May 21st, 2000
7. Family Fighting Illness
|Tammy (left) and Marleen work on a customer's
hair. After surgery to remove a brain tumor,
Marleen is unable to work long hours. (Susanville,
|Sick Wife and Daughter
Suing the military to halt explosions
Sisters Tammy Pastor (34) and Marleen Norvell
(30) run a beauty salon in the main commercial
building in downtown Susanville, California.
They are quite skillful at cutting hair and
Needs a cane to walk
In February 1998, Marleen underwent surgery
at a hospital in Reno, Nevada, to remove
a brain tumor. The damage that accompanied
her surgery means she must take drugs for
the rest of her life to make certain organs
While the two sisters served customers, I
sat in a room behind the salon interviewing
their parents Jack (59) and Sally Pastor
(57). Five years ago, Sally's fingers began
to curl inward and she experienced severe
joint pain. Today, she has difficulty walking
without a cane.
"Before I got sick I used to roller
skate and play golf. I was so healthy people
were jealous of me." Sitting in a chair,
she looked at the stiff, curled hand on her
knee. "After a bunch of tests, they
found high levels of uranium."
The Pastors and their four children moved
to this area from the outskirts of Sacramento
in 1981. Jack was transferred here by his
employer, a telephone company. "The
kids were surrounded by nature. We were all
so happy. We really thought we had come to
Jack retired in 1991. He became a successful
developer, building homes and other buildings
around the town. In 1987, he was president
of the local Chamber of Commerce. In 1993,
when rumors arose that the Sierra Army Depot
in Lassen County might be closed, he went
as president of the county Economic Development
Commission to the depot to make a strong
appeal for its survival.
"More than a thousand people right around
here were working at that base. I was thinking
about economic development and securing jobs,
but now I wonder what in the world I was
doing. I am ashamed of myself for unknowingly
sacrificing the health of my family and other
Listening and beginning to question
In 1995, Jack began to question the role
of the military facility. During live TV
coverage of Congressional hearings about
the diseases afflicting the Gulf War veterans,
he heard military officials testify that
toxic substances from explosions can travel
over 40 miles (64 kilometers) in the smoke.
It is less than 30 miles (48 kilometers)
from the disposal site to Susanville. Furthermore,
the town is at the bottom of a bowl surrounded
by high mountains. Smoke from explosions
floats into town frequently.
During his own investigation targeting the
most obvious conventional weapons, he learned
that the explosions were releasing lead,
mercury, beryllium-a total of eight carcinogenic
substances. In addition, the facility was
disposing of DU, a highly toxic heavy metal
that carries the additional danger of radioactivity.
Lassen County has nearly twice the state's
average cancer rate, including leukemia,
brain tumors, lymph cancer, and breast cancer.
And a conspicuous number of people have the
same autoimmune symptoms as Sally.
Doctor: "You're in danger."
After work, Marleen joined our conversation.
"The population of Susanville is only
15,000, but my doctor is always operating
on people from here with cancer. She told
me, 'Living in Susanville is too dangerous.
If I were you, I'd get out quick."
Tammy, who is single and has had high levels
of heavy metals detected in her body, plans
to move to a safer place in the near future.
In mid April 2000, I received an e-mail from
the Pastors. Jack's 800-member Residents
Against Munitions had joined forces with
the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, who live downwind
of the facility, and with the Rural Alliance
for Military Accountability headed by Ms.
Grace Potorti. They filed suit on April 13
to force the army to halt open-air destruction
of obsolete weapons. "And we're trying
to get an expert to help us do a more detailed
study of the impact of DU." Beneath
the magnificent, expansive Sierra Nevada
Mountain Range, the struggle of the people
of Lassen County to recover their safe and
beautiful environment has just begun.
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