section is designed to provide brief overviews of selected communities
that have documented toxic contamination through testing.
Additional examples of body burden monitoring and environmental
testing in communities will be added as case studies are gathered.
In each case study, we will describe the problem, the type of
monitoring done, and the community's experience with the testing
process - including how effective the process was in achieving
Different chemicals require different types of monitoring. Body
burden monitoring is the measurement of chemicals in our bodies. Scientific
techniques now allow us to detect very small amounts of chemicals
in blood, breast milk, urine, hair, fat and other body tissues. Which
of these body burden tests to use depends on the type of chemicals
being monitored. Persistent chemicals are best tested in blood,
adipose tissue (fat) or breast milk. Chemicals that pass through
the body more quickly can be found using blood or urine tests.
Similarly, environmental testing measures chemicals in air,
water and soil. Food can also be tested as an indicator
of environmental contamination. For example, mercury-contaminated
water can lead to elevated levels of this metal in certain seafoods.
Also, certain chemicals from industrial practices are carried
in air and can make their way into our meat, poultry and dairy
supplies by being deposited on soil or vegetation where they
are then eaten by animals.
For private citizens interested in testing, a number of laboratories
are able to analyze biological samples (blood, urine, fat, breast
milk, etc.) for body burden monitoring, or environmental samples
for environmental monitoring. However, the tests can be
expensive (for example, $1,000-$5,000 per person for body burden
monitoring depending upon the chemicals tested). Even
if cost is not a limiting factor, the tests may not provide
the most useful answers.
Body burden monitoring, for example, may confirm the presence
of a particular chemical in a person's system, but this information
will not, with rare exceptions for a few chemicals, provide
an explanation for symptoms or an illness. Many symptoms or
illnesses have many different possible contributing factors,
and it is rare for a detected chemical to be positively identified
as the cause of a person's illness. Moreover, we don't know
what the vast majority of commercial chemicals do to humans
because of the lack of scientific research on the health effects
of these chemicals. It should be noted that body burden monitoring
may leave individuals anxious because of the uncertainty about
whether their chemical body burden will cause future disease.
Finally, it is important to note the feeling of helplessness
that some tested individuals may feel knowing that there are
no generally accepted safe and effective methods for eliminating
many contaminants from their bodies.
The reliability of laboratory results is another consideration
that applies equally to body burden monitoring as to environmental
testing. A recent report released by the Center for Children's
Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine,
A Guide to Biomonitoring of Industrial Chemicals
provides an overview of private and state laboratories that
conduct various types of monitoring and analysis.
Despite some of the drawbacks associated with body burden monitoring
and environmental testing, clear documentation of toxic contamination
can provide incentive for further action in communities.
In the case study on Mossville presented below, for example,
blood tests on a resident of that community opened the door
for larger scale government funded investigations.
I. THE COMMUNITY
Founded by African Americans in 1812, the community of Mossville
is located near the city of Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish,
Louisiana. Of the 53 industrial facilities in Calcasieu
Parish, 17 are within half a mile of the boundary of Mossville.
These facilities include the largest concentration of vinyl
plastic manufacturers in the U.S., oil refineries, a coal-fired
power plant, and chemical production facilities.
According to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), a self-reported
industry database, 11 of the 17 facilities surrounding Mossville
collectively released more than 2.5 million pounds of toxic
materials into the air, water, land and for disposal off-site
in 1999. Total production-related waste for the same facilities
topped 85 million pounds. Toxic release data for this
and other geographic areas and industries can be obtained from
the Right-To-Know Network [http://www.rtk.net].
Data for the latest year currently available is 2000, and all
numbers are reported in pounds.
II. COMMUNITY CONCERNS
The residents of Mossville suffer a number of serious health
problems including cancer, heart problems and respiratory disorders.
They are concerned that they have developed, or will develop
adverse health effects from exposure to toxic releases from
the heavily polluting facilities that engulf their community.
Dioxins, chlorine-containing chemicals generated by vinyl production,
are among the most toxic substances known and chief among the
community's health concerns. Once released, dioxins and
related compounds travel through air and water currents and
accumulate in soils, sediments and on vegetation, where they
are ingested or otherwise taken up by fish, cattle, and other
animals that we eat. Consequently, dioxins are eaten by
humans and contaminate the tissues, blood and breastmilk of
people throughout the world.
Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA)
and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified
the most potent of the dioxins, 2,3,7,8-TCDD, as a human carcinogen.
The U.S. EPA estimated a 1 in 1,000 cancer risk to Americans
due to exposure. Dioxins are also associated with a wide
range of non-cancer effects including altered sexual development,
reproductive problems, diabetes, organ toxicity, immune system
disorders and the ability to mimic or block the action of hormones.
As a consequence of these serious threats to human health, dioxins
were among the first twelve chemicals targeted for elimination
by the international POPs treaty that was signed in Stockholm
in May of 2001.
