Dale Gilbert would be the first to admit his condition has improved. He can putter in the yard a bit. He can control his temper. His hands appear fairly steady.
But the tremor is still there, discernible in an otherwise firm handshake. He still has the headache he has had for a year and a hald. His joints still ache. His left eye still does not react to light. He is still sterile.
Worse than the physical symptoms of Kepone poisoning were the psychic pain of a self-image temporarily destroyed, marital roles reversed and a life-style forever altered.
"Prior to this time, Dale had been the primary figure in our family, as far as taking responsibility, and then it totally went to me," said Gilbert's wife, Jan. "I didn't think it would be, but it was actually a bigger shock for Dale. He was totally stripped not only of his responsibility, but his ability to handle responsibility," she said as her husband sat across the room, listening."I could feel a lot of grief he went through over his inability to support the family, and to handle financial matters and to simply handle the responsibilities of a parent and husband."
"People think of the word disabled," said Gilbert, and they think 'he doesn't get up and go to work,' but that's only like the tip of the iceberg . . . I'll tell you, it's quite ego shattering. I've always, since I was a kid, had my own responsibility, making money . . . And all of a sudden you can't go out and rake leaves. That's a terrible thing. I don't think you can describe it unless you go through it."
Dale Gilbert is one of some 60 men and women who were poisoned by Kepone, a roach and ant poison manufactured in a converted garage her by the Life Science Products Co., where Gilbert was employed. Not only Life Science workers, but their families, a Hopewell sewer system worker and a truck driver also were sickened by Kepone.
Jan Gilbert has an enlarged liver and an enlarged spleen as a result of Kepone. She was not a Life Science employee. She washed her husband's clothes.
Her children, too, were affected by the poisoning, both directly and indirectly. Their blood showed unusually high levels of Kepone, although the levels have dropped.Their school grades plummeted as a result of the upset at home.
"When I think back to the initial shock of it, the kids handled it quite well, don't you think?" Gilbert asked his wife.
"Well, I don't know," she replied, "every one of them went down in their grades at school. They all had a real hard time in school last year . . . They did very poorly and had behavior problems.
One of the factors upsetting the children was the role reversal in the family, said Gilbert. "She'd been used to me taking care of the money problems and bills and things. All of a sudden, everything was shoved back on her and I wasn't able to do anything. We were short of money and she had to make the decisions of who we would pay this time and who we wouldn't."
Another problem, said Gilbert, was that he "had a lot of little problems controlling my temper and thigns like that." One physician who has examined and cared for some of the Kepone victims said that the sickest of the men exhibited what would be described as personality changes, such as loss of their ability to control their outbursts of temper.
Gilbert and 56 other victims of the Kepone poisoning recently settled a suit they had filed against Allied Chemical Corp., which was Life Science's sole customer for Kepone and Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corp., which provided some of the main raw ingredients for the pesticide.
The victims are not allowed to discuss the terms of the settlement, in part, because there are other suits still pending, but Nicky Shown, one of the poisoned chemical workers, said during a recent interview:
Five hundred million dollars wouldn't make me the person I was two years ago. They done took that from me. That's the way I look at it."
Those familiar with the situation generally agree that Shown, a high-school drop-out was the most seriously affected of the Life Science workers. Things were so bad at one point that Shown thought of suicude, he said.
Living with Kepone seems to have been harder for Shown, who is divorced, than it has been for Gilbert, who had his wife and children for support.
Shown, 26, went to Life Sciences right out of jail, where he had spent "seven months and five days" on a non-support charge.
"With the overtime," he said, "I wasn't doing bad. I ranged anywhere from $1410 on up to over $200 a week" in take-home pay.
As a "dryer" at the plant, loading the Kepone into drums, he came in constant contact with the powder. It only took about three weeks for the tremors to start.
Shown said he said he knows very little about the disease."I just know one thing . . . They say that it's possible that I could catch cancer from it. But I don't know. No one knows that for sure."
Shown does know for sure if he is sterile.
Asked if he had thought of marrying again, he said, "Sure but I know it's going to be hard to do. I mean, who in the hell wants a man that's got Kepone and can't have kids? Just the thought of it scares half of them (women) off."
"I tell you," he said "it's really made a hardship on my life, completely, all the way around. "I mean, it's made it just very hard. Because you know, people don't seem to be the same. It seems like its changed my life style and everything a little bit . . . (People) joke and tease you and joke about you. They just kind of rib you and give you a hard time. It gets on my nerves sometimes. I've gotten in little scraps here and there.
"There's always a smart mouth somewhere," said Shown.
When asked if he had thought of leaving Hopewell for a while, Shown replied, "Yeah, I've thought about it. Where will I go? What will I do? If you don't know anybody it just makes it harder."
Although the workers cannot discuss the amount of their settlement with the chemical companies, they have said their medical bills have been taken care of by workman's compensation or the settlements, and Dale and Jan Gilbert are thinking of returning to the Southwestern Virginia mountains where Gilbert was raised. They might buy a small store with their settlement, Gilbert says.
But for Nicky Shown, Hopewell is home. And because he is too weak to work at most jobs he spends most of his time just "piddling around." There is little, he said to do in Hopewell, a gray, single story town that gives the appearance of existing solely to supply labor to the giant chemical manufacturing firms that inhabit it.
"If I was a young kid again, back in school, 16, 17, 18, you know, young, (there are) all kinds of things to do - get out and play in the snow, go up town and just play the pinball machines and stuff, just mess around."
"But now, anywhere I go, all I see is a bunch of young kids and nobody I know. Everybody I know is going to school or moved away or married. They just don't come out. I don't ever see 'em. I just don't see anybody I used to know. It makes if difficult too, I mean, hell, who wants to go in someplace and sit down and be by themselves. Everybody likes to talk a little bit." said Shown.
"Hope everything works out," said a reporter as Shown got out of the parked car in front of his parents home here and headed for the house.
Nicky Shown leaned back into the auto: "Yeah, I'm sure everything will work out. I want toget straightened out anyway."