Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chapter 23: Controversy at Love Canal by Baverly Paigen

While I think this chapter would be more at home in our unit of chemical related issues we are about to move on to there is a affluent component, mainly the buildup of waste from mass production.

No onto the intro paragraph.

In the 1970's the the consequences of improper disposal of chemical waste came to light after hundreds of people near Niagara Falls, New York, as their health was threatened by toxic chemical buried under their homes, the school and the rest of the abandoned Love Canal which unknown to the residents was a toxic waste dump. The coverage lead numerous other communities to investigate themselves and discover similar issues. In 1978 a volunteer science advisor Beverly Paigen, now a research biologist at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine grew curious about the reports form Love canal residents about their health and decided to investigate as this seemed like a real world opportunity to put her skills to the test. The chapter is a section from a book she wrote titled "Controversy at Love Canal," Hastings Report Center Report (June 1982).

The Key Concept of this chapter is: the scientific and political dimensions of hazardous waste controversies.

Despite her belief tat more research needed to be done on the health of the Love Canal residents David Axelrod, Commissioner of Health in December 1978 stated that studies by the Health Department were adequate and showed no threat to the residents. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believe that there are about 50,000 hazardous waste disposal sights in the U.S. with 90% of them posing a potential health threat ad they are poorly located or managed.

The first section is Toxic Wastes at Love Canal. in 1945 Hooker Chemical and Plastics filled the abandoned half-mile long canal with more than 21,000 tons of 200 or more chemicals around the time that the Niagara Falls Board of Education came around asking to buy the land. Hooker claims it warned the board about that the site was not appropriate and it sold the property in 1953 for $1.00 only when threatened by eminent domain claims. No living board member confirm or deny the claim. A clause in the transfer article absolves Hooker of all liability. An elementary school was built around the centre of the site with numerous home to follow. As early as 1958 children received chemical burns and birth defects. The Niagara Falls Health Department did nothing and the same goes for other officials. It took determined residents and a reporter Michael Brown to bring the the EPA and New York State Department of Health into the picture. On August 2, 1978 a health emergency was declare after the chemicals were identified. Hugh Carey the governor offered to buy the 239 homes nearest the epicentre after the people were evacuated and assist in relocating them. Despite assurances homes farther to the edge of love Canal were safe residents notices odd smells from sewers and chemicals seeping into their basements as well as certain families living three to four blocks away having multiple miscarriages and other illnesses.

Now onto the History of the Controversy. roughly 850 families were exposed to low levels of chemicals. so Beverly devised a health questionnaire and plotted the illnesses geographically with these expectations: 1) if the illnesses were clustered in families it could mean a genetic disorder. 2) if the illnesses were geographically clustered it could mean the toxins were moving. 3) if the illnesses were randomly distributed then the there would be no relationship with the possibility of exposure. Plotting the results showed a strong geographical cluster. which seemed to be related to former stream beds. As most of the ground is a mixture of clay, soil and gravel it is is permeable enough for chemicals to migrate. A threefold increase in miscarriages was found in wet homes (those built near swamp, lake and river sites) than those who lived in dry homes. The frequency was between 0.4 to 0.7%. Of the sixty four women living in wet homes five (8%) had three or more miscarriages. The probability of this occurring by chance in 0.001%. 24 percent of the 120 children born in wet homes had birth defects compared to the 6.8% in dry homes. Some defects were "minor" clubbed feet, webbed does, missing ear or extra set of teeth. The more serious ones were heart defects, missing or nonfunctional kidneys, deafness and mental retardation. Asthma was 3.5 times more frequent in wet homes and 2.8 in dry homes. Central nervous system issues included seizures, fainting, blurred vision suicides and attempts, etc. The Health Department launched their own surveys and denied the findings of Beverly. They were proved wrong afterwards but not for a number of years despite overwhelming evidence they rejected Beverly.

Elements of Controversy. The community and the State Department of Health were the two sides to the controversy. The community was very disposed to the Health Department yet were inclined to make allowances for Hooker since they had buried the chemical before people truly understood their possible effects and had provided jobs for numerous residents. Once the controversy was under way Beverly notes some factors that impeded a resolution.
1) The failure to resolve any controversy may be advantageous to one side. Since over 600 other waste site existed in New York the state would benefit from the delay as any officials whop voted for positive action would have to justify the spending of $42,000,000 to prevent future leakage. This was an ethical issue rather than a scientific one.

2) Opponents may not agree on the question that needs to be answered. Commissioner Axelrod decided to only check fetus for health defects since they were the most vulnerable of then population an decided to evacuate only pregnant women when the entire community felt that they were all at risk. in 1981 the CDC put a fair bit of money into trying to determine if any psychological damage had occur ed but none into checking for chromosome damage. No plans were made for data compilation and analysis on the population either.

3) In any controversy, since the type of quality of information gathered will influence the outcome, no one group should be in complete control of the information gathering process. The state had a lot of money to put into gathering information about health effects while the residents had only their own energy and few scientists. Beverly took part in one of the three independent studies and one of the two with no funding. The well funded Health Department studies were and still are secret. The reviews too about 122 staff years, $3,292,000, collected about 4,368 blood samples, 5,924 soil, 700, air, sewer and water and 411 physical examinations. All of which are not available for scientific review or criticism.

4) Beyond questions of money and expertise is the issue of full expression for dissident and minority opinions. Scientists who worked for the state and disagreed with their findings were demoted, transferred or harassed. Beverly was harassed as well. As she publicly spoke of her concerns for Love Canal the Department of Health withdrew one of her grants without telling her. Her office files were searched, mail opened and taped shut as well as other censoring methods.

5) Scientists, who are no strangers to controversy, should follow the social controls on behavior that they have developed for the advancement of knowledge and the detection of error. Secrecy was a major issue at Love Canal. When in 1979 a statement was released stating their was no liver disease, seizure, caner, etc, Beverly's request for the data to support the claims was denied.

6) In any attempt at controversy resolution, all parties to the conflict should agree on precisely what facts need resolving; all parties should agree on the composition of the body chosen to resolve the controversy; all parties should agree on the procedures by which that body will operate; and all parities must agree to abide by the decisions. In April 26, 1979 an attempt was made to resolve the issues at hand but the Health department ignored all suggestions. in May 1980 with a report charging the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Control with charges such as having a secret agenda, manipulating data, etc.

The Next Decade. Beverly writes that steps can be taken when controversy arises to both ease the situation and protect public health. First is that scientists should adhere to the norm of their profession, second is community involvement should be sought and used in all aspects and level of the process. Third is fund should be provided to the community so it can hire its own experts. Many of the issues at Love Canal were political rather than scientific and could have been handled better if the ethical considerations and values had been more openly stated and understood by all. The would have helped to keep from "muddying the waters" so to speak.

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