Love Canal Follow-up Health Study - March 2000 Newsletter

Study Plan and Progress

Your Response to July Newsletter

Your responses to the July newsletter and the exposure survey were extremely helpful! We received 131 survey replies by the end of October, and are still receiving more, even as we go to print. Most of the surveys (105) arrived by mail, but we also received E-mail, phone calls and faxes. Because you told us about your family and friends, too, we now know about how more than 300 former residents might have come into contact with Canal chemicals during different time periods and at different ages. About 500 newsletters were returned to us for incorrect addresses, and we've updated our mailing list to reflect these changes. We included the survey in the newsletter because we wanted to know more about children's activities.

We thought that children would be more likely than adults to be exposed to chemicals from playing outdoors during typical childhood activities near the Canal. To decide more accurately how to group residents for the exposure evaluations, we sought more detailed information: what age groups played in the Canal area? in the creeks? what games did children play, and where? were girls doing the same kinds of activities as boys? how far from home might children be expected to play? We learned that children as young as age five, and sometimes younger, played at the Canal, and traveled from several blocks away to play there. We heard that, although girls played around the Canal, they were not as likely to swim in the Canal. More than 300 reports came in about behaviors that could have resulted in chemical exposure (mostly through direct contact with disposed wastes). Some of the more frequently mentioned include:

  • swimming in the Canal
  • biking on the Canal banks, and later across the field
  • throwing "fire rocks" at the Canal
  • building, using rafts
  • building forts on, near the Canal
  • baseball, football, kickball over the Canal field
  • using Canal clay and dirt for face paint, mudpies, modeling
  • games -- cowboys/Indians, cops/robbers, army, unspecified in and on the Canal
  • tag on the Canal banks
  • hide ‘n seek in the tall grass over the Canal
  • sledding down Canal banks
  • skating on the Canal

Your information reports were very descriptive. Some examples:

[1933 - 1950, Tier 3] "As a teenager, I and several family and friends swam in the Love Canal many times. I remember clearly coming out of the water and running home to hose off a brown colored coating."

[1941 - 1955, Griffen Manor] "All of the years we lived there, we played in marshes in the spring, swam in the Canal in summer, ice skated in winter. We picked wild strawberries on the Canal hill. Canal was a major recreation area."

[1942 - 1954, Griffen Manor] "When they were dumping, I used to play on the steam shovel and other equipment after they were done working. We played in the holes they dug and on the barrels. Sometimes the fumes were so bad we had to leave."

[Summer, 1947, Griffen Manor] "We had seen burst drums in the past. Usually they contained various dry chemicals of bright colors such as lemony yellow, white, or electric blue. There were occasions where we kids would play cowboys and Indians and mix the powder with the thick clay into a paste then paint ourselves up with war paint. We washed up in the Canal later."

[1947 - 1955, Tier 4] "My friend's new patent leather shoes being eaten away after we played in the Canal one Easter Sunday."

[1951 - 1958, Tier 1] "A baseball field was built west of the 99th Street School. My brother and I played there for only a few months as the field was always wet with a foul odor."

[1958 - 1962, Tier 1] "I had a cellar bedroom. Grayish-red stuff oozed through the cracks of the wall, and it smelled bad."

[1958 - 1982, Tier 4] "Our children played in [Bergholtz and] Cayuga Creek, played baseball over the Canal."

[1967 - 1978, Tier 2] "I was one of the kids ... that played during the day and hung out every night either at the school or in the fields. I still remember the colored puddles and dirt we rode our bicycles and motorcycles on. We dug and played in it just like you'd expect kids to do. I still remember the smell on my clothes."

[99th Street] "In the late 1970s the barrels resurfaced. A black oily type substance began forming in puddles in this field, that we as children played on baseball, kickball etc. We even used surfaced drum tops as base markers. We had no clue."

[1970 - 1973, Tier 1] "The kids played out there all the time. It was like a sand box for them."

[1970 - 1974, Tier 3] "Sometimes puddles of ‘mud' would be there even though everything else was dry."

[1968 - 1981, Tier 4] "Swimming, ice skating, rafting on Cayuga, tag, biking on the Canal."

We also received reports (more than 50) of behaviors that could result in chemical exposure through eating:

  • Covering potatoes with Canal mud and baking in fire
  • Eating strawberries and other fruit from the immediate Canal area
  • Eating fish and frog's legs caught from the Canal and nearby creeks
  • Eating vegetables from gardens adjacent to the Canal

In addition, dozens of people mentioned strong odors associated with many of the activities mentioned above. This indicates potential exposure through breathing chemicals as well.

