Gage Hall: What Really Happened to One Student

About 25,000 students have lived in the Dioxin Dorms since they began to re-open in 1992, after the PCB and dioxin release of December 1991. Gradually I am meeting some of the students who lived there and began to develop health problems; every year I am approached by some. I would like to introduce you to one of those people. This is her statement, which I received in February 2012.

My name is Elzabeth Marks and in August of 1992, I was an excited twenty-one year old woman embarking on her first college dorm experience. Due to insufficient financial aid for another university, I came to SUNY New Paltz at the last moment as a transfer student. I attended the college from the fall of 1992 through August of 1994. Originally in 1992 I was placed in Shango dormitory with two eighteen year old freshman girls from NYC. Given the age difference and the small living quarters, I requested a new room assignment. I thought I was fortunate to find an opening in Gage Hall and moved in during the second week of the semester. I was not informed of the explosion earlier that year on campus or of the prior presence of PCBs and dioxins within the dorm itself.

Within a month of living in Gage Hall, I started to become ill. I had always been a healthy child and young adult so this was new to me. As the semester progressed, so did my symptoms. I experienced severe headaches, trouble eating, keeping any food in my stomach and was constantly spitting up blood.

I went to the campus health center several times and was ultimately advised to go to the hospital. I was admitted into the hospital where they pumped my body with fluids and tested my blood and urine for a cause to my symptoms. The ER doctor told me my esophagus was bleeding and I most likely had inflamed stomach ulcers that were also bleeding. Due to the severity of my condition I was given antibiotics, medications for the ulcers and placed on a liquid diet for a minimum of six weeks. I altered what I drank, ate and cut all unhealthy foods from my diet.

My life changed that day in the hospital. No longer was I a healthy young girl.

In January 1993 I moved from Gage Hall to the University Garden apartments off campus. I was slowly recovering but continued to suffer from severe headaches and digestive issues. In April 1993 I returned to my hometown for a routine examination and PAP test at my gynecologist. I was called with disturbing results that cancer cells were present on my cervix. I was asked to return immediately and meet with two additional doctors to provide a second and third opinion. It was unexpected for someone of my age to have such progressive cancer cells. After further examination and testing it was determined that I schedule surgery as soon as possible and remove the affected portions of my cervix. Three quarters of my cervix was removed.

I continued to have migraines and digestive issues that worsened over the years. I kept most of the pain at bay by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and with various prescription medications. During my one and only pregnancy I suffered a stress fracture on my left foot which through bone scans was determined to be marked osteopenia or “thinning of the bone”. The podiatrist told me that since I was only twenty-six years old, the condition was most likely due to poor nutrition. I was confused as I ate only healthy foods and took daily vitamins. Over the next five years my health deteriorated until one day I passed out in the middle of a restaurant. The medications, healthy diet and exercise were just not working.

The next two years were plagued by weekly visits to various doctors and specialists, numerous blood tests, nerve tests, allergy tests and tissue biopsies. No one could tell me why I was wasting away. There were no answers given as to why my teeth were chipping, my hair was falling out in clumps, why my fingers and toes would go go numb and why every bone ached. They tested for MS, Lupus, Chrohns, nerve disorders, Celiac and various other auto immune conditions. During this time I received weekly vitamin injections to insure my body was absorbing the vitamins and nutrients it needed.

At last, one doctor advised me to try the gluten free diet. I was willing to try anything; I was slowly dying and I knew it. I started to get stronger and over the course of a year was able to quit taking the medications and vitamin injections. My body still required vigilance in taking vitamins and strength training. To this day I am not 100% healthy and each day is a struggle with some sort of pain. The illnesses have effected job attendance, performance, capability to be a mother and wife and the overall quality of life I am able to lead.

When I think of all the health issues that I have been through and how it all began, I am extremely sad. It does not seem to be a coincidence that I became severely ill the semester after the PCB and dioxin cleanup. How could a the story of a prior healthy girl living in a dorm that was exposed to severe toxins be spitting up blood be overlooked?

The chain of events which started for me in the fall of 1992, and continues today, twenty years later.

— Elizabeth M. Marks

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