Dr. Ward Stone, State Wildlife Pathologist, presented preliminary findings from his ongoing study investigating heavy metal contamination in neighborhoods impacted by pollution from the Lafarge Cement Plant in Ravena.
Standing on the shore of the Hudson River in Coeymans, Dr. Stone summarized the results of some 80 samples he amassed over the past six months from site scattered throughout the Village of Ravena and the Town of Coeymans. A variety of soils, plant and animal life were collected and subsequently tested for some twenty heavy metals.
"By this point I can say that much of this area is polluted with mercury, and that the mercury is primarily coming from the cement plant." Dr. Stone stated at a press conference on Sept 29th.
Control samples were taken to the north of the plant away from prevailing winds from the smokestack that showed much lower levels, suggesting the higher levels in affected areas may indeed be associated with Lafarge.
Soil collected from every site contained mercury and lead. Several sites were over 200 parts per billions with a few over 400 ppb - considerably higher than control samples. Mercury and lead are well known neurotoxins that can cause a wide variety of health problems and can be especially damaging to the neurological development of children.
Unfortunately, mercury and lead are not the only concern. Soil samples turned up a wide variety of other metals including arsenic, aluminum, boron, barium, beryllium, calcium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, selenium, silver, phosphorus, tin, vanadium and zinc. Levels varied from site to site but many around both Ravena and Coeymans had elevated levels of multiple metals, most notably barium, calcium, vanadium, cadmium, chromium and zinc.
Mercury was also identified in plants such as a grape leaf and maple leaf. The leaves indicate seasonal exposure that had to have occured during the 2009 growing season. The maple leaf was collected in the vicinity of the RCS Junior High School.
Every animal tested was positive for mercury. A grasshopper was positive for lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and arsenic. A shrew from the hamlet of Coeymans had mercury, lead, and cadmium. A frog from a pond in Ravena showed mercury, silver and cadmium. A mouse from a site SW of Lafarge showed mercury, lead, copper, chromium, cobalt, tin, selenium, cadmium and arsenic. Notably, the mouse, which was found dead, was pregnant. Tests of fetal tissue showed mercury, cadmium, lead, copper, chromium and cobalt, indicating that these metals - including mercury - had crossed the placental barrier from the mother to the babies.
This is just one step toward answering a fundamental question that should have been answered 47 years ago when the cement plant was built -- whose health will be affected and in what ways? Where do the toxins emitted by Lafarge go, what communities are impacted, and to what extent is their health and welfare at risk? At what point should we say: enough is enough?
All of these metals have associated health risks according to the ATSDR.
While the process remains ongoing, what Dr. Stone has learned so far is enough for us to conclude that is worthwhile to continue with this investigation. The more scientific data we can gather, the better we will be able to understand the health impacts of these substances on our community. And that is the ultimate goal - the better we can understand the risks, the more effectively we can seek solutions that will enable us to have a healthy and safe environment in which we all can live.