WASHINGTON -- An environmental group will tell a Senate panel today that it has identified 42 suspected clusters of cancer, birth defects and other illnesses in 13 states, including Texas.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, working with the National Disease Clusters Alliance, wants to step up the federal response to investigating suspected clusters. The 42 clusters -- either confirmed or under active investigation -- are in Texas, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas. The groups plan to look at all 50 states.
A specific source of chemical contamination -- asbestos -- was identified in only one of the 42 clusters, in Libby, Mont. But the group says that in many communities, such as Camp Lejeune, N.C., "the case grows stronger that documented exposure to toxics has harmed the health of community residents."
The NRDC will testify today before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with environmental activist Erin Brockovich and Trevor Schaefer, a 21-year old survivor of brain cancer from Boise, Idaho. He and his family have created Trevor's Trek Foundation to fight childhood cancer.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the committee chairwoman, and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo -- the top Republican on the Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health Subcommittee -- are co-sponsoring legislation aimed at helping communities determine whether there's a link between elevated levels of illness and contaminants in the environment.
"Each of these communities is suffering alone, and that doesn't need to be," said Gina Solomon, a medical doctor and scientist with the NRDC. "The science could be more powerful if there was a study looking more broadly at disease clusters."
Solomon said the group looked at 13 states to document the frequency of areas with unusual rates of disease. It found 42 clusters, either confirmed or under active investigation, with diseases ranging from childhood cancer, birth defects and neurological diseases to multiple sclerosis.
"It's a very widespread and diverse problem that needs national attention," Solomon said. Boxer and Crapo's legislation would give the Environmental Protection Agency a role in investigating clusters, create guidelines for prioritizing and investigating disease clusters, and increase assistance to cluster communities.