Three Mile Island Witness Testimonials

The following three testimonials are from “Three Mile Island: The People’s Testament,” (1989), a series of interviews with approximately 250 Three Mile Island (TMI) area residents from 1979 to 1988 done by Katagiri Mitsuru, Professor of Social Psychology at Kyoto Seika University and Aileen M. Smith, free-lance journalist and co-author of the book Minamata.


Marie Holowka, Farmer, Zion’s View, PA

After the TMI accident, Marie was treated for thyroid problems. She was subsequently diagnosed for cancer and has since had several operations and is currently receiving chemotherapy. She lives with her two sisters and brother. The Holowka’s have had many animal problems on their farm since the time TMI began operation in 1974. Here Marie talks about the morning of the accident. (The distance from the milk house to the house is a little over 100 feet.)

“I went to the barn around four, four-thirty (in the morning). We were milking cows. And the barn started to shake. And I heard a rumble like underground. Well, I wouldn’t say an earthquake. But it was going like ‘brrup, brrup, brrup.’ And then it shook and shook and we didn’t hear the big rumbles. But every now and then you could hear a rumbling in the ground. And Paul, my brother, was with me and he says, ‘That’s an earthquake.’ I said, ‘Paul, it don’t sound like an earthquake. Earthquake, it just rattles. But you don’t hear the noise, the brrup, brrup.’ It just (was) like there was boiling water coming underground. And I said, ‘I think something happened at Three Mile Island.’ Then we kept milking.

And Paul left me about six o’clock. He wanted to listen to the radio to hear what was going on; if it was an earthquake or what. And I finished milking cows a little bit after seven. And I came in the milk house and I cleaned it up to get ready for the milk truck. And so, about ten after seven, I started for the house, ‘cause I’ve been working since early morning. And I looked outside. It was so blue! It was so blue! I couldn’t see ten feet ahead of myself! I got scared.

So I walked out and I’m going to the house. There’s a stone walk there. And I fell down, see. But I was scared and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I stumbled.’ And I went about twenty feet away from the milk house. That poison gas must have hit me. I tumbled. And then I finally got myself up and I’m going in. And I went forty feet more, and I fell down again. And I said to myself, ‘Well, this must be poison gas, because I know I didn’t stumble. I just collapsed.’ And I couldn’t get up. I’d try to get up and I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t get no strength to get up. I finally got myself up, and I went towards where those flowers are. Then I fell down (again). And I said, “Oh, my. Now I really know something happened at Three Mile Island! It must be poison gas. I just fell down. I had no strength to get up. I said, ‘Must I really die at Three Mile Island.’

And I stayed there and I struggled. Nobody came out of the house to see me or nothing. So, I finally got up after struggling there maybe five minutes or so. I walked to the house. I opened the door. I stumbled into the house. I said to them, ‘Did you hear anything about Three Mile Island?’ They said, ‘No, we didn’t.’ I said, ‘You know what happened to me. I fell down three times before I could come to the house.’ I was just something like a drunk.

We stayed in the house. It was blue. You couldn’t see anything or nothing. And we were scared. Everything was blue. Everywhere was blue. Couldn’t see the building or anything. It was just heavy blue all that time. We closed up our doors. We stuffed rags underneath the door so this wouldn’t come in. But I think it was all the way in.

And we stayed there. It was a warm day. It was a hot day. It was so hot. We shut all the windows and all the doors and we stayed inside. And about nine (AM), we listened to the local radios. But they wouldn’t say anything. They were only playing Dolly Parton’s music…”

(It is quite certain that Marie’s above account took place on March 28th. However, her account of media coverage on evacuation follows right after, leading to the possibility that this passage may have occurred on Thursday.)

(Further description of her walk from the milk house to the house.) “You just got to feel funny. You’d just get an awful feeling in your body. Just like a pinching feeling going through you. Like electricity would be going through you. Did you ever get pinched with an electric fence? That kind of little shocks. All the way through your body. You could feel it going through your system. And in my nose, and in my mouth. And then you could taste like a copper taste in your mouth. I could taste that. And then I just got to feel so bad. Nothing was biting me, but you just had that feeling. I just started to get weak. I just got real weak. I thought I was scared. I guess I just folded up and fell over. I couldn’t get up. I didn’t have no strength to get myself up. Or my brain or something wasn’t working. I couldn’t get my coordination to get up. I don’t remember if I was conscious or not. I guess I wasn’t conscious when I went down, because I don’t remember going down, see. And I fell on the stones. I was lucky that I didn’t get broken bones.

