The Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group meeting last week at LaGuardia College in Long Island City may have started with a group introduction, but it continued with a heated discussion of whether the baseline of study for Newtown Creek should be extended from a quarter-mile to a half-mile radius from the waterway.
The Department of Health (DOH) attended the meeting to determine what the new baseline for study would be, along with 50 local residents who gave their opinions on the issues. The study would investigate elevated risks for certain diseases and health problems within the designated area, such as types of cancer, birth defects and asthma.
“If we’re going to look at the residential population, we need to add a buffer to the zone,” said Kate Zidar, executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance. She said that the residential areas are in the outer, second half of the quarter-mile radius where most people are living. The first quarter-mile area studied is industrial zones.
The DOH said they primarily use birth data, such as birth defects or low birth weight, to possibly help determine higher rates for cancer or other health risks.
However, officials argued that while access to birth and cancer data made these studies easier, there were limitations.
“We don’t know if the people who were diagnosed with certain diseases were exposed,” a DOH official said, also mentioning geographic mobility and smoking. “We don’t know about their work history or if they were exposed at their home environment. We won’t be able to make a cause and effect statement.”
Members of the group made multiple comments regarding loved ones affected by illness in the designated area, requesting data on various diseases and ways to help collect the data, such as surveys, and suggestions for new studies.
The meeting concluded with a vote to increase the area of study to a half -mile radius, with new studies in the existing quarter-mile area, the new quarter-mile area and the full half-mile area.
The group also voted to study aggregated asthma data within those areas. Studies for autoimmune disease and brain disease will be determined at a later meeting.
DOH said they should have new information regarding the studies in spring of 2013.
Mike Schade, a member of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, said he felt good about the community meeting with the Health Department.
“Even though the data is limited, it’s good to expand the boundary line because there could be elevated rates of disease in those areas,” he said.