Reuters Health  [Printer-friendly version]
September 7, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: People living near hazardous waste sites
become contaminated with toxic chemicals wafting on the air, which
degrades their immune systems, which makes them more prone to
infections, says the author of a new study.]

NEW YORK -- Living near a hazardous waste site containing persistent
pollutants such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and
chlorinated pesticides, seems to increase the risk of hospitalization
for respiratory infections and asthma in children, a study suggests.

Dr. David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the
Environment, at the State University of New York at Albany, said these
results are consistent with the hypothesis that simply living near a
waste site constitutes a risk of exposure to contaminants, presumably
by air transport, and that these chemicals can reduce immune system
function and lead to more infections.

New York State has nearly 900 identified hazardous waste sites or
highly contaminated bodies of water. Carpenter and colleagues examined
rates of hospitalization in New York for acute respiratory infections
and asthma by area of residence for children ages 0 to 9 years.

Carpenter, who reported the study this week in Germany at the annual
meeting of the European Respiratory Society, told Reuters Health: "Our
major finding is that children living near to waste sites, whether
landfills or contaminated bodies of water, are hospitalized more
frequently with acute respiratory infections," compared to children
living in "clean" areas.

"This remains true even after controlling for other known risk
factors, such as socioeconomic status, race and sex," he said.

The degree to which exposure to these contaminants suppresses immune
system function has been "underestimated," Carpenter added.

Unexpectedly, rates of hospitalization for asthma were also increased
in children living near a hazardous waste site. "Asthma is a disease
due to an overactive immune system, and we had expected that we would
see a reduced rate of hospitalization for asthma," Carpenter said.

"However, we are looking at asthmatics that are hospitalized for a
very severe attack, and on consideration we now suspect that this
occurs primarily when an asthmatic also has an infection." His team
plans additional studies to test whether this is the case.

Summing up, Carpenter said this study shows that exposure to organic
pollutants and other contaminants can harm health and just living near
to a contaminated site may cause exposure.

"While our specific study focused on air transport of the
contaminants, they are also in our food," Carpenter noted, "and the
effect of exposure should not be different whether it is via food or
air. So we really need to get these chemicals out of our environment
to the greatest degree possible."

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