ANGRY TANAPAG VILLAGERS IN CNMI DEMAND NEW ROUND OF PCB TESTS

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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 4, 2000 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Tanapag residents are demanding another round of blood testing to assess the level of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in their bodies.

The residents said there might be a "conspiracy" among federal and local agencies in deliberately conducting wrong PCB tests since May.

"Health Agencies have no other choice but to do it again. We will demand another round of testing. They made a mistake and they knew it beforehand," said Juan I. Tenorio, Chairman of the Tanapag Action Group.

(PCBs are cancer-causing man-made chemicals. There has been continuing controversy over their presence in the Tanapag area and their effects on local people. The United States Department of Defense used PCBs in a radar station in the area in the 1960s.)

Tanapag Action Group officials have given the Attorney General’s Office authorization to access over 1,200 laboratory PCB test results of residents who underwent testing in May, June and October, said Tenorio.

The Tanapag Action Group head said as early as July, when the first batch of PCB test results were sent back, Tanapag residents already brought to the Department of Public Health’s attention that the wrong type of testing was done. They said that the laboratory equipment used was programmed to monitor another type of PCB.

He said three days after the results were in, Health Secretary Joseph Kenny Villagomez was already notified of Tanapag Action Group’s observations.

"We brought it to the health secretary’s attention so that they will correct it. Public Health was much aware of it but they did not do anything. We felt there is a conspiracy to discredit the PCB effects on human health," Tenorio said.

Villagomez could not be reached for comment.

Both the Tanapag Action Group and the Attorney General's Office said it is PCB type 1254 that contaminated Tanapag and not PCB 1260, which was the type considered by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Local Department of Public Health in testing villagers.

This explains why only 17 out of the over 1,200 villagers tested had PCB levels that are over 10 parts per billion, the Tanapag Action Group said.

Assistant Attorney General Murphy Peterson said no official explanation has been made by federal authorities over why the blood samples were tested for PCB 1260 and not PCB 1254. Both PCB types are equally hazardous to health. Both can cause cancer.

Peterson said that since the laboratory equipment used by federal authorities to evaluate the blood samples taken was programmed to only monitor PCB 1260, the PCB type 1254 may have gone undetected.

Tenorio said the five out of eight land crabs tested positive for PCB in May, for example, showed .39 parts per million in a PCB 1254 test.

However, only one crab showed PCB contamination when done in a PCB 1260 test. Tenorio said the lone crab had a PCB level of .13ppm.

Tenorio added that officials from the Division of Environmental Quality, Public Health and the Tanapag Action Group will be meeting at the PCB clinic in Tanapag to discuss the issue of alleged wrong testing and clean up. He expressed hope that officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also will show up.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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