Safe Water

The following op-ed appeared in the June 1 issue of the Conway Daily Sun.

Bill Bartoswicz still recalls how the drinking water looked in his days serving in the Navy in Vietnam.

”The Army would bring in these big black bladders filled with so-called potable water,” he said. “And it was loaded with chlorine. And then the Marines would come in and they’d dump more in, so it ended up that the water had a yellowish tint to it.”

“That’s why I had Kool-Aid and things like that sent to me by my wife—just to make it look better.”

The packets of dyed sugary flavoring could not quell his suspicion that the water was less than safe to drink. A layer of oily substrate looked suspiciously like gasoline.

‘It always had that film floating on top.”

He sits on his doorstep in Ossipee. On both arms, tattoos of bald eagles spread their wings. Beside one is a butterfly with an orange ribbon symbolizing the search for a cure to multiple sclerosis. He suffers from the autoimmune disease.

“I have eight pins in my back,” he said, standing gingerly to open the door.

Inside, his wooden creations line every surface: a stunning cribbage board, elegant bowls and his crowning creation, a three-foot helicopter made in life-liked detail.

Bill started working with wood at 12 when his father, a general contractor, put him to work. In the Navy, he served as a carpenter.

American flags wave from the flag poles attached to Bill’s house. Bill’s time in the military has shaped his life, though his duties came at a personal cost. Along with his physical ailments, Bill wrestles with PTSD. Soon, he may have to deal with another all too tangible reminder of his service.

At the former Boyle’s Family Market on Route 25—only 310 feet from his home—Meena LLC seeks to open a new gas station. Geologist Bob Newton has deemed it “the worst possible location” for a gas station based on the stratified drift aquifer.

In 2011, the townspeople of Effingham stablished a Drinking Water Protection Ordinance that bans gas stations near sources of drinking water.

“They have an ordinance…Why weren’t they standing up and keeping the ordinance in place?” Bill asked.

When he and his wife moved back to the area in 2019, they wanted to make sure that their new home had clean water and had the well tested for volatile organic compounds, a known health hazard produced by gasoline.

A gas station had operated at Boyle’s, but in 2015 the tanks were removed, and the gas station rights extinguished. Bill thought he was safe. The installation of a new gas station seems like a cruel twist of fate.

Unsafe drinking water is only one of the numerous dangers during his time in Vietnam.  Every day for a year, Agent Orange rained down on him as he built foot bridges in the dense jungles. After returning from Vietnam, both of his children suffered birth defects. He finds it hard to trust the government.

Visiting this day is his neighbor and friend, Tammy McPherson, who has 13 grandchildren as well as many young people who she has taken under her wing.

“Half the kids around town call me mom,” McPherson says.

Recently, they’ve been in contact more because of their shared concerns about the proposed gas station. Both have ample reason for alarm. Pointing to a long scar across her back, Tammy says, “I’ve had lymph node cancer twice. I’m in remission, but I haven’t been feeling great lately.”

A friend recently revealed a sobering context for her diagnosis. In La Mirada Calif., where Tammy grew up, “our school cheerleading took place in the fields right next to a Chevron oil field.”

A 2008 class action lawsuit claimed that oil giant Chevron hid the dangers of their pipeline. Tammy said she has heard that Chevron distributed hush money to her classmates to cover up the issue.

The McPhersons moved back to Ossipee in 2008, while Boyle’s still operated a gas station. She recalls being unable to spend time in her yard “because all you could smell was the gas fumes.”

When the gas tanks were removed in 2015 her husband built her a heart-shaped fire pit and a fountain in their backyard. They roast marshmallows and enjoy sitting outside. The new proposal threatens to bring their household back indoors.

“I’ve been through enough. I don’t want my grandkids to have to go through what I’ve been through because someone didn’t care about the gas in the water or the gas in the air.”

As abutters, Bill and Tammy have attended meetings about the gas station. They stopped going because they felt disgusted, Tammy said.

“They don’t let us have comments,” she explained. “I sit there for two or three hours and they don’t even let me open my mouth.”

Ultimately, Bill and Tammy’s hope is to continue living without the risk to their health. The battle over the gas station continues into its third year. For Bill, it’s a test of endurance, but not his first.

Tammy says: ‘You have to be thankful for the things you have. It’s the little things.”

“I don’t want to not be able to make memories because of toxic fumes or a mishap happened at the gas station.”

Tara Wu is an Americorps volunteer serving at Squam Lake in Holderness.

1 comment

  1. Baffin 2 months ago June 2, 2024

    These are abutters not just “neighbors” and they bravely have continued to speak out to protect their water as well as their neighbors water. We all live down stream/


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