Adding narrative detail









The story so far – Stage One • Stage Two • Stage Three, new detail in black, quotes underlined:

Joseph Plant was born a healthy, happy baby. His parents, Rose and Ash Plant, set him up in a crib by a window in their house in Charleston, West Virginia.

Soon Joseph started losing his reflexes and acting as though his stomach hurt.

He was unable to keep food down.

Joseph had blisters all over him and he started excreting a yellow fluid through the pores of his skin.

The Plants took Joseph to the doctor, they learned that his diaphragm had stopped working properly so that when he breathed, his lungs moved out of sync with each other.

The Plants consulted several other doctors, all of whom were baffled. “One of them said he had a virus; another said he had a milk allergy, etc.“*

Now we know it was because he couldn’t breathe,” said his mom in a later interview.

The Plants suspected that their son had been poisoned by pesticides.

Once a month, the Plants had a local pest control company send someone to their house to spray for ants, roaches and other bugs.

Three weeks after they brought Joseph home from the hospital, the exterminator paid them a visit. He followed his usual routine, coating baseboards and windowsills throughout the house with a pesticide called Dursban mixed with another organophosphate pesticide Propetamphos – including, it turned out, the bedroom where the newborn lay sleeping.

Joseph’s crib was right below the windowsill, the exterminator was not aware that Joseph was in the room when he did it. By the time he sprayed the windowsill, it was too late.

The active ingredient in Dursban is Chlorpyrifos – one of the commonest pesticides used by pest control companies. Every year in the United States, there are thousands of cases of chlorpyrifos poisoning, symptoms of which include nausea, muscle weakness, loss of reflexes, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhoea.

Faced with the traumatic injury and lifetime of expensive medical bills, the family decided to sue Dursban’s maker Dow Chemical for damages.

At first, the company followed its normal course of action and prepared to fight the case in court.

But then it changed its mind and decided to settle with the family for more than $10 million although the exact terms of the out-of-court settlement are not known because a condition of the settlement was that the family sign a confidentiality agreement.

Today, at ten years old – an age when most kids can swing a bat or kick a soccer ball – Joseph is confined to his home with 24-hour nursing care and must use an oxygen system to breath. Since he was poisoned as an infant, Joseph has experienced no muscle growth, no nerve development, and no bone growth.


Value as a story:

Still nowhere near strong enough. Now we have the beginnings of the personal story, but there are only two direct quotes and only one from Joshua’s mother*, whom we would expect to be a powerful focus of emotion in the story.

The health impact on the child is described only in terms of symptoms and we have no insight into the pain it must have caused to the baby, and the anguish felt by his terrified parents.

We begin to have some sketchy detail about the pesticide, Dursban, but we need much more to get a fuller sense of what has happened to this child and so many others. Why was such a dangerous chemical permitted for home use?

Lastly the company’s actions are still not explained, thus the out-of-court settlement could be read as an act of responsibility and humanity (as the Bhopal settlement is also portrayed) rather than a commercial calculation.

*For this exercise we have changed the names of the family and all quotes from Joseph’s parents are imagined examples inspired by the real case. Quotes attributed to the corporation are accurate as reported.

Next stage: Deepen and strengthen

Add more facts about Dursban/chlorpyrifos and a more detailed examination of the actions of the company