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Dump's Neighbors Reject Health Study

November 30, 1986|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

A spokesman for a group of residents near a Monterey Park landfill says a recently released study glosses over health problems in the area and that residents will ask for additional monitoring and a follow-up study.

The executive committee of Homeowners to Eliminate Landfill Problems (HELP) is especially concerned about birth defects and the long-term effects of airborne pollution from the Operating Industries Inc. hazardous-waste site, said HELP Chairman Hank Yoshitake.

"We feel a lot of these reports are made so it will come out clean, and there are glaring points they could not hide," Yoshitake said of the study released recently by the state and county health departments.

Independent Review

Yoshitake said an attorney and an independent health expert are reviewing the study for the residents group, which he said represents 460 families.

The state and county study concluded that the residents suffer more headaches, sore throats and nausea, but no abnormal level of cancer, liver disease, birth defects or other serious health problems. It concluded that none of the health problems could be linked directly to the landfill.

In 1984, health workers surveyed about 1,400 adults and 470 children in Monterey Park and Montebello neighborhoods surrounding the dump. A control group also was polled 10 miles east, in Hacienda Heights.

The study found that there were nine children with birth defects in the neighborhoods surrounding the dump and only one such child in the control neighborhood--4.2% and 1%, respectively, of the live births in the two areas, the study said. The study discounted one of the nine cases because the family moved to the dump area just one month before delivery.

Although the study noted that the rate of birth defects statewide is 3% to 5% and called the difference found in the neighborhoods near the dump statistically insignificant, Yoshitake said the residents group is not convinced.

Further Study

Yoshitake, who lives in Montebello, several hundred feet from the dump, said the residents group will ask the state and county to further study those cases to determine if they are related to the dump and try to identify other children with birth defects who may have been bypassed by the survey.

The number of birth defects "sticks out like a sore thumb in our eyes," he said.

Yoshitake said the residents group suspects that the incidence of birth defects in the area immediately surrounding the dump is higher than in the outlying areas of the study neighborhoods. Yoshitake said every house in the study area--as in the control area--should have been surveyed instead of every third house.

Kenneth Satin, an epidemiologist with the state Health Department, said there are no plans to further study birth defects in the area surrounding the dump.

"We didn't find any basis for further pursuit of that particular outcome," Satin said. He said every third house was surveyed because of cost considerations.

The homeowners organization also will ask the state to track the potential effects of air pollution from the dump and establish a hot line so residents can seek medical counsel.

The study concluded that residents living downwind of the site were two to four times more likely to have complained of health problems such as headaches, eye irritations, sore throats, nausea, trouble sleeping and feeling tired.

Contaminated Air

Breathing contaminated air was the most probable route of exposure because no ground water contamination has been reported in the area, the study said.

An unusually high number of cancer cases was recorded in one of the five study areas--an area of Monterey Park northwest of the landfill--but epidemiologists involved in the study said the landfill probably was not the cause of the disease. Twenty-seven cases of cancer were reported in the area, while 11.7 cases were expected based on findings in the comparison neighborhood.

The study noted that the northwest area was farther from the dump than other study areas and that most chemicals take 10 to 20 years to cause cancer. Most of the residents polled had not lived in the area that long.

Nevertheless, the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Tumor Registry is verifying those reported cases and will determine whether they are related to the dump, Satin said.

A case of liver cancer reported in the study is of interest to residents and health officials because exposure to vinyl chloride, which has been found at the dump, can cause liver cancer. But it is not known if the type of cancer reported is the kind caused by vinyl chloride.

"The report substantiates what we've been saying all along: that people near the dump have been getting sick," Yoshitake said. "These symptoms (such as headaches and sore throats) could lead to major health problems. We want to keep pressure on the state to come back in 10 years and take another survey."

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