Research from a doctor at the Natural Resource Defense Council saying the U.S. has numerous areas of the country with higher health risks, the report claims there are 42 disease clusters across 13 states in the U.S. which include numerous types of cancer, birth defects and other chronic illnesses.

By Daily Mail Reporter
29th March 2011

A worrying report claims there are 42 disease clusters across 13 states in the U.S. which include numerous types of cancer, birth defects and other chronic illnesses.

The study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Disease Clusters Alliance drew on research by federal, state and local officials and peer reviewed academic studies.

They have warned that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that there are likely more in other states which will be revealed through further study.

Map of California showing the disease clusters and their location. there are 12 other states in the U.S. with such clusters

The states that are affected are Texas, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas.

They are now urging federal coordination and support to help confirm these clusters and determine their causes.

Co-author of the study Dr Gina Solomon from the NRDC said: ‘The faster we can identify such clusters, and the sooner we can figure out the causes, the better we can protect residents living in the affected communities.’

The study looked at clusters that have occurred since 1976 when Congress passed the Toxic Substance Control Act, which was meant to regulate the use of toxic chemicals in industrial, commercial and consumer products.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control defines a cluster investigation as ‘a review of an unusual number, real or perceived, of health events (such as reports of cancer) grouped together in a time and location.’

The study is the first of several that are planned.

Only one of the 42 clusters – in Libby, Montana – showed a specific source for chemical contamination – asbestos.

In the other clusters, NRDC saw signs that exposure to toxic chemicals hurt the people who lived nearby.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on disease clusters and environmental health.

On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has scheduled an oversight hearing on the issue.

Among those testifying, aside from Dr Solomon, are Trevor Schaefer, a 21-year-old brain cancer survivor from Boise, and Erin Brockovich, who became a household name when her fight to document a disease cluster in Hinkley, California, was turned into an eponymous movie starring Julia Roberts.

In her blog post, about the report, Dr Solomon cited several other disease clusters.

  • Birth defects in Kettleman City, California, including twenty babies born over less than two years with birth defects, and four children born with birth defects so severe that they have since died, in this town of only 1,500 people.
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – Lou Gehrig’s diseasee – in Herculaneum, Missouri, a town affected by a major lead smelter and decades of pollution.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) in Wellington, Ohio, where residents are three-times more likely to develop MS than in the rest of the country, a disease whose causes are unknown but are thought to involve a combination of genetic and environmental causes.
  • Birth defects in Dickson, Tennessee, a striking cluster that was identified by a non-profit organization called Birth Defect Research for Children, created by the mother of a child with birth defects, which gathers information about birth defects nationally, links families, and works with scientists to identify patterns that require investigation.
  • Male breast cancer, childhood cancer, and birth defects in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. More than 60 men who lived on that base have been diagnosed with male breast cancer, which Dr Solomon said is an extraordinary and alarming finding which is almost impossible to occur by chance alone, and one which deserves urgent attention.

Dr Solomon wrote on her blog: ‘These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. In the states we haven’t studied yet, we have already heard of dozens more disease clusters, so the problem is widespread.’

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