Thursday, August 23, 2001

Fernald study group ended over some members' protests

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Federal officials on Wednesday disbanded a committee that had been studying the health effects of pollution from the former Fernald uranium processing plant even though several committee members say many health questions remain unanswered.

        The Fernald Health Effects Subcommittee was formed four years ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was to provide advice on what sorts of studies were needed to measure the health damage caused by radioactive and toxic chemical pollution from Fernald.

        “We've received the information we need,” said Mike Donnelly, deputy chief of the CDC radiation studies branch.

        The committee has served as the public forum for releasing several reports detailing health risks related to Fernald:

        A risk assessment issued in 1998 revealed an increased risk of lung cancer among neighbors, linked to radon gas emitted from the site. A 1999 report found slightly increased risks of leukemia and breast, bone and kidney cancer for neighbors.

        Among workers, studies have reported increased lung and stomach cancers. Meanwhile, a court-ordered medical monitoring program has found higher-than-expected numbers of people with chronic kidney and bladder disease that may or may not be linked to Fernald.

        Despite these findings, committee members want more details about the health damage suffered by workers; the risks linked to toxic chemicals used at Fernald (as opposed to the radiation concerns); and whether Fernald pollution triggered birth defects, miscarriages, infertility, learning disabilities or genetic damage.

        “Now, just as we have the technology in hand to study the genetic damage from these releases, this committee is shutting down,” said committee member Robert Hanavan, a longtime Fernald neighbor.

        The CDC decided not to pursue questions about reproductive issues mostly because there is so little reliable data about what would be the expected number of problems in the area, said CDC scientist Judith Qualters.

        Other questions about toxic waste risks are still being studied by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, rather than the CDC's radiation studies branch.


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