Radiation symptoms were indicated, but a health specialist said the findings needed to be compared with other communities.
By Molly Harper firstname.lastname@example.org
KEVIL, Ky.--People living within 1-1/2 miles of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant are presenting symptoms linked to radiation exposure, a health screening showed, but a state-employed health specialist contended its findings need to be compared against those in other communities.
Results from the health screening, funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, were presented Thursday night to the Active Community for Truth, a group of Kevil residents who blame many of their health problems on contamination from the plant. The study was commissioned by the Coalition for Health Concern.
Tri-State Counseling, an independent medical and legal advocacy group composed of Kentucky registered nurses, performed the screening. It is based on January interviews of 77 residents who live within 1-1/2 miles of the plant. During the two-hour interviews, more than 400 questions relating to medical history were asked. Environmental screenings, simple neurological exams and testing of vital signs were also performed.
Of those 77 residents, 21 reported more than 40 symptoms than can be linked to radiation exposure. Seven reported calciosis, or tumors under the skin. Fourteen people reported gross motor difficulty, meaning they had trouble with simple physical tasks such as walking and picking up easily handled objects. Eight had or still have cancer related to the prostate, bladder, kidneys, skin or bones.
"The nurses were very concerned that they found so much," said Susan Patton, who heads Tri-State. "They were very concerned that they found so many people who were ill and wanted to find help but couldn't."
Ray English, one of the organizers of ACT, said he was surprised by the findings.
"The percentages were higher than I thought they'd be," he said. "But it shows what we thought it would."
Not everyone was convinced. State Director of Epidemiology and Health Planning Glyn Caldwell, who was sitting in the audience, said the findings of the study should compare to national averages.
"I think this is a wonderful look at the community," he said. "The problem is in how you look at it. There's no community that is completely without disease. ... You have to have some sort of comparison to gain perspective."
Patton conceded that the screening didn't gauge the disease rates of other communities, but said that wasn't the point. She said Tri-State's findings prove there is a problem and opens the door for more-conclusive studies.
"If there's one, there's too many," Patton said. "I take it from the standpoint of risk management. You can't look at it that one person who dies of cancer doesn't matter; it does."
Corinne Whitehead, Coalition for Health Concern president, said the screening is only the first step. She said the group wants to see clinical testing of all plant workers and residents living nearby. Clinical testing has never been funded by the federal government at a Department of Energy site, but Whitehead said she wants Paducah to be the first.
"We want more testing," English said. "We want hair and blood testing to prove that we're contaminated. It's not very expensive and doesn't take much time. I guess the next step is to start aggravating the senators and the state for the funds to do it."
ACTís next meeting will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at the West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area clubhouse. It will feature a presentation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Servicesí Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. That federal agency is responsible for assessing the health problems of people who live around plants like Paducahís. The meeting is open to the public.