The Massena Environmental Health and Justice website started as an ecological art project by Lisa Taliano and Maria Patricia Tinajero.
Lisa Taliano grew up on Richard Street in Massena. Her father died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma when he was 53, and her mother died of Breast Cancer when she was 61. Both her and her sister have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and Breast Cancer are two forms of cancer that are linked to PCBs. These personal injuries have ignited her passion to pursue the truth behind the links between our health, toxic chemicals and the environment.
Through our research we've learned that PCBs are so pervasive there isn’t a place on the planet that wouldn’t test positive for them, or a human being that doesn’t have PCBs in their blood. We are saddened and outraged by this injustice, but we know we have to be methodical and persistent as citizen scientists, and find creative ways to engage in solidarity and collective action as we come to terms with the damage inflicted upon us. Because chemical industries like Monsanto manufacture ignorance and uncertainty, we need to collectively conduct our own scientific research, and share that in a way that is meaningful and accessible to everyone. We intend to do this through a grassroots people’s led epidemiological study of the illnesses and afflictions of Massena using personal narratives as data drawn onto an online map of the town.
In typical epidemiological studies, the researcher has an authoritative omniscient perspective, but to what extent is the subject included? As artists and activists, we see that the problem is not just about missing data, which we need to collect, but that it is also about the nature of the scientific data collected. We are looking to complement the scientific data with data that takes into account emotional and experiential information. By collecting their stories and engaging with the people of the town, the people become agents and not just an object of study.
People suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses feel isolated and alone. In mapping the town, and asking people to submit their photos and stories for insertion into our online map, we seek to enable interaction in real life. We hope that the participants will suddenly see that they are not alone, that the person next door with a similar problem is someone they can reach out to, and that the issue they struggle with is a collective, not an individual problem.
Putting the subject back into science through personal narratives which give an emotional and experiential perspective to the health and environmental data collected, allows participants, as well as researchers, to cope with our grief and loss, and to proceed to healing, remembering, and resisting.