About 150 people also reported health concerns and asked whether they might be related to chemical exposures from Love Canal. Because this question seems to be shared by many former residents, we asked our physician who is working on the study to tell us more about that. You will find Dr. Mauer's article later in this newsletter.

People also wrote in to update their address information and to provide addresses for family members, classmates and friends who were not on our mailing list.

Your questions, comments and suggestions have been extremely useful in helping us to understand when certain types of exposures could have occurred, and which family members would be most likely to have been exposed. The information helps us to define the exposure categories to reflect the Canal neighborhood — we learned which schools children attended, where they played, and at what ages. Thanks!

Readers asked about the Committee members' prior Love Canal involvement. This issue features three members. We'll feature other members and the community consultants in future newsletters.

Dr. Carl Shy is a Professor of Epidemiology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a trained medical doctor and well-respected epidemiologist. Dr. Shy chairs the expert committee when the chair is not available, and he served on the Love Canal resettlement expert panel as well. He reviews epidemiologic studies prior to publication for several scientific journals.

Dr. Robert Harris is a Professor Emeritus (Environmental Engineering) for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Harris is a trained industrial hygienist and has specialized in exposure analysis. He has served on previous Love Canal review committees and he currently serves on several editorial review boards for scientific publicatons. Dr. Harris has received many distinguished awards for his pioneering work in preventing worker illness.

Dr. I. Glenn Sipes is a Professor at the University of Arizona. He directs its Center for Toxicology and heads two academic departments. He is a renowned toxicologist/biochemical pharmacologist. He often reviews scientific studies prior to publication. Dr. Sipes served on an expert advisory panel on the resettlement of Love Canal for the habitability study.

Residents Attend October Meeting of Expert Advisory Committee

The October meeting was well attended by community members. About 25 residents attended the first afternoon session of the Advisory Committee, and about 100 came to the evening availability session. Attendance on the second day was also noticeably greater than previous meetings. People who had lived near the Love Canal shared their experiences with Committee members, who had expressed concern that the community was not getting involved in decisions about the study. Your input is certainly welcome! We're happy to have you coming to the meetings and to hear your questions, comments and concerns. A few people mentioned transportation as an obstacle to attending the meetings. Please let us know if you need transportation to attend, and we'll try to arrange something. Call (800) 458-1158, ext. 27530 prior to the meeting.

Readers are asking. . .

by Matthew P. Mauer, D.O., M.P.H.

We have received a number of questions from readers about health effects they have experienced and whether they could be related to exposures at Love Canal. In talking with former residents, I learned a great deal about their experiences living and playing near the canal. I was able to discuss what we know and do not know about health effects at Love Canal, and how the current study may help answer at least some of their questions. I'd like to share an example of the questions we have received.



What does this mean? It means that we don't know for sure whether thyroid disease or thyroid cancer could be caused by exposures at Love Canal. It is hoped that the current Love Canal study will help to address at least some of these health-related questions. While the study won't be able to evaluate all types of thyroid disease, the cancer incidence portion of the study will examine whether certain cancers, such as thyroid cancer, have occurred more frequently in former residents of Love Canal than in the general population. If a higher incidence of thyroid cancer is found in the Love Canal population, then study participants and their physicians can be notified to help improve early detection.

No study can provide all the answers we'd like to have about health effects at Love Canal, but it is important that we try to learn as much as we can. The events at Love Canal brought the potential problems of environmental hazardous waste to the attention of the country and the world. And while this has contributed to the growth of research in this field, there is still a long way to go.

Dr. Mauer is employed by the NYS Department of Health and is the physician working on the Love Canal health study. He was trained in occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. He also completed training in preventive medicine and public health and earned his Master of Public Health degree at the State University of New York at Albany.

Resident Committee Members Say Build Trust; Look at Chemically Induced Stress

Three former Love Canal residents (Luella Kenny, Patricia Grenzy and Joseph Dunmire) joined the Expert Advisory Committee as community consultants. Their first meeting with the Committee was this October. They shared their Canal experiences and opinions about the study with DOH and the rest of the Committee. We are encouraged by the dialogue that their participation has opened. Because their experiences differ, their opinions or concerns about different aspects of the study vary. This better understanding about their unique perspectives helps us to develop approaches that consider the different points of view.

