To the Editor:
On May 18, 2013, David O. Carpenter, MD, Director of the State
University of New York University at Albany Institute for Health and the Environment spoke on the subject of PCB exposure damages to health at the Akwesasne/Massena Environmental Health Public Forum. This event was organized by Cancer Action NY. The purpose of the forum was to raise public awareness of the harm that has been caused and continues to be caused by the presence of PCBs in the environment of the Akwesasne Reserve and the Town of Massena. The forum took place in the Massena Public Library.
Dr. Carpenter began his hour long presentation with an account of participation on an expert panel convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The panel met during February 2013 to consider the carcinogenicity of PCBs. Consensus was reached leading to a new IARC classification for PCBs, that being PCBs are carcinogenic to humans. Dr. Carpenter additionally stated that much attention was given to the respiratory exposure route. He stated that the World Health Organization (WHO) considers respiratory PCB exposure to be a major exposure pathway.
The residents of Akwesasne and the Town of Massena have received harmful exposures to PCBs. These exposures have been both respiratory and oral. Residents have breathed in air that was contaminated with PCBs during those times when the outdoor temperatures were high enough to cause PCBs to evaporate from contaminated soils and sediments. Oral exposures have resulted from consumption of local fish and game.
PCB exposure causes a wide range of health effects: cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cognitive impairment, reproductive dysfunction, immune system impairment and behavioral disorders. Higher PCB exposure imposes higher risk of developing these damages to health.
Minimizing ongoing PCB exposure is a critical part of health protection for Akwesasne and the Town of Massena. The two most effective actions to minimize PCB exposure are: (1) remove all PCB contaminated materials from the local environment; and (2) minimize consumption of all animal fat containing foods. Mainstream food supply foods, including: meats, fish, dairy products and eggs are animal fat containing foods. Local fish and game are also animal fat containing foods.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a large group of man-made toxic chemicals that include PCBs. All residents of Akwesasne and the Town of Massena need to read the 2010 WHO report, "Persistent Organic Pollutants: Impact on Child Health."
This landmark public health policy document recommends action to minimize the POPs exposure of the world's children. Minimizing POPs exposure is accomplished by the very same actions that minimize PCB exposure. POPs exposure minimization is particularly important for populations that have received excess exposures to subgroups of POPs such as PCBs. This is because total POPs exposure determines the quantity of disease risk.
HIgher total POPs exposure imposes higher risk of developing the diseases listed above.
Acting upon scientific knowledge the people of Akwesasne and the Town of Massena can reduce the harm that will occur as a result of PCB contamination. The time for minimizing POPs exposure is now.
Donald L. Hassig, Cancer Action NY