DOCTOR SAYS INITIAL PCB TESTING ON SAIPAN INCONCLUSIVE

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By Lindablue F. Romero Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 20, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---The chief of the medical team involved in the Tanapag health evaluation in connection with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the village warned against reaching any conclusion that PCB levels among residents are generally low and safe.

Dr. Richard Brostrom said the medical team has yet to receive the majority of the results of blood testing and emphasized that laboratory testing for PCB is very complicated and difficult.

"Announcing that results are safe discourages residents from seeking medical follow-up," he said. Since many residents have been found to have diabetes, hypertension and other illnesses, Dr. Brostrom said these issues must be discussed in private with their physicians before results are announced to the public.

Acting Public Health Secretary Ned Arriola has announced a week ago that initial results on PCB tests showed PCB levels are very low, a statement that has drawn angry protests from Tanapag residents.

The blood samples for PCB testing are being analyzed by California-based Smith Kline laboratory with the assistance of National Medical Services, Inc. in Pennsylvania. An average of 25 to 30 results arrive everyday on the island.

Some 1,200 residents have already availed themselves of the free medical evaluation and PCB testing conducted by the Department of Public Health, which was carried out after strong pressure from Tanapag residents, who have been exposed to the toxic chemical for more than 20 years.

Dr. Brostrom said the clinic has only received 200 to 300 results so far out pertaining to the 1,200 people who were tested. He added that some of the findings suggested high PCB levels among the residents, but he declined to elaborate. The rest of the results are expected to become available in July.

He, however, emphasized the importance of sending some of the samples out to another laboratory for independent analysis and comparison. "We should not release our results until verification has been performed and the results are authenticated," he added.

According to Dr. Brostrom, the medical team has yet to perform "lipid correction," which will allow them to compare PCB values among different populations. PCBs travel with lipids (cholesterol and other fats) in the bloodstream. If two people have the same amount of PCBs in their bodies, the person with high cholesterol will measure higher PCBs on the serum lab test.

"We must perform 'lipid correction' to compare our results among the community and to other communities," he said. But such technique cannot be conducted until all the results are placed in the computer.

 

PCB CONTAMINATION: TANAPAG RESIDENTS TO PURSUE LAWSUIT

By Benhur C. Saladores Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 20, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---The planned lawsuit to seek compensation for victims and cleanup of the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in Tanapag will continue despite initial snags due to government inaction, according to Rep. Dino M. Jones.

The chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources as well as the Judiciary and Government Operations Committee have met with the Attorney General, Herbert D. Soll, and other administration officials to press the issue.

Mr. Jones said he is "disappointed" that the administration has yet to decide whether to accept the offer made by two Texas-based lawyers to assist the CNMI in bringing to court the environmental and public health problem in Tanapag.

"I have expressed my discontentment [during the meeting] because I have been working on this case for the past six years and I want to see this case expeditiously disposed as people's lives are precious," Mr. Jones said during an interview yesterday.

Attorneys Charles S. Siegel and Andy Waters were on Saipan early last month at the invitation of Mr. Jones, following a resolution from the Legislature seeking a legal means to address the contamination in the northern coastal village.

They had conducted an initial investigation of the conditions in Tanapag and met its residents and some government officials to discuss how to go about the planned lawsuit.

While there was no agreement reached during the visit, the lawyers submitted a proposal to the Attorney General's Office and to Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio concerning their work.

House legal counsel Steve Mackenzie, who has been tasked to coordinate the plan, disclosed to reporters that the contract does not require any expenditure of public funds, but that the lawyers first want to establish an attorney-client relationship with the Commonwealth.

To underline its importance, the House has recently adopted a resolution instructing the two legal counsels in the Legislature and the AGO to pursue the case against federal agencies and private companies responsible for the contamination.

Joint Work

Mr. Jones said the chief government lawyer has promised to communicate with lawmakers on the status of the proposal from the two lawyers, as he noted that it will have to go through procurement rules and regulations.

"We want to sit down with them and approach this issue in a more cooperative way," he explained. "They have to expedite [the procurement process] because this demands immediate attention by the government."

The representative also stressed the fact that both Mr. Siegel and Mr. Waters had expressed interest in helping the islanders and were convinced that the CNMI has a "strong case."

"They are awaiting the move by the government... They came here on their own expense to assist the CNMI government and the people. If they win the case, they'll get paid and if they don't, they lose their own money."

In an earlier interview with Mr. Soll, he said that procurement laws will be followed once there is a determination that the government has a "cause of action" to litigate the matter. He added that the finding will be made within the next two months.

On the heels of the report that PCB presence in Tanapag is low, Mr. Jones maintained that a low level of contamination does not mean that the CNMI and federal governments have to stop treating villagers for health problems caused by the highly toxic chemicals and cleaning up the area.

"The people deserve to be given treatment whether the PCB level is low or high. I will pursue this," he said.

Amid growing concerns among Tanapag residents, both local and federal authorities in recent weeks have begun to address the problem, including opening up a clinic in the village for medical testing, gathering samples of soil and food as well as scheduling a cleanup, by July, in the area most affected.

PCB's and dioxins were found in electrical capacitors abandoned by the military during the '60s on the island. Studies show they cause cancer in animals and that people exposed to the chemical for a long period of time can experience nose, lung and skin irritations.

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

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