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By Lindablue F. Romero Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (May 31, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---The Tanapag Health Clinic has temporarily stopped the screening of village residents in connection with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination following the departure of four U.S.-based doctors.

"We were supposed to be done with the medical testing by then but there were more people who came to the clinic than we have initially expected," said Dr. Richard Brostrom, chief of the medical team.

Three doctors from the U.S. Department of Public Health and one physician from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry assisted the Department of Public Health for three weeks in screening the Tanapag residents.

Dr. Brostrom said the clinic will be closed for a week and will resume operations on June 5 when a new physician, Dr. Robert Johnson from ATSDR, arrives to assist in the health evaluation. The arrival of a new doctor on the island was made possible by funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Since more than 90 percent of the residents have already undergone health evaluation, the clinic may just be in operation for two more weeks, he added.

In the meantime, Dr. Brostrom and the DPH staff will spend this week calling on residents who have failed to submit complete medical records information.

"We will also be spending so much time putting (together) all this information that we have gathered for statistical analysis, which will help determine whether the health problem was really caused by PCB exposure," Dr. Brostrom said.

Over 1,000 patients have already undergone medical evaluation since the clinic opened three weeks ago. The clinic opened its services to all residents and for anyone who lived in the village for a total of three years between 1968 and the present or whose mother lived there while pregnant.

Two blood samples have been taken from each participating resident. One was subjected to 22 different types of health tests. This was sent to Guam for analysis.

The other tube was for PCB testing and was shipped to the U.S. mainland for analysis at a laboratory that specializes in toxic chemical detection. Results of the blood tests will be provided in about two months.

The preliminary results of the health evaluation show that a great number of village residents are suffering from hypertension and diabetes, ailments that are common on the island.

A history was conducted on each patient to determine the extent of his or her exposure to the highly toxic chemical.

PCB contamination in the village began when an unknown quantity of capacitors containing PCBs were shipped to Saipan in the 1960s. The Division of Environmental Quality was only notified about their presence in Tanapag village in 1988.

These electrical capacitors were used as barricades, boundary markers, roadblocks for driveways, windbreaks for barbecue sites and headstones. Some capacitors were found broken open and their inner phenolic linings were used to decorate rooftops and cemeteries in the village.

The U.S. EPA has taken samples from food, soil, sediments, and ground water in the village to determine whether there is still a high level of PCB contamination in Tanapag.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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