No conclusions on source of metal, but researcher says fish unlikely
Blood and hair samples taken from Ravena residents in May of 2010 showed mercury levels well above the national average, and about 10 percent of those tested had amounts above safe federal guidelines.
That’s the preliminary findings from a study conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health, which studied samples from 172 people to test for heavy metal levels. Harvard’s Michael Bank this evening went over the data gleaned thus far with residents at the Ravena-Selkirk-Coeymans High School, located across the street from the Lafarge Cement plant, one of the highest emitters of mercury in the state.
Bank emphasized the study cannot identify the source of the mercury found, but he did say questionnaires filled out by participants indicate fish a common source of the metal is probably not to blame.
`Some people who had high mercury were not high fish consumers [and vice versa], which is very interesting,` Bank said. `This is something that needs to be followed up on.`
The data show levels of mercury in the blood above the national average across the board, in all age groups and both sexes.
The school’s analysis also found samples to contain levels of selenium and cadmium that were below the national average.
Bank admitted the study group of 172 people from a 10-mile radius around the Lafarge plant is not statistically significant. The 2000 census pegs the population of the village alone at over 3,300 people. The study was also not truly random; residents volunteered to have their samples taken.
Still, he said, the study indicates 12 percent of those volunteers have levels of at least one major heavy metal that is above the healthy standards.
`12 percent, I think, is not trivial,` he said.
A Lafarge representative noted the first phase of a state Department of Health study into the area had not revealed significant health risks cropping up in area residents. That study is using existing information, and will be continuing in the months ahead.
`Like our neighbors, we look forward to a complete understanding of Dr. Bank’s study, including the testing protocols he used and his detailed results,` said Lafarge Ravena Environmental Manager John Reagan.
Individuals who participated in the Harvard study will have their results returned to them, but not for the full gamut of tests. State law only permits the distribution of results derived at a state-licensed laboratory, and blood was only tested for mercury, cadmium and arsenic at that lab. Harvard tested for lead, aluminum and selenium in its own lab. Such rules don’t exist for hair sampling, though, and Bank said he hopes those full results will be turned over to individuals.
That won’t happen until the study is completed, though. Harvard is looking to publish a final report in June.
`This sharing of what we have to date now is one step forward in a long process,` said Harvard’s John Spengler, a collaborator in the research. `I feel we’re very much at the end of the beginning.`