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Fateful Harvest

The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret

Fateful Harvest by Duff Wilson
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I see soil in a new light, and I wonder about my own lawn and garden. What have I sprinkled on my backyard? Is somebody using my home, my food, to recycle toxic waste? It seems unbelievable, outlandish -- but what if it's true?

A riveting expose, Fateful Harvest tells the story of Patty Martin -- the mayor of a small Washington town called Quincy -- who discovers American industries are dumping toxic waste into farmers' fields and home gardens by labeling it "fertilizer." She becomes outraged at the failed crops, sick horses, and rare diseases in her town, as well as the threats to her children's health. Yet, when she blows the whistle on a nationwide problem, Patty Martin is nearly run out of town.

Duff Wilson, whose Seattle Times series on this story was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, provides the definitive account of a new and alarming environmental scandal. Fateful Harvest is a gripping study of corruption and courage, of recklessness and reckoning. It is a story that speaks to the greatest fears -- and ultimate hope -- in us all.

HarperCollins; October 2009
336 pages; ISBN 9780061873768
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: Fateful Harvest
Author: Duff Wilson

Chapter One

Small-Town Stories

One night a decade earlier, as farm families were settling down in homes set back from the highway, Patty Martin drove across the bridge spanning the Columbia River and up to the plateau leading to the Quincy Valley. Cows stood quiet in the gloaming. The Milky Way glimmered in the sky. Patty could see a row of lights marking Quincy from five miles up the road.

Patty was coming home, after years far away, home again to Quincy, bringing a husband and two healthy, brown-eyed children. The cat was going crazy in Patty's car, but the children, five and two, were asleep. Glenn Martin followed in a truck with Shep, the family dog, lying quietly on the seat beside him.

Patty had spent much of her life on the move. She'd been born on Hamilton Air Force Base in California on November 6, 1956. Alfred and Erika Naigle had four sons and then Patty, followed by two other daughters. Al Naigle was a Strategic Air Command radar squadron commander. The family had moved every two years or so to bases in California, Mississippi, British Columbia, and Washington State.

Erika Naigle, a registered nurse, had done most of the child rearing while the commander came and went from assignments overseas. While Patty had balked, mulelike, at her mother's attempts to discipline her, she simply adored her father. He was a perfectionist. He had a place for everything: military honors sorted into cases, shoes lined up in the closet, stamps mounted in an immaculate collection. After Patty's mother volunteered as a Camp Fire leader for the girls and Cub Scout den mother for the boys, her father took over as a Boy Scout leader and district commissioner. Two of the four boys became Eagle Scouts.

When Al Naigle retired from the Air Force with lieutenant colonel's wings in 1963, he eventually found a sun-bleached, safe little town in which to settle down with the family. Quincy was a nineteenth-century rail stop. It had served dryland wheat farmers and well-water orchardists scratching a living out of the dust until Roosevelt and Truman tamed the galloping river that had amazed Lewis and Clark; then Quincy became a far more prosperous town.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation corralled the Columbia into narrow lakes bounded by basalt cliffs and concrete walls, most famously the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest man-made structure in history into the 1940s. The water crashed through turbines to spin the cheapest electricity in the world, helping America win World War II. The power was wired to aluminum smelters to make airplane skin for Boeing B-17s and to Hanford Atomic Works to make plutonium for the A-bomb. After the war, the bureau put the Columbia to peaceful use, pumping water behind the Grand Coulee to flood a remote valley, twenty-six miles long and one mile wide. Banks Lake, it was called. Two hundred and fifty-six feet higher in elevation than the river, it installed gravity power for irrigation flow in the greatest farming project to that time. The bureau's plan for the Columbia Basin Project called for two great canals to flow out of Banks Lake, but the money ran out after one was finished.

The West Canal ran through the Quincy Valley.

Here the water was channeled to ever-smaller canals and pipes to quench the desert soil. Irrigation brought life to a deserted area the size of New Hampshire. The settlers enjoyed the cheapest water in the nation. The farming was intense with high rates of fertilizer, pesticides, and fumigants. An average American farmer feeds fourteen people and manages by far the most productive enterprise in the eleven-thousand-year history of farming. Columbia Basin farmers grew potatoes, alfalfa, corn, wheat, apples, seed crops, asparagus, and grapes for wine. Near the highway, the water ran pure and cold in unlined ditches.

This was where the Naigles called home. The Stars and Stripes flew from porches every Fourth of July. The community celebrated a farmers' day after harvest. At Christmas the fields and lawns were blanketed with snow, and gifts covered the floor under decked-out Douglas firs. Al went to work for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Naigles had one goal in mind after years of packing and unpacking. They wanted a family place. They wanted all seven of their children to graduate from the same high school.

Patty always felt like the youngest boy, not the oldest girl, in the Naigle family. She had attended four schools by the fourth grade, invariably the youngest and tallest girl in class. By high school, Patty stood a head up on the other girls. She always felt different. She didn't have close girlfriends. She usually hung out with the boys. It was John and Fred and Ron and George and Patty. When the school stopped offering girls' track, Patty called the Superintendent and asked about Title IX entitlements for women's sports. He told her to turn out with the boys's track team. There she set the school record in the javelin. She was also president of the science club and vice president of the honor society. Patty had a steady boyfriend who was also a good student and athlete, of course. John Omlin and Patty Naigle were king and queen of the Sweetheart Dance.

"I'm the luckiest guy in the whole school," John wrote in her yearbook. "Who else do you know that has a girlfriend that is really good looking, intelligent (except when it comes to choosing a boyfriend), has a good sense of humor, has a nice personality, and who likes to turn out for sports. And also likes to get involved in activities instead of letting them go down the drain. Even though at times you can be as stubborn as a mule."

Patty was a standout basketball player from as early as she can remember. She...

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