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EPA seeks self-confirming study

2012-09-28T03:30:00Z EPA seeks self-confirming studyBy John W. Ray Mtstandard.com
September 28, 2012 3:30 am  • 

Recently, the Butte Health Department released a “fact sheet” regarding Butte cancer rates that could be attributed to heavy metals exposure. It sought to calm citizen fears that Superfund is not working to protect the public’s health and found that all is well: don’t worry, we don’t have a cancer problem worse than anywhere else. Should citizens be satisfied with the health department’s conclusion that Superfund is working and that their health is being protected?

Government has a duty to protect public health. Superfund was specifically created to protect the public health from threats from toxic waste. Millions of dollars have been expended to achieve this purpose. It would be valuable for Butte citizens to know whether or not the Superfund cleanup has been effective.

Last spring, Dr. Stacie Barry provided a compelling answer to the question of Superfund’s effectiveness: Superfund has not reduced the cancer rates in Butte. The EPA went ballistic! Instead of reevaluating the efficacy of their cleanup efforts, EPA marshaled its full resources to discredit Dr. Barry’s report, even resorting to personal attacks on her professionalism and competency.

EPA then decided to get a study that would show the efficacy of the Superfund cleanup and enlisted the Butte Health Department to be its accomplice. The Health Department was tasked by EPA to be the lead agency in designing and conducting a study of the health effects of exposure to Superfund toxics of concern. The recently released fact sheet is the first attempt to beguile the public.

The Health Department is not up to the task of designing and conducting a valid and reliable health study of the effects of Superfund toxics on public health. The Health Department has no personnel trained to do such a study.

To assist in this effort, the Health Department in May created a health study advisory board, but this board has no one trained in risk assessment, environmental epidemiology, biomedical statistics or environmental toxicology; skills essential to conduct such a study. Only after reminding the Health Department of the provisions of Montana’s open records law was I finally given a list of advisory board members names. The health study advisory board was selected in secret with no public notice. The Health Department deliberately picked members with whom they were, as it was said, “comfortable” and who would not be too “volatile.” Although the board is under a late October deadline from EPA, it has yet, at the time of this writing, to meet. Four months wasted. How can the board produce any type of quality study? It is obvious this is a sham, public show process.

The EPA only gave this task to the Health Department because they knew that, by default, the Health Department would have to rely on EPA to produce the kind of confirmatory study the EPA wants.

The recently released fact sheet shows the ineptitude of the Health Department. The Health Department wants to use “incidence studies” to show that cancer rates in Butte are no worse than anywhere else. This incidence report methodology is recognized as the worst type of methodology for this type of study. For example, this methodology, because it only deals with reported health problems, under-represents low income citizens who live disproportionately within Butte’s Superfund sites. The fact sheet only looks at cancer, yet exposure to the Butte’s toxics cause many other diseases. The sheet does not concentrate on uptown Butte Superfund sites but plays the statistical trick of looking at all of Butte to lower the rate percentages.

Butte citizens deserve to know from a competent and unbiased source whether or not Superfund is protecting public health. Numerous peer reviewed, valid and reliable studies have indicated that the Superfund cleanup in Butte is a failure. Unfortunately, ever since the local government signed the settlement agreement with ARCO, local government has been more concerned about protecting the interests of ARCO and the EPA rather than that of Butte residents. For proof, read the settlement agreement. Local government, particularly the planning and health departments, needs to stop pandering to EPA and ARCO and start looking out for the public interest. Isn’t that why we have a local government in the first place?

— Dr. John W. Ray, 915 West Galena, in Butte.

(3) Comments

  1. oldie
    Report Abuse
    oldie - September 30, 2012 1:02 pm
    Hmmmph, no record of cancer in Butte? Well that should come as no surprise to anyone because there is no record of silicosis in Butte either. No, there isn't. No, because if there was a record of silicosis, which began in the mines of Butte, and is the only place you can get it, then the Anaconda company might be held accountable for it. But there is no written record, so the Anaconda Co. is not legally responsible for the thousands of deaths from silicosis. Everybody died of tuberculosis, or "flu", or something other than silicosis. Because that just never happened.

    The Health Dept. which protects Butte from cancer is the same sham outfit that supposedly protected Butte's residents from silicosis. I suppose that just never happened either then, huh? I challenge anyone on the Dept. of Health to show us the records on silicosis in Butte. Go find them. (And good luck at that) Oh, I see, the absence of those records proves you've done your job well? Yeah, sure it does.
  2. Comparadun2
    Report Abuse
    Comparadun2 - September 28, 2012 8:29 pm
    The Health Department is not up to the task of designing and conducting a valid and reliable health study of the effects of Superfund toxics on public health. The Health Department has no personnel trained to do such a study.

    Naturally..nor are they for most anything else either.

    "The health study advisory board was selected in secret with no public notice. The Health Department deliberately picked members with whom they were, as it was said, “comfortable” and who would not be too “volatile.” Although the board is under a late October deadline from EPA, it has yet, at the time of this writing, to meet. Four months wasted. How can the board produce any type of quality study? It is obvious this is a sham, public show process."

    Oh that is typical of so many things BSB does and has done for years. No one to "volatile" means, no one that will speak up and say, wait, that is not right.

    "Our health department here is a shame and an embarrassment."

    Indeed, as is much of local government here in general.
  3. montanastrong
    Report Abuse
    montanastrong - September 28, 2012 9:18 am
    I usually don't agree with Dr. Ray, but this time's the exception. Most Butte natives know that Butte didn't keep proper cancer records here for well over a decade, and most Butte-Anaconda patients went to Billings or Missoula for diagnosis and treatment, making the data from those two towns much higher than normal. So comparing Butte to the state is a flawed analysis in the first place. We should be comparing to national data. Our health department here is a shame and an embarrassment. When we are questioned by relatives who live out of town about what the health department is doing about health issues, we have to report that they are doing worse than nothing. They are telling us we are not suffering, and if we are, it's our own doing - we are obese or smoke.
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