by Kristen Lombardi, The Center for Public Integrity
It was December 29, 1998, six years after Jill McElheney and her family had moved next to a cluster of 12 petroleum storage tanks. Jill was escorting her son Jarrett, then 4, to the doctor again.He had spent the day slumped in a stroller, looking so pale and fatigued that a stranger stopped her to ask if he was all right.
It was an encounter Jill couldn’t shake. For the previous three months, she had noticed her once-energetic preschooler deteriorating. He complained of pain in his knee, which grew excruciating. It migrated to his shoulder and then his leg. His shins swelled, as did his temples. At night, Jarrett awoke drenched in sweat, screaming from spasms. Jill took him to a pediatrician and an infectious-disease specialist. A rheumatologist diagnosed him with anemia.
Now, as Jarrett lay listless, Jill found herself back at the pediatrician’s office. Tests confirmed a blood count so low that she was instructed to get him to an emergency room immediately. Within hours she was at a hospital in Atlanta, some 65 miles from her home in Athens, watching nurses rush in and out of Jarrett’s room. Doctors identified a common form of childhood leukemia. “I heard the words,” Jill recalled, “and I only knew the bald heads and the sadness.”
In the waiting room, family members heard more unsettling news: A neighbor’s child also had developed leukemia. Read the entire story.