Toxic Trouble by ZIP Code
Don't Panic, says author of study, But Demand Cleanup of Toxic Sites
CORYDON IRELAND / Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 10jan2005
Gregg Stacy of Rochester lives in the 14610 ZIP code — a number that took on meaning last month beyond a way to speed holiday packages.
It's one of more than 200 ZIP codes statewide linked through a study to higher risk for respiratory disease; 13 of the ZIP codes are in four Rochester-area counties.
Researcher David O. Carpenter at the State University of New York at Albany published the study in the December issue of Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. It says hospitalization rates for infectious respiratory disease are as much as 20 percent higher in affected ZIP codes when compared with others statewide, excluding New York City.
In the last several years, Carpenter has written studies linking ZIP codes in New York with low-birthweight babies, thyroid disease in women and female reproductive disorders such as endometriosis. And his department has studies waiting for publication that link ZIP codes to elevated risks for stroke, ischemic heart disease and high blood pressure.
Carpenter's study last month, the first to mention Rochester, left the 40-year-old Stacy troubled about his southeast Rochester neighborhood. It's close to the old Scobell Chemical inactive hazardous waste site in Brighton, where pesticides were once stored.
"If you're a homeowner, you feel kind of paralyzed," he said of the ZIP code study. "You're there."
A native of Rochester who has lived in New York City, Boston and Burlington, Vt., Stacy — who has his own graphic design business — used to call home and find his friends in Rochester regularly sick with chest colds — like the one he had for weeks in December.
"I'm not paranoid," he said of the Carpenter study. "But you do wonder."
Carpenter, a professor of environmental health and toxicology, said his study should be a warning but not an alarm. "We certainly do not advise people to panic and sell their houses and move away," he said.
However, the study should prompt affected residents to demand a timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites in or near their ZIP codes, said Carpenter. That means writing or calling state health and environmental regulators in charge of investigating and cleaning up registered waste sites.
Not enough has been done since the state compiled a list in 1980, he said. "There's a lot of apathy about these waste sites."
Off the list
In the last 24 years, about half of the 1,765 waste sites originally listed in a state registry have been taken off the list — either cleaned up (197) or deemed safe or merged with other sites (693). There are 875 inactive hazardous waste sites left on the list, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation documents; 115 are in the DEC's 11-county Rochester region. Monroe County has the most, with 53; 32 of those are in the city of Rochester.
Carpenter's study used just the registered hazardous waste sites in New York associated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, pesticides and other persistent organic pollutants — which he says can end up in the air we breathe.
Statewide, the researchers found 213 ZIP codes that include or abut such sites, affecting about 2.8 million people.
In the Rochester region, the 13 affected ZIP codes are associated with 10 sites that contain PCBs or pesticides. Nine of them are state-registered inactive hazardous waste sites in Monroe, Genesee, Ontario and Wayne counties.
The 10th is the Rochester Embayment, comprising the last 6 miles of the Genesee River (starting at the Lower Falls) and 35 square miles of Lake Ontario, between Bogus Point in Parma and Nine Mile Point in Webster.
The embayment is polluted by PCBs and dioxins, along with the pesticides mirex, chlordane and DDT.
"Just living near these sites poses the risk," said Carpenter, whose study points out that PCBs and related pollutants suppress the immune system.
Officials at the federal Environmental Protection Agency dispute that PCBs pollute the air, a hypothesis at the heart of Carpenter's ZIP code studies. The agency performed air studies before selecting a remedy for dredging PCBs out of the Hudson River, a massive cleanup still being negotiated with polluter General Electric Co.
"We did not find that inhalation was an exposure route we had to be concerned about," said acting regional EPA administrator Kathy Callahan from her Manhattan office.
Carpenter is the first to admit the limitations of using ZIP codes to assess public health risk. His latest study calls the method "very crude" because ZIP codes are large and the footprints of hazardous waste sites are generally very small.
