EPA Superfund Site Study Evaluates Mercury Exposure At Turtle River, Brunswick, GA

March 11, 1997

Former employees and retirees of Allied/LCP Chemical Plant in Brunswick, Georgia, are being recruited for a study of mercury exposure funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a federal agency concerned with the health of people exposed to toxic substances in the environment and the workplace.

The study comes in response to community concern about possible long-term health effects to former workers of the plant from exposure to chemicals used in the chloralkali production process. Plant operations ceased in 1994, when the state of Georgia revoked wastewater and air quality permits. The 550-acre plant site, located next to the Turtle River, was added in 1995 to the Environmental Protection Agency's list of Superfund hazardous waste sites and, prior to clean-up beginning, was probably the most contaminated site in Georgia and one of the worst in the nation.

In the current investigation, environmental health researchers from Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health and University of Georgia are collaborating with Glynn County Health Department to evaluate carefully the possible health consequences of mercury exposure such as neurologic and kidney toxicity. The Glynn County Health Department is coordinating recruitment activities, while the actual study and collection of health and exposure data will be carried our by researchers from Emory and UGA.

Beginning in May, the team will conduct extensive medical tests on former LCP employees and will compare findings with results of the same tests conducted on a group of Glynn County volunteers who did not work at LCP and were presumably unexposed to mercury. These comparison group volunteers will be recruited from employers who have agreed to participate, including Jekyll Island Authority, Interstate Paper Corporation in Riceboro, and Glynn County.

"Because both groups are important for this study to be valid, we encourage both former LCP workers and employees and retirees of the participating companies to enroll," says Principal Investigator Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.Ph., chairman of Environmental and Occupational Health at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health. Members of these target groups are encouraged to call immediately to volunteer.

Study participation will involve three visits during May and early summer to Glynn County Health Department local testing facilities.

During the first two visits, researchers will collect blood and urine samples to evaluate mercury exposure. In June and July, study participants will visit the Health Department's local testing facility for their third and last series of tests. These tests will evaluate aspects of neurologic functioning such as coordination, concentration, attention, memory, body sway and strength.

"In addition to receiving free, sophisticated medical testing, study participants will also be contributing to the body of medical knowledge on the health effects of mercury exposure," says B. Brooks Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., health director of Glynn County Health Department and a member of the research team. "Participants will have access to test results and may request results also be shared with their personal physicians. Otherwise, all test results and participation will be held in strict confidence, Dr. Taylor says. Participants also will receive a stipend at the conclusion of the study.

Scientific aims of the study include better characterization of how long-term exposure to mercury adversely affects the nervous system, kidney function and the reproductive system.

"We hope this study will also serve as a model of responsive collaboration among a community, a local health department, a state health department and research universities," Dr. Frumkin says.

Recruitment of former workers has begun and will continue through March 14. Information meetings will be held during the first week of march. Residents are encouraged to contact or provide information on former workers of the plant who no longer live in the local area and might not be award of the study.

For more information, call Marsha Pierce at the Glynn County Health Department, (912) 264-3961.

BACKGROUND Mercury Exposure Study -- Glynn County, Ga. THE SUPERFUND SITE MERCURY FACTS
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Emory University Health Sciences Center

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