Two new Committee recommendations were formed as a direct result of the consultants' participation. An ongoing concern about how to handle stress-induced illnesses when interpreting the study findings had been previously tabled, due to uncertainty about whether or how to proceed without community support. Patricia Grenzy clearly described the stress she experienced, and helped to focus the discussion by asking what is known about chemically-induced stress symptoms. She also wondered what is known about the chemical effects being further compounded by situational stress. The Committee recommended that DOH begin with a literature search to see what research, if any, has been done in this area. The second recommendation is that DOH take steps to build trust with the community. Residents agreed DOH should continue with the newsletter, postcards and other outreach activities. Additional suggestions from the consultants are that DOH should emphasize a few things to the community to build trust:

  • this study is a new one and is not like the older health studies;
  • this study may not derive health answers BUT it may point the way or serve as a stepping stone to further knowledge and understanding;
  • this study is a scientific study which is being subjected to independent critique and input;
  • since scientific knowledge does improve with time, residents should be given the option to keep their blood sera stored for future analysis.

We are grateful for the suggestions about what is needed. We agree with these statements and will try to emphasize them as we go along.

Study Updates

Second Part of Health Study Funded by Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

The Health Department's application for funding to continue the Love Canal follow-up health studies was approved by the ATSDR. Study efforts are now in full swing with researchers gearing up to analyze hundreds of serum samples; locating health information about former residents, such as deaths, births, and cancers; determining which chemicals need to be mapped; assessing the potential for chemical exposure and how the mapping will change these preliminary decisions; and preparing to contact former residents to obtain permission to analyze their blood. The grant funds study efforts for up to three years before completion.

99th Street School Rosters Copied by DOH

In November of 1999, Health Department researchers visited the offices of the Niagara Falls City School District and photocopied more than 5,000 records: classroom rosters for each year the 99th Street School was open. Thus began the process of trying to locate these former students and include them in the follow-up health studies. Since there is very little information available to help us find these former students, we expect to find a smaller percentage of this group than their classmates whose parents were interviewed. If you know where a former 99th Street School student is living, you can help. Ask them to contact study researchers at 518-402-7950.

Committee Advises on Exposure and Blood Analyses

One of the major projects scheduled for the second half of the Love Canal follow-up health study is the analysis of the stored blood sera taken from Love Canal residents in 1978. You may recall that sera is the liquid left after blood is clotted. Nearly all of the discussion about technical aspects of the study was related to analyzing and interpreting this information. DOH researchers presented the reasons for choosing chemicals to measure in the sera and how they propose to use the questionnaire information about occupational exposures in this group of residents.

The Committee agreed that it is useful to categorize people whose serum is being tested into one of three categories: likely to have been occupationally exposed to Love Canal chemicals, possibly exposed, or not likely to have been exposed. The breakdown of which occupations were in which group (done by an industrial hygienist) should be independently reviewed by a second industrial hygienist to ensure consistency in the data. Niagara County Health Department representatives and Buffalo Regional office of NYSDOH will provide local and historical information about the major employers and their relationship to Love Canal indicator chemicals. Serum levels will be compared against the early tests done on the blood samples, the exposure rankings, and other sources of exposure noted on the questionnaire (such as occupational exposure).

Selection of chemicals for serum analysis began with the persistent Love Canal indicator chemicals for soil—those known to be in the Canal but not commonly found elsewhere, yet not likely to enter the air or break down in to other substances. It was also proposed that additional compounds which are easily measured during this test be included, if there was reason to think about them as Love Canal chemicals in some way. We proposed an additional procedure as well — not an extra preparation but a second run through the machine that distinguishes the chemicals from each other. This test would measure PCBs and other long lived chemicals in the blood taken more than 20 years ago. These chemicals were not disposed of at the Canal so the information might not be useful for the Love Canal study. It might be useful to researchers who could benefit from knowing what the "background" chemical levels were in 1978. Since most of the stored blood sera will be exhausted after these analyses, it is important to glean as much information as possible from the samples. The Committee agreed that these analyses are appropriate ones to make.

The third technical item discussed was mapping of environmental data and how to handle disparities between environmental data, exposure ratings and the serum results. The Committee asked for additional information from DOH but reassured us that the three models might not match since they are looking at different aspects of the whole picture.

Expert Committee to Meet April 3 & 4, 2000

The spring 2000 meeting of the Love Canal Expert Advisory Committee has been scheduled for Monday, April 3 and Tuesday, April 4, 2000. As before, the Committee will meet at the Holiday Inn Select on Old Falls Street, across from the Carborundum Center in Niagara Falls. (The hotel was formerly the Clarion.) We will talk about how to map the environmental data, update everyone on the study's progress, and begin discussing how to release study results when they become available.

The Monday, April 3 meeting is scheduled for 1:30 to 5 PM and from 7 to 9 PM. On Tuesday, April 4 we will meet from 8:30 AM to 2 PM. You are welcome to attend any of these times. We have left Monday from 7 to 9 PM and Tuesday from 12 to 1 PM open to hear from you. We hope you can attend and share your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

How to Reach Us

By Phone: 518-402-7530
By fax: (518) 402-7539
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