Smoke moving toward his dairy farm from a nearby aluminum smelter "looked like danger" and made his family gasp for breath and wipe tears from their eyes, a 68-year-old dairy farmer told a Frederick County Circuit Court jury yesterday.
Austin Z. Putman Sr., the first farmer to testify in a $4.8 million suit against Eastalco Aluminum Co., said that after the smelter opened in 1970, he noticed signs of damage to his cows and found that his trees were dying on the side that face the company.
In addition, he said, "The family as a whole can't cope with the air." Family members suffer its effects when they have to go out "to get the crops in," Putnam said.
Putnam, a member of one of the three farm families suing the company, wept as he said, "It's disturbing and all I can do is cry about it."
Putman, his wife, Norma,and his son Austin Z. Putman Jr., all took the stand yesterday to describe the damage to their farm and animals that they attribute to fluoride gas and other emissions from Eastalco. Putman bought the farm in 1948 and sold his dairy herd to his son in 1975.
"In the morning [smoke] comes across the farm. The southwest wind brings it in," said Norma Putman. The effects of the smoke vary, she said. On one occassion, the effects were so severe that she had to stay in the house because she became nauseated as soon as she opened the door, she said.
Attorneys for Eastalco have said the farm families are suing "not because of what Eastalco is or does," but simply because of Eastalcos location in their neighborhood.
Austin Putman Jr., who moved to the farm when he was 2 years old and said he started helping his father with chores at age 6, testified that milk production on the farm had dropped from an average of 40 pounds per day per cow in 1975 when he acquired the herd to approximately 30 pounds per day today. Since the advent of the smelter, "we began having a lot of problems with their [the cows'] general health," said Putman, Jr.
The Putmans operate a farm of about 180 acres, with a herd that has ranged in size from 60 to 100 cows over the past several years.
Among the problems the cows have shown Putman Jr. said, are rough coats, lameness and breeding problems. Both Putman Jr. and his father also said their cows had begun to lap up water instead of drinking it in the normal manner. A veterinarian had previously testified that fluoride damage to teeth makes drinking in a normal fashion painful to cattle.
Putman Sr. said that after the smelter began operating, he noticed the cows "wobbling a little bit. When we turned them out, we weren't sure they'd come back in," he said.
Previous testimony in the trial included testimony by a botanist and the veterinarian about the general effects of fluoride gas on plants and animals and specific testimony from expert witnesses about what they had observed on the farms of the three families.
Other testimony has revolved around the plant and its capability for controlling air pollution. Eastalco is expected to begin its case late next week.The trial is expected to last three to five weeks.