Health Makeover

    Discovering that she was living on a Superfund site led Mary Ann Perlman to search for non-toxic alternatives for everything from foods to cleaning supplies to medications. She has embraced a clean living lifestyle ever since.

    Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.


    Sometimes, even though we know the importance of clean, healthy living, it takes something dramatic to encourage a lifestyle change. That was the case for Mary Ann Perlman, who had a family history of heart problems, yet didn’t fully embrace healthy living until she found out her first home with her husband and two young children was located on a toxic waste site in Neshanic, NJ.

    That was back in 1980, and it forced her to live as healthy and contaminant-free a lifestyle as possible and avoid succumbing to high blood pressure and heart disease like everyone else in her family.

    “I will never forget the day we found out about it,” recalls Mary Ann, a former journalist. “A guy came to install our phones, and he said ‘Did you hear about the water?’”

    They’d recently moved into a small three season camp on an acre of land. It was located on a river in a valley with a large dairy farm on the land that plateaued above them on both sides. Neshanic is a bucolic town with a close community of people who are more like family than neighbors.

    New Jersey currently has 105 Superfund sites, more than any other state. In 1980 the Superfund list had just been created. Mary Ann, along with several neighbors, went to the local press and PBS news stations in order to bring awareness to her home, and begin the process necessary to get the site on the Superfund list so the government could clean it up.

    It took nearly 15 years for that to happen. In the meantime, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) delivered drinking water to her home every day… “those huge five-gallon plastic containers that you see at sporting events,” she recalls. And she began asking questions on how to keep her family healthy while living in that toxic situation.

    First step was to clean out her cleaning products cabinets.

    “One of the agents went through my cleaning products cabinet and lined everything up on the counter,” Mary Ann recounts. “He showed me the ingredients in each of the different bottles and cans and explained how each product contained small amounts of toxic substances. I asked why anything toxic would be ever allowed. He said the job of the government was to evaluate each of these products and the impact each one would have on an individual person. Our bodies are born with substances that eliminate small amounts of toxins that we may ingest or breathe in each day. But, since every person buys different cleaning supplies, there is no way to tell what the combined effect of many products have on the individuals living in that household.”

    She immediately replaced all her cleaning products with vinegar and lemons – “what people used before these products were formulated.” Then she changed her family’s eating habits to include more vegetables and “less packaged food products that contained chemicals and ingredients I couldn’t pronounce.”

    Complicating matters for Mary Ann: she came from a family where heart disease was prevalent (everyone in her maternal and paternal family was on heart medication by their 40s), and she knew she was at risk for the same. She’d had stomach aches most of her life and was diagnosed with pervasive gastroenteritis (prior to learning she had celiac years later.) Living in the toxic waste site made her sensitive to many chemicals and pharmaceuticals she was prescribed, incurring side effects that were worse than the actual illness. At one point she took a prescription proton pump inhibitor that was designed to reverse the gastroenteritis and hopefully heal the stomach lining. After two doses she had severe side effects and had to stop the medication.

    Fortunately, the alternatives that would make the difference could be found at her local health food store. She began searching for an alternative to high blood pressure medication and, through a discussion with a fellow patron at her local health food market, she discovered cacao. By adding a tablespoon of raw organic cacao to her coffee each morning, she was able to lower her systolic blood pressure to normal levels. But her diastolic number remained high. She learned that the supplement CoQ10 could help lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. She immediately began taking that supplement, and within a few months she was able to stabilize her blood pressure to 100/70.

    The Superfund site was cleaned up in the early 1990s and Mary Ann and her family moved out of the house in 1995. Today her children are healthy, and she continues to live without the need of blood pressure medication. If it wasn’t for living on a toxic waste site, she’s not sure that would be the case. “I was the only one in my family who did not have a bad heart,” she shares. “I credit that to the healthy lifestyle I was forced to adapt to while living in a toxic waste site.”