Reader urges VanderWall to look further down the road with legislation


Dear Rep. VanderWall,

Congratulations on receiving the “Cancer Fighter Award” for your bill to improve patients’ access to oral chemotherapy drugs.

Cancer is no stranger to my family. I lost my 35 year-old husband to Ewing’s sarcoma (a non-genetic cancer) in 2008 and alone have raised three sons from preschool to their teens. In 2014, my sister lost her 38 year-old husband to a glioblastoma and has raised three young daughters without their father. While I applaud your efforts to improve treatment options for cancer patients, I am perplexed by your support for legislation that undermines my family’s health.

You voted for a bill (HB 4205) that, in effect, prevents the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality from enacting rules more stringent than those of the federal government. At a time when our leaders in D.C. are dismantling environmental protections, this law would limit us to the same weak standards.

In addition, you supported legislation (SB 652-4) creating an independent committee to reject or change Michigan Department of Environmental Quality rules. Similar laws in Indiana and Maine have led to oversight committees composed chiefly of industry representatives, allowing would be polluters to shape environmental laws.

To you, the owner of a successful lawn company, perhaps environmental laws seem burdensome. I, on the other hand, have little faith in industry’s ability to police itself and to keep my family safe.

I, along with my husband and brother-in-law, was raised in Montague, a Michigan toxic hotspot still recovering from its polluted past. In Montague, purge wells protect White Lake indefinitely from a groundwater plume containing C56, a deadly neurotoxin determined to pose a risk to unborn children. A clay vault the size of 14 football fields contains nearly a million cubic feet of Hooker Chemical Company’s toxic waste. Almost 40 years after the State of Michigan settled with Hooker in the largest environmental settlement of its time, residences still wonder if toxins from Hooker and numerous other industries in the area caused their illnesses.

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist who battled bladder cancer in her early 20s while attending the University of Michigan, began her book “Living Downstream” with a parable. She described a village along a river in which residents began to discover a steady stream of people drowning. The villagers were kind and rescued those drowning; however, they became so engrossed in the victims’ resuscitation that they failed to look upstream to see who was pushing them into the river in the first place. Steingraber uses this parable to point out the short-sightedness of treating our illnesses while failing to consider their environmental causes.

I applaud you, Rep. VanderWall, for sponsoring laws that enable more cancer patients to receive care. Like the kindly villagers, you are doing your part to resuscitate those who have fallen victim to cancer. Now, I urge you, for the sake of your family and mine, to support environmental legislation that takes an unflinching look upstream.

Polly Schlaff


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