Erin Brockovich pushes for disease cluster law

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 29, 2011 2:31pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Erin Brockovich, a U.S. consumer health advocate whose life story was the basis for an Academy Award-winning film, urged senators Tuesday to pass a law to document disease clusters in the United States.

A disease cluster is an unusual number of health events, such as reports of cancer, grouped together in a time and location, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Brockovich, who came to prominence investigating the prevalence of cancer cases in Hinkley, California, said she has become an informal reporting agency for those who worry that something in their immediate environment is a health hazard.

"Thousands of Americans contact me every month asking for help and telling me about unexplained diseases in their neighborhood or on their streets," Brockovich told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

She offered a map of the United States and Canada she said she put together by plotting these calls geographically, showing calls from almost every U.S. state and several Canadian provinces.

"This is not a scientific sampling but simply a map of people who are reaching out to me for help because they are concerned that environmental pollution in their community has made them sick," Brockovich said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the committee, co-sponsored a bill meant to increase coordination, transparency and accountability when federal agencies address potential disease clusters.

Boxer said U.S. childhood cancer rates have increased by more than 20 percent from 1975 through 2007, and that while the exact causes is not always known, "two often-discussed factors are genetics and environmental causes."

The bill, also co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican, is known as Trevor's Law, named for Trevor Schaefer, a 21-year old survivor of brain cancer from Boise, Idaho.

Schaefer, who testified at the Senate hearing, and his family have created a foundation that has been fighting for better investigations into the causes of cancer clusters.

A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Disease Clusters Alliance reported 42 disease clusters in 13 U.S. states, showing incidence of numerous types of cancer, birth defects and other chronic illnesses.

Julia Roberts won the Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Brockovich in the 2000 movie "Erin Brockovich," which focused on the advocate's work as a paralegal with residents of Hinkley.

In that case, 660 Hinkley residents sued the utility PG&E for damages from groundwater contaminated with the chemical hexavalent chromium. The plaintiffs received a $333 million settlement in 1997.

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; editing by Anthony Boadle)

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Comments (3)
ROWnine wrote:
This just makes so much common sense it should not need a push. You read stories stating the average of this and that does not warrant this test or that but if you start looking at the places disease is showing up you can actually try to clean up the source of problem as well as deal with the tragic consequences while the parties involved can be entreated to help. Take a look at China and ask yourself shouldn’t that manufacturer be told to contribute to the remediation of that lead problem. Now look at GE and some really big players and you can see why a push is needed to clean up PCB’s and arsenic and lead. Then you have to consider loosing US firms to countries that allow environmental and labor force abuse and ask, how can we get these importers to contribute? It has to be fees and fines because taxing the victims and those not effected or the companies who try to do the right thing and get pushed from the market just don’t work. Common you best and brightest you know that’s why China is investing in Africa and India (better to abuse and pollute in someone else’s country then your own, especially if you can avoid WTO sanctions.

Mar 29, 2011 9:03pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
As ROWnine stated, paying attention to these clusters is probably the smartest thing to track disease and industrial poisoning that we could do. It’s how we figured out the solution to cholera and who knows what vital health issues could be resolved with a program like this.

Mar 30, 2011 11:51am EDT  --  Report as abuse
JNewcomb wrote:
- Text of S.76: Strengthening Protections for Children and Communities
From Disease Clusters Act:

- Hearing site includes reports (includes Brockovich map) & full 110 minute webcast (with Brockovich testimony and map):

Mar 30, 2011 5:25pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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