Toxic Tide: No Place to Hide
Part 2: What we did
Our first step was to apply for two grants:
- the first, in collaboration with Dr. Kenneth Gould of St.
Lawrence University, was to cover the costs of our information
- the second, with the help of Dr. Maria Hepel of SUNY
Potsdam, was to test water samples for toxins. Both applications
As an introduction to the issues, we read:
- Living Downstream, An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the
Environment by Sandra Steingraber (Addison Wesley, 1997) and
- No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action by Phil Brown and Edwin J. Mikkelsen (University of California Press, 1990).
We started an email list to circulate information relevant to our inquiry. Postings on this list were circulated to a wider list of
AAUW members in New York State and several CFUW members in Ontario.
In planning our strategy with Dr. Gould, we decided to collect
- Cancer incidence in St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties;
- Carcinogens in our environment;
- Health impacts of carcinogens;
- Exposure routes for these carcinogens; and
- What other communities are doing on this issue.
Our main sources of information are listed below.
1. Cancer incidence in St. Lawrence and Jefferson Counties
- The Cancer Incidence and Mortality By County data for 1989-1993 and for 1990-1994, from the New York State Cancer Registry. The most recent information, covering 1990-1994, was issued in May 1998. This presents data on incidence and mortality of type (site) of cancer and sex for each county in the US. For Jefferson County, we obtained the Northern New York Rural Health Care Alliance Vital Statistics Analysis, which disaggregates cancer data by age group and town or village within the county. We also obtained the St. Lawrence County Community Health Assessment 1996-1997, which has several tables on cancer incidence.
- A study, Cancer Incidence in Zip Code Areas 13614, 13623, 13633, 13646, 13654 and 13664, St.Lawrence County, New York prepared by the Cancer Surveillance Program of the Bureau of Cancer Epidemiology, NYS Department of Health, was received from Patricia Lillquist at the NYS Department of Health, who also forwarded Cancer Facts & Figures-1998 by the American Cancer Society.
- County and state health officials in Potsdam, Canton and
Watertown were helpful in providing documentation and expert
advice. Amongst others, we spoke with Mark Stoddard, Vic Pisani,
Thomas Boxberger and Stephen Jennings. Jon Montan at the St.
Lawrence County Planning Department provided an overview of health studies available in their library. Two cancer hospitals were
consulted, one in Ogdensburg, one in Watertown.
- Steve VanderMark at Cornell Cooperative Extension provided us with a series of Fact Sheets (#1 through #17) Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors, and copies of The Ribbon, a newsletter on breast cancer. Both are produced by the Cornell University Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors in New York State. We also consulted Cornell's breast cancer website. In addition to providing information on incidence, these publications give information on the links between cancer and a number of specific environmental pollutants. (An additional resource with information on Environmental Risk Factors for Breast Cancer is available for further study.)
- Information on cancer incidence in Ontario was obtained from Mary Hegan at Health Canada in Ottawa, including a significant study: State of Knowledge Report on Environmental Contaminants and Human Health in the Great Lakes Basin. With the exception of the on-going study at Akwesasne, however, none of the studies cited in that report are specific to St. Lawrence or Jefferson Counties.
2. Carcinogens in our environment
- Letters were addressed to town and village historians in the two counties requesting information on the location of former and
present industrial and dump sites. We received responses from
Parishville, Potsdam, Gouverneur, Norwood, Fine, Russell, Norfolk,
and Massena in St. Lawrence County and LaFargeville, Rutland,
Chaumont, Town of Alexandria, Sackets Harbor and Town of Housfield in Jefferson County.
- From the Scorecard website, a service of the Environmental Defense Fund that is linked to the US government Toxic Release Inventory, we downloaded information on manufacturing facilities in the two counties that report releases of carcinogens.
- From the US Environment Protection Agency's regulated chemicals inventory we downloaded information on all recognized and suspected carcinogens.
- Thanks to a SUNY Potsdam faculty grant, Dr. Maria Hepel,
professor of chemistry at SUNY Potsdam, was able to provide us with sampling bottles, explain how sampling is done, and test the
samples gathered for lead and atrazine. Samples were collected from 25 sites in the two counties by Carolyn Brox, Audrey Reitzel, Marie Watkins, Peggy Coe, Cecilie Pletcher, Beverly Washburn, Donald Hassig, Richard Foster, Judy Wagner, and Michael Connett.
- Cecilie Pletcher, AAUW member in Potsdam, visited five retail
stores and made a list of their "best selling" herbicides,
insecticides and pesticides. Information was also collected on
pesticide use in the Potsdam Central School. Michael Connett
obtained information from Cornell Cooperative Extension on
frequently used chemicals.
- Mark Stoddard provided us with Chemicals in Sportfish and Game 1998-1999, NYS Department of Health, that lists chemicals of concern in specific waterways.
- A copy of the Ninth Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality was obtained from the International Joint Commission (IJC). The IJC assists Canada and the US in implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the improvement of transboundary air quality. The report includes an overview of specific persistent toxic substances found in the Great Lakes Basin.
- General information on emissions from burn barrels, and specific information on dioxin and furan emissions from burn barrels in St. Lawrence County was obtained from Donald Hassig, environmental activist.
- The Biennial Report Rotating Intensive Basin Studies, Water Quality Assessment Program 1991-1992, and Appendix A, Water and Bottom Sediment Data, produced by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, provide information on heavy metals in water and sediments of local area river basins.
3. Health impacts of carcinogens
On the health impacts of carcinogens, the following are some of the many studies, papers, brochures, books and videos that we reviewed and assembled:
- Medical literature and scientific studies
- Stuart M. Brooks, MD: Environmental Medicine, Mosby, 1995.
- Michael I. Greenberg, MD: Occupational, Industrial, and
Environmental Toxicology, Mosby, 1997.
- Barry L. Johnson, PhD and others: Public Health Implications of Persistent Toxic Substances in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basins, US Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry, no date, probably 1997.
- Public educational materials
- Health Canada: Health and the Environment from Health Canada,
Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada,
- Brochures from the NY State Department of Public Health
Nuclear Power, Human Health and the Environment, the Breast Cancer Warning in the Great Lakes Basin, Greenpeace, 1995
- Popular Books and periodicals
- Sandra Steingraber: Living Downstream, An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment, Addison-Wesley, 1997.
- Theo Colborn and others: Our Stolen Future, Dutton, 1996.
- Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly
- The Ecologist special issue on cancer, Vol.28, NO.2, March/April 1998
- Barry Boyer, No place to hide? Great Lakes Pollution and Your
Health, SUNY Buffalo, 1991
4. What other communities are doing
Important information about what other communities are doing came from two books already mentioned, Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber, and No Safe Place by Phil Brown and Edwin Mikkelsen.
In addition, we obtained the following:
- Exposure, Environmental Links to Breast Cancer (video)/ Taking Action for a Healthy Future Educational Resource Guide & Community Handbook, Women's Network on Health & the Environment, no date, probably 1997.
- Great Lakes, Great Lawns (video), Wisconsin's Environmental
Decade Institute, 1996
- Investigating Human Exposure to Contaminants in the
Environment: A Community Handbook, Health Canada, 1995
- Rosalie Bertell PhD, GNSH: Health 2000, A Guide for the
Community Seeking to Undertake a Health Survey,
International Institute of Concern for Public Health,
- Putting Breast Cancer on the Map, Women's Environmental Network, 1998.
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