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#370 - Chemicals and Health -- Part 2 and SLAPPed, 29-Dec-1993

The Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service, Barry
L. Johnson, told Congress in May 1993 that living near a hazardous
waste site "seems [to be] associated with a small to moderate increased
risk of some kinds of birth defects and... some specific cancers."[1]
Since 1986 Johnson has been Assistant Administrator of the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry [ATSDR], the unit of the Public
Health Service that Congress created to deal with hazardous waste
health issues.

Johnson told Congress that "health investigations of communities around
some... hazardous waste sites have found increases in the risk of birth
defects, neurotoxic disorders, leukemia, cardiovascular [heart and
circulatory system] abnormalities, respiratory and sensory irritation,
and dermatitis [skin disorders]."

Johnson told Congress there were 1331 dump sites on the official
Superfund list, as of last May. He said industrial solvents are present
at 87% of the sites; inorganic compounds (such as lead) at 87%, and
pesticides at 50% of the sites. He said 41 million Americans live
within 4 miles of 1134 Superfund sites that were studied. On average,
3325 people live within one mile of each site; since there are 1331
listed sites, this means a total of 4.6 million Americans live within a
mile of an official Superfund site today.

Johnson said a typical site contains more than 100 different
chemicals; "such mixtures may be much more toxic than any of the
individual chemicals," he told Congress. (The situation is actually
somewhat worse than Johnson described. U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) analyzed leachate at 13 representative hazardous waste
sites from across the country. Only 4% of the organic chemicals in the
leachate were identified by gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy
[GC/MS], but this 4% included 200 individual chemical compounds,
including 13 metals. "The unidentified 96%" of the organic chemicals
is "of unknown toxicity," the National Research Council said when it
reported EPA's findings in 1991.[2])

To illustrate the point that even a single chemical can cause real
problems, Johnson discussed the industrial solvent trichloroethylene
(the second-most common chemical found at Superfund sites, after lead).
He said, "An increasing body of scientific evidence indicates past
exposures to hazardous substances can cause latent [delayed] adverse
health effects. Recent findings from the ATSDR exposure registry of
approximately 5000 persons exposed in the past to trichloroethylene
(TCE) in drinking water showed registrants reporting elevated rates of
diabetes, stroke, elevated blood pressure, and neurologic problems."

Johnson then described two large cancer studies that compared the
health of people in counties with hazardous waste sites to the health
of people in counties without hazardous waste sites. Both studies found
an increased frequency of cancers in counties with hazardous waste
sites. A 1983 study reported that age-adjusted gastrointestinal (GI)
cancer death rates were higher than national averages in 20 of New
Jersey's 21 counties (for the period 1968-1977). The environmental
variables that correlated most closely with elevated death rates were
population density, urbanization, and presence of toxic waste disposal
sites.[3] A 1989 study looked at 593 hazardous waste sites in 339 U.S.
counties (in 49 states) where contaminated ground water was the sole
source for drinking, during the period 1970-1979.[4] (See REHN #127.)

Excess cancer deaths were found in counties with hazardous waste sites
compared to counties without hazardous waste sites for the following
kinds of cancers: lung, bladder, esophagus, stomach, large intestine,
and rectum for white males; and cancers of the lung, breast, bladder,
stomach, large intestine, and rectum for white females. Non-whites were
not studied.

Johnson described a study by the New Jersey Department of Health of
reproductive effects associated with contaminated drinking water.[5]
Public drinking water systems were evaluated in 75 towns in northern
New Jersey. The study looked at all live births and stillbirths
(excluding chromosomal defects and plural births) during the period
1985-1988 in the 75 towns. The 75 towns were not known to have
excessive health problems. Although some water systems had levels of
certain contaminants above federal standards at the time of the study,
contamination levels in the 75 towns are thought to be typical of U.S.
water supplies, Johnson told Congress.

In the 75 towns, statistically significant associations were found for
the following: total trihalomethanes [the chemicals formed in drinking
water supplies when chlorine is added to kill germs] were associated
with low term birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation, central
nervous system defects, and major heart defects. Trichloroethylene
(TCE) was associated with neural tube defects [defects of the spinal
cord and brain] and oral cleft defects [for example, cleft palate].

Carbon tetrachloride was associated with low term birth weight,
intrauterine growth retardation, central nervous system defects, and
oral cleft defects. Dichloroethane was associated with major heart
defects, and dichloroethylenes were associated with central nervous
system defects.

