EXCERPTS FROM VILLAGER INTERVIEWS
Elena Shapovalova (27 years old)
The following interview was conducted in November 2003 in Berezovka, Kazakhstan.
My name is Elena Shapovalova, I am 27 years old. I am a teacher here at the school in Berezovka.
Question: Where are you from?
In 1996 I moved to Berezovka from a region just south of Uralsk to teach. I was married here, gave birth to a daughter and made many friends.
Question: When did your daughter’s symptoms first appear and how did you first know she was sick?
My daughter first began showing signs of illness when she was 11 months old; at 11 months she began fainting. I took her to hospitals in Uralsk and Aksai and finally to Orenburg and every doctor we saw shook their fingers at us and said the exact same thing: the environment has a strong influence on the health of a child; in other words “you need to move away from that area as fast as you can.” But what they don’t understand is that is takes a great deal of money to move to a new place and that is just not an option for us, nor do we know where else to go. Therefore we will stay here and wait for a decision.
Question: Are you also sick?
Yes, my husband and I are also sick. Just a month ago I fainted and was taken to the hospital due to a build-up of salt in my kidneys. The doctors told me this was because of our water and although the municipal government insists over and over that our water is clean and potable, I don’t believe them. If our water wasn’t so bad, this would have never happened to me.
In addition, I am constantly out of breath, although I don’t have bronchitis or asthma. Again, as soon as the doctors discovered that I am from Berezovka, they again shook their fingers and said “what more do you want? You just have to get away from there.”
And my husband is also very sick, in part because he lives here in Berezovka, but also because he works at the oil field. His exposure is two times higher than ours. He constantly returns home from work with nose bleeds and head aches and chest pains-it’s extremely frightening. Of course if he were presented with the opportunity to work someplace else he would gladly accept.
Question: Does he have a good job?
If other work were available, even if it paid less, he would leave, just to avoid exposure to that horrible air.
Question: Did you experience these illnesses before you moved to the village?
No, when I moved here in 1996 I considered myself to be a very healthy, strong person. I never would have guessed that I would be in the kind of situation I am now. Especially the last three years I have noticed that the health of not only my family but also those who live around me, continues to get worse. I see how my friends, who are around the same age as me, constantly walk up to me with tears in their eyes saying that their children are terribly ill.
For the most part children are suffering from chronic problems such as constant coughs and runny noses and they can’t seem to get better because of the air. For example, if I ever take my daughter with me to visit her grandmother who lives just south of Uralsk, all of her symptoms go away; literally three days after we leave, my daughter feels better without the help of any medication. And I’ve noticed this with other children as well. Whenever they leave for vacation and travel to a different region all of their symptoms disappear. No sooner do they return to Berezovka and all of their ailments return. This has been the situation for the last 3 years; 3 or 4 years maybe. Suffice it to say that every year the condition of our environment becomes worse and worse.