Many, many nights, we were walking
through vapor clouds, and you could see it. You know how a hot road
looks down a long straight? Well, thats exactly what it looks
like: wavy. We would complain about it, and they would pacify us
by saying, there's no long- term problem. You might have an immediate
reaction like nausea, but that's only normal. Don't worry about
Ray Reynolds was 35 years old when his symptoms began intestinal
bleeding then followed by blackouts and memory loss frightening
indications that there might be progressive nerve damage. A physician
finally diagnosed toxic neuropathy, a disease likely related to
exposures to chemicals. Now, at age 43, Reynolds does not know how
long he has to live. Too little is known about what is apparently
I've always respected authority, and I was gullible and naive.
When the people that was their job to know if you were safe
or not would tell me that I was safe, I took it for granted
that I was safe.
Ray Reynolds worked for a chemical plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
It was a good paying job as he and his wife, Denise, were raising
their three children. Then ten years ago, he was named a member
of the health and safety committee of his labor union.
When anyone died inside the local union, my job was to bring
them a Bible and a check from the union. And we would do that within
the first 24 hours, so the widow and the family would have some
money to live on until the insurance would come in. And I started
seeing people getting sick and people dying.
Those he saw dying were not only workers. His mother taught school
in a small community across the street from the plant, a community
where the water supply had been contaminated. People were sick there,
"Most of these people were still using shallow wells, had no
idea that they were sitting on top of contaminants, no idea. They
were still using these shallow wells to feed their livestock, to
pour over their gardens, and the mortality rate in the you're
going to have to help me because my brain process the babies
born with deformities, illnesses, were horrifying, horrifying. But
these people were the poorest of the poor. They had no ability to
defend themselves. None."
Ray Reynolds helped create a hand-lettered wooden sign listing the
names of some of the workers as well as those in the community
across the street who had died.
"I want it up in marble. I wanted something there: a monument
to these people that all they wanted to do was earn a living. And
what's even worse than that was the citizens that lived nearby,
they did nothing wrong. They've been there for 200 years in that
settlement. Here comes an industry and moves there, and they die."
In the living room of his house a few miles from the chemical plant
where he worked for 16 years, Ray Reynolds waits out the last days
of his life.
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"The time I have left, I'm going to spend hugging and loving
my children and my family."