Nothing like that ever happened to me before or ever since. Nothing.”
(Marie said the blueness, as well as the taste, lasted several days. )
(Interviewed August 12, 1986.) [Marie died of cancer in 1992.]


Jean Trimmer, Farming, Lisburn, PA, 54 years old.

“Friday evening, it was very windy and the rain was falling steadily at our farm. Our cat named Friday had gone out to relieve himself, and when he didn’t come back to the window sill within a reasonable length of time, I became worried, for I could hear him mewing in a very strange fashion. His mewing was more of a howl than a meow. Thinking that he would come as soon as I had opened the front door, I did not bother to put on a coat, but only put a scarf over my head since I had just washed and set my hair. Friday didn’t come as expected. So I went to the front porch, standing back against the wall of the house and called and called to him. He kept howling. So I went over to the banister, leaned over, and called him again.

The wind had been blowing steadily from the north to the south. When suddenly, there was a moment of intense stillness. The wind stopped abruptly, and a wave of heat engulfed me, bringing the rain in all over me. It happened so quickly that it startled me and made such an impression on my mind that to this day I still relive, over and over, those few minutes. I cannot get away from them.

The cat finally came, and I bent down to wipe the rain from his coat, and we both went in. I was thoroughly disgusted when I felt my own hair which became soaked about halfway back because the wind had blown my scarf nearly off. Then I did a really dumb thing. I washed my face and hands with soap and water and only dried rain from my arms, neck, shoulders and legs with a towel, not using any soap and water. About an hour later, my skin, including the skin on my face and arms had become pink and very prickly. I excused myself from the people in the living room, went to the bathroom and scrubbed all the exposed areas with soap and warm water. Then I applied a lotion to those parts that had been uncovered. Before I went to the bathroom, a neighbor had come to the door asking my husband to help spread the word that there was real trouble at TMI, and gave him a handful of papers with evacuation directions on them, and would he please distribute them to the people living on beyond our property. So he and our daughter left to do that immediately.

On Saturday, my skin was a darker shade of red and extremely irritated, while the front part of my scalp was itchy to the point where I had to scratch almost constantly. On Sunday morning, several people at church asked me where I had got my sunburn. My face, arms, neck and legs were quite red. And small, hard bumps had come out on my forehead and up into the front of my scalp. On Tuesday, I washed my hair again using three applications of shampoo instead of the usual two. The itch was awful.

About three weeks later, white hairs appeared all through the front of my hair and the tops of my eyebrows were white. The hair came out in my comb in unbelievable amounts. I could now see my scalp through the thin hair on the front half of my head. I made an appointment with the person who gives me my permanent and he in turn gave my head some special treatment. Eventually, the hair loss stopped and several weeks later new growth appeared. The hair on my forearms was always flat to my skin, but more appeared to be growing in all directions. When Dr. Kirk (who headed the Environmental Protection Agency office in Middletown, PA.) came to my home to interview me, I showed him this erratic growth on my arm. It is still growing in the same manner. My throat is no longer sore on the inside, but some of the ugly discolored skin remains on the outside. To this day, almost six years after TMI, I am not well.

I have lost my left kidney completely. It just dried up and disappeared with no medical explanation whatever. And my case was presented by my kidney specialist to a symposium of doctors at the Hershey Medical School. None of them had ever had a case like mine, nor had they any explanation of such an unusual happening. Also, our eldest granddaughter has been hospitalized on two occasions for abdominal problems. She and her sister visited us for three summers following TMI and spent much of their play time on that same front porch. There was no record of similar abdominal problems on either side of her family tree. We can only hope and pray that both she and her sister and the other three grandchildren will remain healthy, for they have all played on that same porch. The awful part about this is that we did not even think of possible contamination still remaining there. But we are just ordinary persons without any scientific knowledge concerning radiation, et cetera. To this day, March 19, 1985, the discoloration is still visible on my arms and neck. Red spots still appear on my face, arms, legs, breasts, shoulders, abdomen with alarming regularity. I can assure you that TMI is an ever-present fear in my life, because the physical evidence is something I see daily. The traumatic fear within me cannot be seen by anyone, nor felt by anyone else, but it is there constantly in my mind. You cannot possibly know what happens inside me when the TMI siren is tested or when, for unknown reasons, it suddenly sounds.

