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42 ‘Disease Clusters’ In 13 States: Study

March 29, 2011

A new report released Monday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) documents 42 “disease clusters” in 13 states, each of which includes incidences of numerous types of cancer, birth defects or other chronic diseases.

The study, conducted by the NRDC and the National Disease Clusters Alliance, incorporated research by governments and peer-reviewed academic studies.  The authors are calling for renewed federal support to help confirm these clusters, and to determine their causes.

“The faster we can identify such clusters, and the sooner we can figure out the causes, the better we can protect residents living in the affected communities,” said Dr. Gina Solomon of the NRDC, the study’s co-author.
 
The study examined clusters that have occurred since 1976, when Congress passed the Toxic Substance Control Act to regulate the use of toxic chemicals in industrial, commercial and consumer products.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines a cluster investigation as “a review of an unusual number, real or perceived, of health events (such as reports of cancer) grouped together in a time and location.”

The NRDC study examined clusters in Texas, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas.  Additional studies are planned.

Only one of the 42 clusters, in Libby, Montana, demonstrated a specific source for chemical contamination (asbestos).  Other clusters exhibited signs that documented exposure to toxic chemicals had harmed people who lived nearby.

The NRDC said their study documented confirmed clusters of:

“¢ Birth defects in Kettleman City, California, including twenty babies born over less than two years with birth defects, and four children born with birth defects so severe that they have since died, in this town of only 1,500 people.

“¢ Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in Herculaneum, Missouri, a town affected by a major lead smelter and decades of pollution.

“¢ Multiple sclerosis (MS) in Wellington, Ohio, where residents are three-times more likely to develop MS than in the rest of the country.  MS is a disease whose causes are unknown, but are believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental causes.

“¢ Birth defects in Dickson, Tennessee, a striking cluster that was identified by a non-profit organization called Birth Defect Research for Children (http://www.birthdefects.org/), created by the mother of a child with birth defects, which gathers information about birth defects nationally, links families, and works with scientists to identify patterns that require investigation.

“¢ Male breast cancer, childhood cancer, and birth defects in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. More than 60 men who lived on that base have been diagnosed with male breast cancer ““ a rare and alarming finding which is almost impossible to occur by chance alone.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will conduct a hearing on Tuesday on disease clusters and environmental health.

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