Health problems of the Lewiston-Porter area are being ill served by Chemical Waste Management Inc.'s proposed two hazardous waste incinerators. Our community has a serious public health problem with infant mortality both before and after birth as well as a high cancer incidence in our adult population.
According to a study conducted by the Buffalo Region Prenatal-Perinatal Task Force last fall, the Lewiston-Porter area has a higher incidence of infants dying before birth and shortly after birth than surrounding areas.
Explanations for this finding include the possibility of toxic exposure in the area as a likely contributing cause. Many of us are coming to realize that perinatal mortality may reflect the effects of toxic environmental exposure better than cancer incidence.
The Task Force gathered statistics from the New York State Department of Health from 1982-1987. Figures are reported in incidence per 1,000 births. The spontaneous fetal death rate for Lew-Port was 106, Amherst 60, Hamburg 27.2, West Seneca 25.6, Lockport 60, Niagara Falls 93.5, Niagara County average 78. (This means Lew-Port women lost 100 percent to 400 percent more unborn children than surrounding communities.)
Infant mortality rate, again expressed in deaths per 1,000 was Lew-Port 12.4, Amherst 6.1, Hamburg 8.9, West Seneca 7.3, Lockport 7.3, Niagara Falls 9.6, Niagara County average 7.3. (This means 50 percent to 100 percent more infant deaths in Lew-Port than in surrounding communities).
At the beginning of the study, Lew-Port had the highest per capita income of all the areas studied. The usual explanation given for increased perinatal mortality is poor nutrition and prenatal care secondary to low socio-economic status. Not so here. Why are more infants dying in the Lew-Port area than surrounding communities? We don't know. We have our suspicions. Hazardous waste processing has been with our community for years. We've gotten used to it. We must question its effects on our health and the health of our most susceptible members.
The "Atlas of Cancer Mortality in Western N.Y., 1970-1978" lists Niagara County as in the 92nd percentile rank for all cancers in all counties in the United States. That means only 8 percent of counties in the United States have higher cancer rates. "The N.Y. State Cancer Registry, 1978-1982," has Niagara County with an increased lung cancer rate: 99.4 per 100,000 compared with 85.3 per 100,000 statewide.
We have asked the Department of Health to investigate these findings. We must share this urgent finding with the people of this community before it is too late to halt increasing health risks.
Isn't it time to say "enough is enough?" Isn't it time to let the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Chemical Waste Management and the politicians know that we just will not allow any facility that will increase our health risk? Let's correct the present problems. Let's not make them worse for the future.
THOMAS HUGHES M.D.