Thank you for listening to my sad tale, all of which I would gladly swear to on an open bible. Thank you so much for your time.”

(Interviewed March 19, 1985.)


Bill Peters, Owner of Auto Body Shop, New Cumberland, PA, 46 yrs. old.

“We heard on the news Wednesday morning (March 28th) that there was a minor mishap or something like that down at Three Mile Island. It was nothing that even concerned us. We kind of laughed about it.

Thursday, we were in the garage working. It’s a large garage and I have large doors that a tractor-trailer type truck would back in. Well, my son and I, we were in there working all day on Thursday. We weren’t outside. We had the doors open ‘cause the weather was warm. We were inside working. We went up about nine-thirty, ten o’clock at night and took a shower. I had come out joking. I said, ‘I got a sunburn!’ (Laughter.) That was Thursday evening. And we were joking about it. We really didn’t think it was anything really that bad. It looked like we got a mild sunburn at the seashore. Anything that was exposed. Because we had T-shirts on and right where your arms went, it looked like the way you look like if you were electric welding. You probably don’t know anything about this, but when you electric weld and you don’t have yourself covered up, you’d get burnt, you’d get red. It’s similar. And this is what you look like.

Friday, I was redder. Like you were laying in the sun the first time you go out in the beginning of the year, and you’d get red. That’s what it looked like. Friday morning we were joking. Nobody wanted to say anything. We were getting this hot feeling in the throat. And you were tasting, it tasted like you were burning a galvanized steel with a torch, you know, or welding it. This is the kind of taste you had in your mouth. This is exactly what it tastes like. It made you half sick. Sometime in the afternoon on Thursday we had started tasting it. And it kept getting stronger and stronger. My son-in-law, he came home Friday from Hershey and he says to me, ‘I taste something.’ And my daughter, she was working at the hospital, and when she came home she said she was tasting it, and they lived down the road here. And nobody would really admit what they were feeling, because everybody thought we were imagining it. It was nerves or something like this.

Well, you feel hot down in your chest. Friday morning I got up and I had blisters, little bitty white blisters on my lips and in my nose. And then also I got diarrhea real bad. I had it that weekend real bad. And you felt half sick in your stomach, half nauseated. See, that could have been from nerves too. I mean nerves would do that to you. And from that time on, it would seem like I was having trouble with my bowels up to about…oh, man about two or three months ago, I guess it was. I was having problems. Not as bad as it was then.

(Friday afternoon) while in the process of leaving, the Fairview Township police come down the road and he hollered, ‘Bill, get the hell inside! I mean it. Get inside. Don’t breathe the air! Close your doors and windows!’ So I waved to him, I said, ‘Yeah…keep going!’ (Laughter) ‘I’m getting out of here! I’m not staying!’ So, we kept loading. This is about three o’clock in the afternoon. And this is when, I think, we got the worst of it. So, we left here about four, four-thirty.

When I got up Saturday morning my lips were burnt more. And they were blistered. I couldn’t blow my nose, it was sore. I never had this before.

Sunday morning I was blistered more. You know how you get sunburn blisters. (But) I never got blisters in the sun. I never had blisters on my lips before then. Down in like your throat was really hot. It’s like you couldn’t drink enough. My chest. It was like putting hot towels on you, except the heat came from inside. This is something you can’t explain. It’s just like you were burning up inside. And you just wanted to drink. I don’t know if my getting sick with this heart condition was related to the accident, but that burning feeling in the chest was located right over where that valve went wrong. (Bill had to have a heart operation in December 1980.)

Now, it didn’t affect everybody the way it did me. Now my son, he was like that. My wife stayed in most of the time. She got a little bit. She could taste it, and got a little hot, but she didn’t get like I did.

