The General Electric plant in Peterborough has been a city landmark for over a century. What was once seen as a beacon of progress, is now blamed by some as the cause of hundreds of cases of cancer developed in former workers.
 Marilyn Harding worked at General Electric for almost 40 years and has survived bladder and breast cancer. A photo taken a few months after her daughter's birth shows her assembling lead heating cables, a task she completed beside an asbestos machine, which she says contaminated the entire work station.
 Marilyn Harding met her husband Gerry when she was 16 at the Church of the Nazarene in Peterborough. They worked at the plant together for decades. He died in 2010 from pancreatic cancer. On special occasions like his birthday and their anniversary, Marilyn visits his grave site. "I know he's not here anymore, but you still need somewhere to come," she says on a Thanksgiving trip to the cemetery.
 On Mondays and Thursdays former GE workers volunteer their time to meet across the street from the plant. For up to six hours each day, they map the usage of some of the 20 known human carcinogens formerly used in their work place. Bob DeMatteo, a retired occupational disease expert helping the group, sometimes uses a gavel to keep order during heated discussions.
 An environmental study from the 1990s showed elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in aquatic life in the Otonabee River and advised consumption restrictions. Lock 19, which sits along the river, south of plant, is a popular fishing destination for locals and visitors. Rick Lefley (right), 75, a retired GE worker, has been fishing at the lock since he was 12-years-old. The Ministry of Environment is in the midst of a long term environment program to track PCBs in the Otonabee.
 Peterborough's industrial legacy has left some concerned about the environment. City authorities have tackled issues like PCB contamination at old landfills like this one off Harper Road.
 Roger Fowler was 46 years old when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and was forced to stop working at GE after 22 years of employment. He was left with a permanent colostomy, which has resulted in several hernias. When he needs to do any heavy lifting around the house, he wraps it with tape so the bulge doesn't interfere. Removing the tape afterward causes agonizing pain.
 GE says the health and safety of its employees has always been its "number one priority." But some workers say more could have been done to protect people on the job.
 Jim Dufresne worked in GE for 42 years, since he was 16 years old. He put in a claim with workers compensation for prostate cancer, which he believes was related to unsafe chemical exposure, but his claim was denied. Dufresne, 70, says he has lost so many colleagues to cancer that he now has a hard time getting close to people. "Been to 10 or 11 funerals this year and the year isn't over," he said.
 GE's storm sewer system drains into Little Lake on the Otonabee River, where the Ministry of Environment is tracking PCB levels.
 Roger Fowler wipes away his tears while reading one of his poems during the Celebration of Life, which is an annual event organized by former GE employees to honour those who have passed from cancer.
prev / next