Friday, February 08, 2008

It's 3 o'clock: do YOU know where your Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-Six US Great Lakes Areas of Concern Report is?

Alert public-health involved J-friend NSH sends news of a seemingly suppressed government report finding major health problems in cities and for vulnerable populations due in some large part to industrial pollutants.
The Center for Public Integrity has obtained the study, which warns that more than nine million people who live in the more than two dozen “areas of concern”—including such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee—may face elevated health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury, or six other hazardous pollutants.

In many of the geographic areas studied, researchers found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.

Why suppressed? Well,
Canadian biologist Michael Gilbertson, a former IJC staffer and another of the three peer reviewers, told the Center that the study has been suppressed because it suggests that vulnerable populations have been harmed by industrial pollutants. “It’s not good because it’s inconvenient,” Gilbertson said. “The whole problem with all this kind of work is wrapped up in that word ‘injury.’ If you have injury, that implies liability. Liability, of course, implies damages, legal processes, and costs of remedial action. The governments, frankly, in [the US & Canada] are so heavily aligned with, particularly, the chemical industry, that the word amongst the bureaucracies is that they really do not want any evidence of effect or injury to be allowed out there.”

The IJC requested the study in 2001. Researchers selected by the ATSDR not only reviewed data from hazardous waste sites, toxic releases, and discharges of pollutants but also, for the first time, mapped the locations of schools, hospitals, and other facilities to assess the proximity of vulnerable populations to the sources of environmental contaminants.

All this is particularly disturbing and also of the moment due to the recent discovery in Michigan of unprecedented* dioxin levels downstream from the home of Dow Chemicals.

Read more about the report at the Center for Public Integrity here.

*From a Detroit News article by Francis X. Donnelly, "Saginaw River dioxin find spreads fear", Friday, November 23, 2007:
"State action is triggered by readings of 90 parts per trillion; federal action is triggered at 1,000 parts per trillion, a level Dow insists is more reasonable. Still, widespread water sampling in recent years has found spots that far exceed even federal standards. Before last week, the heaviest dose of dioxin found in the Saginaw River was 32,000 parts per trillion. The heaviest in the Tittabawassee was 87,000 parts per trillion. The amount discovered last week near Wickes Park in the Saginaw River was 1.6 million parts per trillion. "

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