We were gone seven days. We had a four year old male German shepherd. He was healthy when we left. He knew how to take care of himself because we go to Florida every winter normally, and he would stay in the garage. We had food prepared. We had 200 pounds of Purina Dog Chow separated out in boxes. I had ten five-gallon cans of water that he always used. Same cans he ever used. And, we left a window cracked in the garage, and he had a mattress in the back. When we came back, he was laying on his mattress dead. And his eyes were burnt white. Both eyes burnt white. He didn’t eat no food, hardly any food. He drank a whole five-gallon can of water, and he threw it up all over the garage. He was dead a lot more than a day. We walked in, we were sick. And you could still taste this like burning galvanized steel, metal.”

(Darla, Bill’s wife, said, ”The mobile home was all shut, the windows were shut and everything. When we came home, outside you couldn’t taste it. When we opened the door and walked in, then you could taste it.”)

It made you half sick. We had five cats out in back. And four of them were lying dead with their eyes burnt out, burnt white like they were, just like they were burnt bad, you know. One cat was in the back of the box, in the cat box back in the corner. And her one eye was burnt. She was blind. She lived six months after that, then she died. There might have been more that that. We had kittens. The three kittens. And they were all dead too. We had milk and we had water for the cats, the same as we did for the dog. And it was in a fenced-in area where no other dogs or animals could get in. There was water enough to last them for a month. And there was food enough to last them for a month. It was under a porch where it’s protected from the weather.

I washed the garage out. We washed everything out in the mobile home too. She washed the walls down. And we washed all our clothes.

Right about the second or third week of April, I guess it would be. It could be the last week of April. We were going back to work, and you know, you kind of even forget the whole thing. And I was starting mowing, and I started chopping up birds. All kinds of birds. No one kind in particular. I had that (five foot hydraulic) bucket, I would say a quarter to a half full of dead birds that I dumped down over the bank and covered them up back there before I could cut the grass. And that’s when I got scared. And I was scared ever since.

That summer, the walnut trees were starting to bud, but there was no walnuts on the trees. The leaves left the walnut trees. It looked like winter. That’s how it looked all year with the walnut trees.” (Darla said that the following year, the leaves were maybe twice as big. Those that were four inches were eight inches. Six-inch leaves were nearly a foot.) “They looked like palm trees. Super big.

That whole summer (1979), ‘til about August there were no flies, no mosquitoes, no nothing. You’d be outside eating and there would be no flies. There were just no flies around, and there were no flies, no mosquitoes, no bugs! (Laughter.) It was unreal. Like 4th of July, you’d be eating and there were no flies. You have a barbeque…there were no flies. They came back about August. And there were no birds at the time either. I mean none.

I’ve lived here all these years, I don’t need them kind of statistics. All I know is that I don’t like it when you look out the window and you don’t see… I mean it’s crazy I know…but you don’t see any birds. There’s two birds that come up across here and that’s it. And this used to be loaded with birds, ‘cause we had bird feeders around. You go down the road two miles, you’d see all kinds of birds and pheasants and stuff. You go out to my mother’s in Lemoyne, she got hundreds of them in her backyard. This is what I don’t like. I walk or run a mile a day. Down over here, down there where we walk. It’s a year and a half since we’ve been walking down that road and running, and I haven’t seen a bird, I haven’t seen a pheasant, I haven’t seen anything. No rabbits. There’s one or two little scrawny squirrels. And that’s it.

I had the Audubon Society come over. They were here on Saturday (January 1983) and they just couldn’t believe it. They were out here with their binoculars and looking around. They were out here about two and a half hours. I called them and told them about this. I got tired of it. I wanted to know in my own mind too if I’m over-reacting or something like this…I mean, if everything is all coincidence.

The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) guy was here. He stood here and he said, ‘I was in the center of the plume and the plume was nowhere up near here.’ He says it was down farther down the road. But he was down the road. How does he know it wasn’t up here? Nobody ever checked! He’s telling me that I imagined my lips got blistered. I imagined our dog and cats died, that there was no walnuts on the trees! That this couldn’t have happened. And there were no dead birds up there. He says if it was that kind of a thing, you couldn’t live here now. He says the people around here couldn’t be living here. I say, ‘Well, not too many are living here right now!’ you know. (The cancer rate has been very high since the accident along the road where Bill lives.)

I’d like to know from somebody…I mean, what’s your personal opinion? If you think I’m foolish, if I’m over, overcautious or overdoing the whole thing.”

(Interviewed January 7 & 31, 1983)