Disease clusters on the rise
March 30, 2011
Areas with higher numbers of cancers, birth defects and illnesses are increasing nationwide along with demands the government needs to take action, according to a report released Monday by Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Disease Cluster Alliance. [CaliforniaWatch]
Researchers have identified 44 communities in 13 states with higher numbers of diseases, eight of those communities are in California. A coalition of environmental groups says the government’s 1976 Toxics Substance Control Act is weak and ineffective, and their report indicates more stringent regulations are needed.
“We think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s not that there are only eight clusters in California. There are probably more.”
The California Department of Public Health identified a birth defects cluster in Kettleman City from 2007 to 2010, according to a report by the national Disease Cluster Alliance.
“Children were born with cleft palates and other severe birth defects such as facial deformities, heart and brain problems, and limb defects,” the report says. “Four of those children have since died. Many residents blame the hazardous waste disposal facility, the largest in the western United States, that is just 3.5 miles southwest of town.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report saying there was no link between birth defects in Kettleman City and polychlorinated biphenyls that are found in high levels in the city’s dump.
When a community is struck by abnormally high rates of an illness, people naturally ask questions,” said Gina Solomon one of the report’s authors and a senior researcher at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Unfortunately, often clusters don’t get fully investigated; or when they do, often the investigations come up with clues but no clear cause.”
Solomon, along with consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairs the committee. She introduced legislation that would help communities with suspected disease clusters determine whether environmental contaminants were contributing to illness.
The report also notes a confirmed cluster of childhood leukemia and lymphoma in Montecito from 1981 to 1988 in Montecito in Santa Barbara County. Even though the cause was never pinpointed, the Department of Health Services did find elevated levels of electromagnetic fields coming from a transformer near the elementary school.
Other California communities cited in the report include Carlsbad, Earlimart, McFarland, Oroville, Rosamond, and neighborhoods around Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.