Health Effects from Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Among Akwesanse Mohawks
National Tribal Toxic Council (NTTC) members welcome Dr. David Carpenter to discuss his work with the Mohawk Tribe to study the association of diabetes, hypertension, and other cardiac disease with exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are a group of manmade chemicals that have been manufactured since 1929 because they don’t burn easily and are good insulating materials and plasticizers. They were banned from manufacture and use in the United States in 1979 due to health risks, however, they are still found in everyday products due to regulations allowing exceptions such as being produced as an inadvertent contaminant in things like caulk, paint, dyes, and pigments. Additionally, PCBs are a contaminant of concern at contaminated sites and the cause for numerous fish consumption advisories. This presentation focuses on exposure to PCBs and health effects, therefore, if you would like to learn more about PCBs see NTTC’s website on PCBs in Everyday Items at http://www7.nau.edu/itep/main/nttc/contaminants/.
David O. Carpenter is a public health physician whose current position is Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, as well as Professor of Environmental Health Sciences within the School of Public Health at the University at Albany. After receiving his MD degree from Harvard Medical School he chose a career of research and public health. After research positions at the National Institute of Mental Health and the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, he came to Albany in 1980 as the Director of the Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research of the New York State Department of Health, the third largest public health laboratory in the US after NIH and CDC. In an effort to build ties to an academic program, he initiated efforts to create a partnership between the New York State Department of Health and the University at Albany, resulting in the creation of the School of Public Health in 1985. He was then appointed as the founding Dean of the School of Public Health, a position he held until 1998 when he became the Director of the Institute of Health and the Environment.
Dr. Carpenter’s research initially was basic neurobiology, and more recently has primarily been the study of human disease resulting from exposure to environmental contaminants. He has more than 300 peer reviewed publications and has edited five books.
Beginning in 1986 he directed a large, interdisciplinary research study on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), funded by the Superfund Basic Research Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health. This particular study, supported at over $2 million a year until 2000, was designed around the PCB contamination coming from the General Motors Foundry Site in Massena, NY, which is directly adjacent to the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, a Native American community of individuals who traditionally eat fish from waters now heavily contaminated with PCBs. The investigations included health studies of the Mohawks, animal toxicology studies of effects of PCBs on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems and metabolism, determination of levels of PCBs in human body fluids, animals from the region, soils, sediments, air and water and investigation of several methods for destruction and removal of PCBs from contaminated soils, sediments and water. A laboratory for chemical measurement of PCBs is a central part of our research team and operates under his direction. This study has involved over 1,600 members of the Mohawk Nation, where he has reviewed analyses of their PCB blood levels and clinical chemistry results, as well as results taken from questionnaires. The early investigations at Akwesasne were focused entirely on demonstrating that the Mohawks were exposed to PCBs from consumption of contaminated fish. In the grant that was funded in the period 1995-2000 the research team began to collect health information, the analysis of which and results of which are still being analyzed and published. Other grant-funded studies of the same population are ongoing.
Dr. Carpenter has also conducted health effects studies of other PCB-exposed populations, including an Alaskan Native population living on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska (funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the US Environmental Protection Agency), residents of Anniston, Alabama who live near to the Monsanto plant that manufactured PCBs (funded by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) and people living along the PCB-contaminated portions of the Hudson River in New York and the Housatonic River in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles based on both human exposure to PCBs and experimental studies with animals experimentally exposed to PCBs.