PSC plant.
Unlike humans who are quick to believe what authorities tell them and potentially slow to react to any danger around them, the animals in their midst do not suffer the same ambiguity. In nature, they tend to flee when danger comes, unless that flight is prevented by closed doors and locked fences.
“This is a terrible situation in which the government is apparently failing to protect both people and animals but it comes as no surprise to PETA,” said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Regulatory Testing Division Director Jessica Sandler. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency kills 12,000 animals, including dogs, rabbits, birds, and fish to test every pesticide such as MOCAP, so we don’t expect them to hop to when people’s dogs and cats are dying. Until the situation is resolved, we would urge people, wherever possible, to find a safer place for themselves and their companion animals and to continue to organize and speak out until everyone is protected.”
PETA has disaster preparation tips that people can consult to protect themselves and their animals at www.peta.org/feat/disastplan/.
For nearly all that live in the hot zone, there is nowhere to go. Their homes are there. Their families are there. Their lives are there. School is back in session now. And for those unable to make a decision, the dogs and cats, they, too, are at home with the families they love.
“We don’t see the birds anymore. I used to sit on the deck and drink a cup of coffee, watching the birds and listening to them chirping. But not anymore,” said Milam Road resident Kay Cavlier, turning her thoughts to her two dogs. “My two poodles have been vomiting and scratching lately. What do we do if something happens to them? These dogs are like our children.”