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ORAU: No harm to health found

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By The Staff

Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which was chosen to look into the health repercussions of the TVA fly ash disaster, said its studies have shown no harm.

“Based on our medical evaluation and the current levels of exposure for these residents, we did not see any effects on their physical health,” John Benitez, a medical toxicologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, was quoted in an ORAU press release.

The Dec. 22, 2008, incident at Kingston Fossil Plant released more than 5 million cubic yards of ash into the environment. Impacts to health became a big concern following the disaster.       

ORAU was hired by TVA to conduct free medical screenings for residents.

ORAU said a total of 214 people from 112 households participated in the screening program. ORAU said the participants ranged in age from less than a year to 89 years old.

Approximately half lived within two miles of the disaster.

ORAU said urine and blood tests were performed to look for components of fly ash, including aluminum, arsenic, barium, beryllium, chromium, cobalt, copper, nickel, selenium, thallium and vanadium.

“We chose these agents (with the exception of selenium and thallium) for testing because they were found to be in high concentrations in fly ash contaminated soil as compared to non-fly ash-contaminated soil in Roane County,” Donna Cragle, an ORAU epidemiologist and vice president of occupational exposure and worker health, said in the release. “While selenium and thallium did not exceed regional background soil measurement, they were included in the screening due to their potential health risks.”

ORAU said the medical evaluation included health history, physical examination, a breathing test, chest X-ray, routine urinalysis, complete blood count, blood chemistry and biological monitoring tests.

“I am glad to see that at this time there was no adverse health effects for the ash spill,” TVA critic and newly elected Roane County Commissioner Randy Ellis said in an e-mail. “I would like to request that the TVA redo this testing five to 10 years down the road.”

ORAU said a future study could provide significant data about the long-term impact.     

“Because there are no studies on the longterm health effects of fly ash exposure, results of the evaluation provide a valuable baseline for future medical evaluations,” Cragle said. “A repeat evaluation of the people who participated in the program could determine whether there has been any change in their health that may be related to the fly ash spill.”

Ellis said he wants a commitment from TVA to do a future study.

The results of the ORAU study can be found at www.orau.org.

A Tennessee Department of Health report that was released last year concluded the disaster did not pose a health threat to residents.