In 1998, a private law firm commissioned dioxin testing that
included a resident of Mossville. The person was found
to have a 2,3,7,8-TCDD level above the so-called normal range
applied by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(ATSDR). The law firm submitted the dioxin report and
analysis to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals
(DHH), which dismissed the findings and refused to investigate
the dioxin exposure. The Mossville community, joined by
other local organizations and environmental groups, protested
the DHH's decision. This resistance spurred on an Exposure
Investigation in Mossville conducted by the ATSDR, a federal
agency. Other environmental investigations conducted in
Mossville have taken the form of air monitoring projects spearheaded
by groups such as Mossville Environmental Action Now, Inc. (MEAN,
III. TESTING FOR CHEMICALS
ATSDR Exposure Investigation
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted
the Exposure Investigation in Mossville "Ěto determine
if there was evidence for increased exposure to dioxins in residents
of Mossville". The Exposure Investigation involved
the testing of blood samples from 28 adults living in Mossville
for dioxins and dioxin-like chemicals. One breastmilk
sample taken from a mother in Mossville was similarly tested,
and four Mossville surface soil samples and two chicken eggs
were tested for dioxins only.
the premise of the ATSDR Exposure Investigation was welcomed
by Mossville residents, the process itself was not altogether
embraced. The study was perceived as unclear and non-inclusive
of community members. Furthermore, according to independent
scientists, some of the conclusions and recommendations made
by the ATSDR were not supported by the findings of the study.
Other conclusions were thought to have been drawn from comparisons
with invalid or outdated information. For example, the
Agency concluded that the dioxins in the breast milk sample
were not elevated. This conclusion was drawn by comparing Mossville
women to U.S. women in a 1992 study. Studies conducted between
1995-1997, however, show that dioxin levels had decreased in
U.S. women since the 1992 study. If a comparison is made with
the more recent findings, the Mossville sample is 30% higher
than the average level found in the U.S. at that time. Irrespective
of how the comparisons are made, the Mossville breast milk sample
contained dioxins at a level almost twice as high as the concentration
at which the government of the Netherlands deems cow's milk
to be too contaminated for commercial sale.
The Exposure Investigation also discovered that the average
concentration of dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals in the blood
of the tested Mossville residents was 3.25 times higher than
the average level of an ATSDR comparison group.
Further information about the ATSDR Mossville Exposure Investigation
can be found at:
An independent review of the ATSDR Exposure Investigation can
be found under the "reports" section at:
Despite the finding that the Mossville residents who participated
in the study had elevated levels of dioxins, the ATSDR simply
reported that the source of the increased dioxin exposure was
not known. They did not recommend that local sources of
dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals be identified and eliminated.
They did acknowledge, however, that air sampling could provide
evidence of whether the community is being exposed to dioxins
through airborne sources.
Calcasieu Parish Air Sampling Program
The ATSDR Exposure Investigation opened the door for a comprehensive
air sampling program under the Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality (DEQ), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(U.S. EPA) Region 6, and the Lake Area Alliance, a local group.
Its objectives were to:
* Determine the concentration of particular contaminants in
response to time, meteorology and industrial activity.
* Determine whether the concentrations of detected toxic chemicals
fall within State standards.
Samples are being collected in a total of five locations, including
Mossville, over the course of one year, and initial data are
available on a web site set up by the Louisiana DEQ. To date,
the program has uncovered volatile organics in the air that
correspond to the chemicals released from the local industrial
The Calcasieu Parish air sampling program outline is available
Raw data, without interpretation, from the Calcasieu Parish
air sampling program are available at:
Environmental Monitoring Project
The local group Mossville Environmental Action Now, Inc. (MEAN,
Inc.) also answered the call for comprehensive air monitoring
in Mossville and throughout Calcasieu Parish. Through
the MEAN Environmental Monitoring Project:
*Air from public places, schools and residential areas downwind
from industrial facilities will be monitored.
* A Sniffers Log Program will be made available for the public
to document chemical smells and any accompanying health symptoms.
The results of this program will be presented at MEAN education
workshops and to the public through appropriate media.
Three industrial facilities immediately surrounding Mossville,
namely Condea Vista (Georgia Gulf/Sasol North America), Conoco
Refinery and PPG, experience numerous accidental releases and
upset conditions. These events release large quantities
of toxic chemicals into the air. In 1999, 64 events occurred;
in the year 2000, 100 events occurred; in 2001, 56 events occurred.
In 2000, the air monitoring program demonstrated that accidental
releases contributed additional toxic pollutants into the air
of Mossville one of every three days.
More information about the MEAN monitoring project can be found
To The Top
IV. WHERE IS MOSSVILLE NOW?
The struggle for the people of Mossville is far from over.
Despite the ever increasing evidence that they are living
in a heavily contaminated community, local and federal government
officials have failed to enact policies that translate into
meaningful forward progress in the health of residents there
and in surrounding areas. Part of the problem is that
current U.S. laws do not establish any mandatory duty on the
part of environmental and health agencies for addressing the
problem of dioxin exposure. Moreover, there is virtually
no regulation of dioxin under U.S. environmental laws.
Even if the ATSDR exercised its discretionary authority to
recommend to the EPA the remedies sought by Mossville residents,
such as pollution reduction; environmental health services;
and relocation of the consenting residents, the EPA does not
have an obligation to implement such recommendations.
The Mossville situation demonstrates the environmental and
health crisis created by the environmental laws and policies
in Louisiana and throughout the nation that encourage and
approve industrial development in close proximity to residential
communities, which are typically people of color. MEAN is
focused on achieving the necessary remedies sought by residents
and continuing the work of exposing industrial pollution in
Your Community Monitoring Chemicals?
communities have developed and used techniques to detect
and measure toxic chemicals in their bodies, in the food
they eat, in the school yards where their children play,
and in the buildings where they live and work. A group
of Coming Clean NGOs are compiling case studies for inclusion
on this website and in a monitoring handbook. We are interested
in hearing from you about your community 's monitoring
activities. Please contact Michael Stanley-Jones
at Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (msjones@svtc)
or Sharyle Patton at Commonweal (firstname.lastname@example.org)
if you have information to share.