Sunday, November 3, 2002
By Mary Julius
Enterprise staff writer
In what is being heralded by Middleboro residents as a step forward, state health officials will be using a $100,000 grant to study whether there are more cases of multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig's disease in people who live near hazardous waste sites, particularly in Middleboro and Weymouth.
"We really don't know who has these diseases," said Dr. Robert Knorr, deputy director for environmental epidemiology, in the Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment at the DPH. "People have expressed concern that environmental exposures may be causing multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). If we don't know how many people have it, we can't answer that question. This is the first step to do that."
The two-year study will be conducted by Knorr and Suzanne Condon, bureau director and DPH assistant commissioner. Researchers will be looking at all towns in Plymouth County and surrounding towns including Weymouth, Hingham and Raynham.
The study is being funded by the state and by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
"The ATSDR has one question in particular they want us to answer," Knorr said. "Is there more ALS and MS in people who live near hazardous waste sites? Some scientific literature tells us there may be a link between environmental exposures and these diseases."
The researchers have chosen to look at two specific areas, at the South Naval Weymouth Air Station, where residents have expressed concerns about contaminants causing more MS near the base, and in Middleboro, where some residents have indicated they believe ALS is occurring at a higher rate than would be expected, Knorr said.
"We will be looking at environmental sources from various companies in that area," Knorr said.
By compiling data on all cases of the two diseases in Plymouth County, researchers will be able to see if there is a higher rate in those areas, and if there is a possible link to environmental exposures.
The researchers will begin the study in early December and will be meeting with representatives from advocacy groups for the diseases and health professionals to work out the details of the study.
"This is what we've been hoping for," said M. Victor Silvia of Middleboro, who has been concerned about hazardous waste sites in Middleboro since 1978, when he began fighting for the cleanup of contaminants in Purchade Brook. "Maybe we can find some answers.
To Donna Jordan, president of the ALS Family Charitable Foundation, the study is good news.
"This is a huge victory for my brother and everyone else who has had ALS," said Jordan, whose brother, Cliff Jordan, died from ALS in 1998. Jordan's organization will be gathering information on people who have ALS and may have come in contact with environmental toxins. Anyone with information is asked to contact them at their Web site, www.alsfamily.org.
"We're hoping they can prove there is a link," Jordan said.
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