Frances Cuda’s private well has supplied her family’s water for 19 years. But four months ago Cuda and 21 nearby residents learned their wells were contaminated with a carcinogen called trichloroethylene, or TCE.
So far the Environmental Protection Agency has connected 9 affected residents, including Cuda, to clean water from a nearby community well. The others are expected to be complete in January. However, residents wonder how the TCE exposure will impact their health in the future.
“I still drink bottled water and I don’t even know if that’s safe,” Cuda said. “It is going to take a long, long time to feel relaxed about water.”
Dr. Rick Langley, a medical epidemiologist with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, says the TCE contamination levels in Cuda’s neighborhood are too low to cause immediate health effects.
“We are more concerned with the long term chronic health risk of the individuals,” Langley said.
Epidemiology is the study of the patterns, causes and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations. It is the cornerstone of public health, and informs policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive medicine.
Langley says three types of cancers –kidney, liver and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — are linked to TCE.
“I have cysts,” Cuda said. “Not one cyst, but cysts.”
Cuda, who also has Parkinson’s, believes the water made her and her neighbor sick.
“My neighbor had cancer twice and died. And she was in her 50s.”
Doctors cannot say whether TCE caused Cuda’s illnesses.
“There are some case reports that have associations with Parkinson’s. That’s not proven, but there are some associations,” Langley said.
While Parkinson’s, and especially cancer, are associated with TCE, there is no definitive medical evidence that the diseases people like Cuda have are a direct result of the TCE contamination.
“It’s not in my family. They don’t have Parkinson’s. I’m the first to come down with it. I found out where it came from in my mind.”
In 2002, TCE was dumped from a building on Stony Hill Road. DENR was alerted about the contamination in 2005, and nearly seven years later, in June 2012, the EPA confirmed TCE had spread to the private water wells of 21 families.
Fore more information about water contamination and health effects, call your local health department or the N.C. Division of Public Health, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch at (919) 707-5900.
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Meet the Chemicals!
This section is courtesy of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families: An excellent STEM resource for young and older students wishing to know the basics on the following contaminants:
Want to know more about the toxic characters that have leached and off-gassed into every aspect of our lives? Check out our new video to glimpse their diabolical back-room scheming, then read our web pages to discover their tragic pasts and favorite hangouts, the little-known quirks that make them so special, and how to avoid them. Here are some highlights:
Fun fact: Scientists didn’t realize BPA could leach out of plastic and into our bodies until a series of lab accidents in the 1990s. Discover his frequent hangouts, why he’s dangerous, and how to avoid him.
Meet the Flame Retardants!
The Flame Retardants family is full of contradiction and mystery. On the one hand, they slow fires. On the other hand, their presence in everyday items like couch cushions has been linked to cancer and learning problems.
Fun fact: In the 1970s, manufacturers added the flame retardant “chlorinated tris,” to children’s sleepwear. They stopped after a federal agency determined ‘tris’ to be a probable human carcinogen. And yet today, manufacturers continue to add toxic ‘tris’ to baby nursery items, strollers, and nursing pillows. Discover his frequent hangouts, why he’s dangerous, and how to avoid him.
Fun fact: Scientists link the high rates of respiratory illness among Hurricane Katrina victims to the unusually high levels of formaldehyde inside the trailers intended to protect these already vulnerable folks. Update! Gulf oil spill cleanup workers are now being housed in these very same trailers. Discover his frequent hangouts, why he’s dangerous, and how to avoid him.
He’s a notorious neurotoxin from way back, causing brain damage since ancient times. Many believe it was the ancient Romans’ indiscriminate use of lead in food vessels, wine, and makeup that led to their downfall.
Fun fact: Lead loves to keep us guessing by popping up in inappropriate places. Just recently researchers discovered him lurking in children’s juice boxes. Discover his frequent hangouts, why he’s dangerous, and how to avoid him.
Meet the Phthalates!
Phthalates don’t care about fame — they prefer to stay hidden on product labels with simple pseudonyms like “fragrance.” Phthalates may be publicity shy, but given the right setting, they can off-gas and volatize with the best of them.
Fun fact: Enjoy that new car smell? Thank phthalates! Because phthalates are not chemically bound to products, they easily migrate or off-gas, making them easy to inhale. Discover her frequent hangouts, why she’s dangerous, and how to avoid her.
Meet Perfluorooctanoic acid aka PFOA!
He’s a renegade magician, with a show-stopping “now you see it, now you don’t” trick. Although not present in non-stick pans themselves, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) can reappear as fumes when pans are overheated and the coating decomposes. Once he makes an appearance, it’s hard to get rid of the guy; in terms of persistence in the environment, PFOA sticks around for ages and never breaks down.
Fun fact: Keep your bird out of the kitchen! Birds and their weak respiratory systems are no match for PFOA’s toxic fumes. Birds have been documented dropping dead after being exposed to “off-gassing” from non-stick products. Discover his frequent hangouts, why he’s dangerous, and how to avoid him.
Meet Trichloroethylene aka TCE!
Don’t be fooled by Trichloroethylene’s (TCE) sweet odor and taste — she’s a heavy-duty industrial solvent who can cut through grease, wax, gunk, and even silicones. After strenuous degreasing sessions, TCE likes to settle down in lake and river sediment, contaminating the drinking water.
Fun fact: TCE had a brief stint in the coffee business – turns out she was great at extracting caffeine from coffee beans. But TCE lost her barista position after scientists uncovered her true identity as a carcinogen. Discover her frequent hangouts, why she’s dangerous, and how to avoid her.