Saturday, May 2, 2009

Environmental Illnesses

The Bangor Daily News has an article about health problems in a small town here in Maine where paper mill sludge was disposed of more than 10 years ago in an unlined pit over a sand and gravel aquifer near a stream. Many people in Maine get their drinking water from wells that come from these kinds of aquifers since they live in rural areas.  The people in that small town who are affected are asking the state to test their wells and the groundwater near the disposal site.
Not until March, when neighbors began talking to one another about their illnesses, did it strike them as odd that they had similar symptoms, including memory and cognitive problems and muscle disorders. Also odd was the fact that most came down with the symptoms about three years ago, the same year groundwater monitoring at the operation ceased.
Comment:  I have heard stories like this from people in other places in Maine where paper mills have disposed of the waste sludge from paper production.  In many of these towns the people are so afraid of loosing their jobs that people won't speak up and if they do they are shunned and defamed.  The mills have, in effect, run many of these towns, their employees holding key positions in town management and the legacy they leave behind is not a pretty one.  One by one the mills are closing down, or cutting down on production and the stories are beginning to come out.  One of these towns is reported to have a very high incidence of cancer.  A doctor in this town who investigated this some years ago had his privileges at the local hospital revoked after he made an issue of his findings. Also in that town drinking water wells near a sludge disposal site had to be shut down because of contamination.  The mill did pay to have those homes connected to the town water supply.

I know that my background in occupational and environmental health makes me look at these things from a particular perspective.  I tend to want to get all the data together and find out what the sources and causes are, but that is not a luxury for people who are sick and do not have the resources or education to ferret things out for themselves.  One of the obligations of the state is to protect the health and well-being of its people.  A clean and safe living environment is a right for every human being.  We are all precious in God's eyes and we need to be seen as precious to each other.

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