From Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer (CRAAB!)

Health Studies Investigate Uranium Exposures from Colonie’s NL Industries Plant

By Anne Rabe, CCNL Health Committee member

After thirty years, residents living near the National Lead Industries (NL) plant in Colonie, NY are finally having their health questions answered. NL operated from 1958 to 1982 at 1130 Central Avenue using radioactive uranium and other heavy metals in the manufacture of penetrators and other military products. During this time, the company illegally polluted the adjacent residential community with an estimated five tons of uranium released from its stacks. Uranium is a toxic chemical due to its heavy metal and radiological properties.

In 1982, the state agencies uncovered NL’s illegal air pollution and dumping of uranium waste. When NL refused to conduct a cleanup, the federal Department of Energy cleaned up the contaminated soil at 53 residences and businesses on Central Avenue and adjacent streets in the early 1990’s. For another two decades, the agency conducted a cleanup of the 11-acre NL site.

Community Concerned About NL Industries (CCNL), a group of residents and former NL workers, has repeatedly asked the NYS Department of Health (DOH) to conduct a health investigation of the exposed residents and workers. Finally, three years ago, Dr. Howard Freed, the new DOH Director of the Center for Environmental Health, agreed. Two DOH health investigations will assess the body burden of uranium in residents and former workers, and conduct a health study of residents. CCNL’s Health Committee has been meeting with DOH staff to design the studies. The CCNL Health Committee includes Tom Ellis, Sharon Herr, Anne Rabe, Nancy Snow, Joan Sheehan of CRAAB! and Dr. David Carpenter of the University at Albany School of Public Health.

Former NL Industries site

The Health Outcomes Study is being done by DOH’s Community Exposure Research Section. The study will look at the rates of illness for residents living near NL. DOH has the following databases that can be used: Cancer Registry; Birth Defects Registry; and Hospitalization Records, which includes patients with autoimmune disorders and other illnesses related to uranium exposure. The study is using a three ring approach based on exposure levels. The first ring includes the contaminated residential areas that were remediated by the federal government. The second ring includes the 1/3 mile area where uranium was found in soil, and the third ring includes a 2/3 mile area where lower levels of uranium were found in soil. The DOH has not as yet released a detailed map of the area to be covered.

The purpose of the Body Burden Study is to measure depleted uranium (DU) and total uranium in the urine of former NL workers and in residents who lived near the NL site when it was in operation. People may also provide a blood sample, as well as any removed teeth. The benefits of this study are to obtain information on possible exposure levels and excretion rates of DU, which will provide important information for scientific research, future government health policies and can help inform people’s personal future health care. In the last six months, over 150 residents and former NL workers had their urine and blood tested. Dr. Patrick Parsons and John Arnason of the DOH Wadsworth Laboratory conducted the tests thanks to a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As far as we know, this is the first body burden testing for DU ever done in America. A pilot project was done of NL workers and residents in 2007 by a British scientist which showed significant levels of DU in urine in 8 people, twenty years after exposure. If you lived near NL Industries between 1958 and 1982 and are interested in being tested, please contact June Moore of DOH at 518-402-7950. If you’d like more information about CCNL or the proposed study, contact Anne at annerabe@msn.com .

This article is an excerpt from the CRAAB! Newsletter Vol. 15, No. 3 • Summer/Fall 2013.  Click here for  more details and article references.