Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Your Neighbourhood Toxic Waste Dump

Yanks, do you know exactly what's in your neighbourhood? Besides the homes, stores and people, I mean?

Well, there's a handy little online service you should be very interested in. Brought to you by the EPA, it has a friendly, innocuous enough name: EviroMapper for Envirofacts. So, let's enter a zip code for, say, a few blocks in Buffalo, NY to see what we come up with.

Take a minute to have a look at that map.

I'll bet you never imagined so many hazardous waste sites could be located in such a concentrated, residential area. No. Neither did I.

I found the link to that site in a book I'm currently reading, The Autoimmune Epidemic, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. It was recommended to me by a young mother I met recently who has Sjorgens when she found out that I have lupus (and fibromyalgia). The book is an eye opener so far - no doubt about that.

What's the connection between autoimmune disorders like lupus and hazardous waste sites, you ask? This 2007 article in The New Scientist, Lupus cluster at oilfield points finger at pollution, offers an example of the growing concerns:

An alarmingly high number of people living in houses built on top of a disused oilfield in New Mexico have been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus. It is the latest in a growing number of lupus clusters near polluted areas, and points towards the environmental triggers for this complex disease.

When someone has lupus their immune system turns against them, attacking their own tissues, which can lead to joint pain, organ failure and even death. In the US, it is much more common in women and minority groups, especially African Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, estimates that the incidence of the disease has tripled in the past 40 years.

Pollutants seem to be the cause of lupus in people on a housing development in Hobbs, New Mexico, built in 1976 on land that was an active oilfield until the late 1960s. The community noticed an unusually high rate of lupus and contacted James Dahlgren, an environmental toxicologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dahlgren and his colleagues compared the prevalence of lupus in the Hobbs development to its prevalence in the general population and found that the rate of lupus in the Hobbs population was 30 to 99 times higher than estimates for the general population. "The rate is astronomically high," says Dahlgren. "It's a true cluster." All the cases in Hobbs occurred in several blocks of houses built on top of a waste pit.

As an Albertan, I have to wonder aloud if any such findings have been uncovered or even investigated in this oil-rich province.

The article also addresses what the residents of that Buffalo neighbourhood mapped above had to deal with - the case is more thoroughly outlined in the book by Jackson Nakazawa.

Other clusters of lupus have been documented in people exposed to industrial emissions, solvents and pesticides for a long time. A study under way in Buffalo, New York, has recorded 92 cases of lupus in an area near a lead-smelting plant that closed in the 1980s. Lead, mercury and arsenic are among the pollutants found at the site, says Edith Williams, a project coordinator for the study.

Behind each one of those numbers is someone like me who has had to deal with multiple, seemingly unrelated symptoms - several debilitating on their own - for years or even decades as I did. In my case, the diagnosis of lupus came by accident when, concerned about a small lump I'd found in my neck, my doctor sent me for a blood test that signaled lupus - a disease that, at that point, I knew absolutely nothing about even though it was clear to the rheumatologist I saw after the diagnosis that I had symptoms going back to my teen years.

There still is no definitive cause for lupus and there is no cure. But research is definitely pointing to genetic and/or environmental factors. Yet, as Jackson Nakazawa notes on her site:

The fact that the average American woman is eight times more likely to have autoimmune disease than breast cancer

Think about that when you see all of the advertizing coming at you from every direction these days to find that elusive cure for breast cancer (my best to all of you affected by cancer) while comparing that to the absolute silence about diseases and disorders most likely caused by environmental factors.

A political issue?

Absolutely no doubt about it.

Especially when there are corporations to protect from public scrutiny (<< must read news about the oilsands polluter, Suncor).

What can you do? Support research. Get involved. Make noise. Help someone who's sick. Rail against the polluters. Buy (authentic) organic. Live green. Learn more.

Protect yourself and your loved ones.

At the very least - care.

(On a personal note, I've just been too exhausted to blog lately and the daily depressingly dry economic news hasn't exactly been a motivator either. zzzzzzzzzzzzz... And I've been rather disgusted with the corporate sector lately, to say the least.)


Environment Canada's Chemical Substances site. No handy map feature there.

The NIH's list of Environmental Diseases from A to Z. (Oh, look. There's lupus.)

A link from that NIH page goes to several article links on Environews.

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