That's one reason Chris Cleveland, a technical sales engineer and varsity boys basketball coach for Greece Odyssey High School, isn't overly concerned about the study's findings. The 41-year-old Gates resident pointed out that his 14606 ZIP code "is not very small, so it (the waste site) may be in one portion and we could be in a completely different part of it."
The findings were slightly more troubling to Tom Messerklinger of Greece, a technical writer and the father of two young daughters. He lives in the 14612 ZIP code, which is near the Lake Ontario portion of the Rochester Embayment.
"I still feel some trepidation," he said. "I can't rule out being concerned."
Messerklinger said the Carpenter study has stirred him to write a letter to state agencies that track registered waste sites. "It's good that reports like this come to light," he said. "It exposes these sites, and that's how action happens."
Messerklinger called the study "an excellent starting point in determining which geographic areas within these ZIP codes need to be addressed."
Carpenter had tried three years ago to get more geographically precise information from state health authorities about where those who were hospitalized actually lived, without revealing identities. His request was denied.
The biggest limitation to the study, he said, is not being able to correct for lifestyle factors that could contribute to illness. Those include socioeconomic status (poor people typically get sick more often than affluent people), smoking, diet and exercise. The study tried to correct for that by showing that hospitalization rates are still high in 78 affluent ZIP codes along the Hudson, where fewer people smoke.
The database Carpenter used also lacked "personal identifiers," which would have corrected for multiple hospitalizations by one person. But the database was large enough, he added, that the study's results still have statistical power. The researchers looked at 2.5 million hospitalizations a year for eight years.
Some of the study's limitations were subtle. Researchers looking for "PCBs" to pop up in a computer reference to a waste site get just that. But a closer look at one area waste site used in the study — the Byron Barrel site in Byron, Genesee County — revealed that 200 barrels of waste solvents and waste oils were once buried there. Only one barrel contained any PCBs.
"That's another weakness of our study," said Carpenter, who worked with three other investigators. "Some of these sites are going to be much more contaminated than other sites."
The nine Rochester-area sites in the study's database are all on a state registry of inactive hazardous waste sites. Three contain pesticide residues; six contain traces of PCBs; and one, a section of the old Erie Canal in Clyde, Wayne County, contains traces of both pollutants.
Any drums of waste at the sites, where there were any, have long since been removed, reducing the potential for risk. But Carpenter maintains that there is still power in his hypothesis that proximity to waste sites increases the risk for illness, though he said that "does not constitute proof."
Includes reporting by staff writer Lara Becker Liu.
source: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050110/NEWS01/501100327/1002/NEWS 30jan2005
Respiratory disease in relation to patient residence near to hazardous waste sites
R. KUDYAKOV et al
Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology v.18, i.3, (2004) 249–257 01dec2004
Rustam Kudyakov, Akerke Baibergenova, Michael Zdeb, David O. Carpenter*
School of Public Health, University at Albany, One University Place B242, Rensselaer, NY 12144-3456, USA
Received 16 December 2002; accepted 29 June 2004
Available online 12 October 2004
We have examined rates of hospitalization for respiratory diseases in relation to residences in zip codes with hazardous waste sites, as well as socio-economic status. Chronic bronchitis and chronic airway obstruction were elevated in persons who live in zip codes containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (PCBs and persistent pesticides) as compared to "clean" zip codes without hazardous waste sites or zip codes with hazardous waste sites containing other kinds of wastes, but the differences could be due to socio-economic status and behavioral risk factors since these are also important risk factors for respiratory diseases. Therefore, we investigated rates of hospitalization for individuals living in zip codes along the Hudson River, because here the average per capita income is higher than in the rest of the state, and there is less smoking, better diet and more exercise. We found a similar elevation of chronic bronchitis and chronic airway obstruction along the Hudson. These observations are consistent with the possibility that living near a POPs-contaminated site poses a risk of exposure and increased risk of chronic respiratory disease, probably secondary to suppression of the immune system.
Keywords: Chronic bronchitis; Respiratory infections;
Allergic diseases; Socio-economic status
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 518 525 2660; fax: +1 518 525 2665. E-mail address: Carpent@uamail.albany.edu (D.O. Carpenter).