42 Disease Clusters Identified in 13 States

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Proposing a connection between pollution and outbreaks of serious disease in certain regions, environmentalists and health advocates have compiled data showing the existence of more than 40 disease clusters in 13 U.S. states since 1976.
 
Conditions ranging from the more common (cancer) to the rare (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) have occurred in concentrations in Texas, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas.
 
“Communities all around the country struggle with unexplained epidemics of cancers, birth defects and neurological diseases,” said report co-author Gina Solomon, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who teamed with others from her organization and the National Disease Clusters Alliance. “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.”
 
The disease clusters profiled in the report include the Hinkley, California, story, which made Erin Brockovich famous for calling attention to Pacific Gas & Electric’s release of hexavalent chromium into the town’s drinking water, allegedly causing cases of breast cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, miscarriages and spinal deterioration.
 
Another cluster was found in Herculaneum, Missouri, a town affected by a major lead smelter and decades of pollution which could have led to an unusually high number of Lou Gehrig’s patients (a disease that ordinarily occurs in five out every 100,000 people worldwide).
 
In Wellington, Ohio, residents have been three times more likely to develop multiple sclerosis than the rest of the country. According to the report, “The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that there had been a release of chemical contaminants in the environment surrounding a former foundry, the LESCO facility, and the still operating Forest City Technologies plant.”
 
At Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, about 60 Marines who have lived on the base have developed male breast cancer.
 
In the small town of Kettleman City, California, (population 1,500) residents are blaming a nearby hazardous waste disposal facility for the high number of children born with cleft palates and other severe birth defects.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
Kathleen Navarro, Sarah Janssen and Gina Solomon, Natural Resources Defense Council, plus Terry Nordbrock, National Disease Clusters Alliance) (pdf)

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