Johnson then described a large study of birth defects among children
whose mothers lived near waste dumps in New York state. "A particularly
important study[6] examined the association between congenital
malformations in children and maternal proximity to hazardous waste
sites in the state of New York," Johnson told Congress. Researchers at
the Yale University School of Medicine and the New York State
Department of Health (NYDOH) studied 27,115 births and concluded that,
overall, women living within a mile of an inactive dump have a 12%
greater chance of bearing a child with a major birth defect, compared
to women living further than a mile from a dump. (See REHN #313.)

The researchers looked at 590 inactive dump sites in 20 northern New
York Counties. Among the 590 sites studied, 90 were ranked as "high
risk" sites because there was documented evidence that chemicals had
migrated off the sites. The study found that women living within a mile
of any of these 90 sites had a 63% greater chance of bearing a child
with a major birth defect, compared to women living further than a mile
from all of the 90 sites.

In sum, Johnson's testimony forces the conclusion that toxic waste
dumps are hazardous to human health.

[To be continued.]

[1] "Testimony by Barry L. Johnson, Ph.D., Assistant Surgeon General,
Assistant Administrator, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Public Health Service, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry, Before the Subcommittee on Superfund, Recycling, and Solid
Waste Management, United States Senate, May 6, 1993." Thanks to Diane
Heminway of the Citizens Environmental Coalition, Medina, NY, for
alerting us to this testimony, and thanks to Dr. Johnson's staff for
providing copies of the ATSDR studies referred to in his testimony.

[2] Anthony B. Miller and others, ENVIRONMENTAL EPIDEMIOLOGY VOL. 1;
PUBLIC HEALTH AND HAZARDOUS WASTes (Washington, D.C.: National Academy
Press, 1991), pg. 107.

[3] G. Reza Najem and others, "Gastrointestinal Cancer Mortality in New
Jersey Counties and the Relationship with Environmental Variables,"

[4] Jack Griffith and others. "Cancer Mortality in U.S. Counties with
Hazardous Waste Sites and Ground Water Pollution." ARCHIVES OF
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH Vol. 44, No. 2 (March/April 1989), pgs. 69-74.

SECTIONAL STUDY. (Trenton, N.J.: New Jersey Department of Health, April
1992). See also Frank Bove and others, REPORT ON PHASE IV-B: PUBLIC
DEFECTS (Trenton, N.J.: New Jersey Department of Health, May 1992).

[6] Sandra A. Geschwind and others, "Risk of Congenital Malformations
Associated With Proximity to Hazardous Waste Sites," AMERICAN JOURNAL
OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, Vol. 135 (1992), pgs. 1197-1207.

As the controversy over the toxicity of dioxin mounts, a respected
environmental writer on the subject is finding himself defending a $4
million libel lawsuit filed by a retired Monsanto Co. scientist.[1] Dr.
Peter Montague, founder and director of the grassroots-oriented
Environmental Research Foundation, was sued by Monsanto epidemiologist
William Gaffey who claims he was libeled in an article Montague wrote
in the March 1990 issue [#171] of RACHEL'S HAZARDOUS WASTE NEWS. The
subject of the article was alleged fraud in dioxin studies conducted by
Gaffey and his Monsanto colleagues.

Montague's supporters say the case is a classic SLAPP, a lawsuit filed
by a corporation to stifle citizen opposition (the acronym stands for
Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Prior to the lawsuit
against Montague, Monsanto's alleged fraud was receiving widespread
attention and even created momentum for expanding payments to Vietnam
veterans exposed to dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange....
Montague based his article on a memo, "Newly revealed Fraud by
Monsanto," prepared by EPA scientist Dr. Cate Jenkins. Montague's
article also quoted documents from a lawsuit brought by Missouri
residents against Monsanto, which revealed numerous discrepancies in
the Monsanto studies.

The lawsuit could help resolve some of the controversy over dioxin,
since the key issue at trial is expected to be whether what Montague
wrote (and Jenkins alleged) is true or not....
Reached at his home in St. Louis, Gaffey said, "I'm afraid we're
completely unable to talk until [the trial] is completely finished or
much further along."

[This lawsuit is now pending in federal district court in St. Louis; a
trial date has not yet been set.]

[Happy New Year.]


[1] Except for items inside square brackets, this article and headline
are reprinted with permission from ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION (Winter, 1994),
pg. 8. ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION is published quarterly by Environmental
Action Foundation, 6930 Carroll Ave., Suite 600, Takoma Park, MD 20912;
phone (301) 891-1100. Subscriptions are $25/year for individuals.