Neighbors and former employees of a depleted uranium ammunition factory that closed more than two decades ago will soon be able to take part in a health study by the state Department of Health.
The state agency is hoping to reach at least 250 people who may have been impacted by National Lead Industries, which used depleted uranium to make projectile tips. There was no scrubber on the smokestack at 1130 Central Ave., and fine particles were released into the air, which prompted an eventual site cleanup that cost nearly $200 million.
Depleted uranium, a radioactive and toxic heavy metal, is hazardous to people if it gets in their body. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry previously determined that emissions from the plant were a public health danger and could have increased the risk of kidney disease and lung cancer.
Department of Health spokesman Peter Constantakes said the agency is hoping to analyze blood and urine samples from people who worked or lived within 600 meters of the plant. Notices will be sent out by telephone, mail and in public forums, with a contact number for people interested in the study to be released in the near future.
The study was prepared in consultation with Community Concerned about NL Industries, a local group active on this issue, and was approved by a national review board. Final parameters for the study were agreed upon with Community Concerned in August, Constantakes said.
Once the results from the tests are in, individuals will be notified of their results and a medical study will likely be compiled.
“It’s not just going to be a study,” Constantakes stressed.
“We will be reaching out to the individuals who were part of the study, because it may have affected their health and we want to let them know.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who has been an outspoken advocate for government intervention on this issue, said it was gratifying to hear the state was initiating this study. In 2009, he called for a reassessment of dangers from the plant and was pleased that the federal government released funds to help pay for this study.
Money for the study, which will be implemented by the Department of Health, comes from a variety of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
“We have to produce and catalog data so we can get our arms around the price tag and response that is required,” Tonko said,
The urine test is a more widely recognized way of detecting depleted uranium in the body. The blood test represents a more recent innovation, so those results probably won’t be released to the individual and instead be used to compare to future studies.
People who live outside the 600-meter radius of the plant can still be tested, but their results might not be used in any studies that the Department of Health produces.
There is currently an ongoing public health study being conducted by the state at this site. This health outcome study is expected to take two or three years and consist of an examination of public health records and interviews.
The Department of Health didn’t have an estimate on when this new study would be finished, as the number of participants will determine the time frame.
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