07 July 2008

Doctors call for monitoring of chemical levels in people

Marie O'Halloran
The Irish Times 7/7/08

A DOCTORS' environmental organisation has called for the establishment of a national "biomonitoring" study to establish the baseline level of chemicals in people's systems.

The Irish Doctors' Environmental Association said such a study would be particularly important for people living near landfill sites, incinerators and industrial facilities. Dr Liz Cullen of the association said there should be baseline monitoring of the population around Carranstown, Duleek to establish the current background level of contaminants - before work on a new incinerator in the area gets under way. "If we can afford incinerators, landfill sites and industrial facilities, then we must be able to afford the cost of monitoring the environment and public health," she said.

"If, God forbid, there was an accident or a release of chemicals, it is important to know the levels of chemicals in the population, and the change. Otherwise, we will never know there is any increase from any industrial or hazardous waste." The same should apply in Haulbowline, Co Cork - the site of a toxic waste controversy.

In the Dáil last week, Minister for the Environment John Gormley agreed a baseline health study for the area was to be recommended, in light of data from the National Cancer Registry which showed the incidence of cancer in the Cobh area was 44 per cent higher than normal. Mr Gormley is expected to bring proposals to Government about the health survey and the clean-up of the site in the autumn.

Biomonitoring - measuring the levels of chemicals in the body - should be done on a national basis as a random study, according to the association. Monitoring should not be on a voluntary basis, "as people who volunteer would be concerned about their health and most likely to eat organically and be fastidious", said Dr Cullen. She said the biomonitoring should follow the example of the US, where it is done on a regular basis.

She insisted that the study should include "a wide variety" of tests and be "comprehensive", including the taking of blood and fat samples and other tests, and that it not be limited in scope.

Dr Cullen, who has just completed a doctorate in climate change and health, is a public health doctor working in the area of infectious diseases.

At this year's agm of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), doctors backed a motion by the association chairman Dr Philip Michael, and Dr Cullen, to establish "registers of known relevant baseline data in the vicinity of new incinerators and landfill sites and, in addition, that active ongoing health surveillance systems, including bio-monitoring, be undertaken in these areas in order to detect changes in the incidence of sentinel diseases and the levels of biotoxins in the population". See www.ideaireland.org for details.


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