This Thursday, scientists from Harvard University’ School of Public Health will reveal the results from its study on the health effects of the Lafarge cement plant. In May, Harvard researchers collected blood and hair samples from 185 people at Pieter B. Coeymans Elementary School in Ravena. They have since tested the samples for the presence of several toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, aluminum, selenium and mercury.
While there have been previous studies on Lafarge cement’s impact on public health in the surrounding community, the Harvard study will be the first independent review. A public interest group, Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, requested that Harvard do its study after the New York Health Department conducted its own review. The Health Department’s review was inconclusive on whether emissions from Lafarge are affecting the public health.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Lafarge is a large source of airborne mercury. Most of the emissions emanate from the plant’s kiln. Mercury is a known neurotoxin in humans, and can affect the neurological development of children and unborn children in the womb. EPA studies have shown that toxic mercury exposure can cause problems in a child’s memory, thinking, attention span, language and fine motor skills.
Not everyone in the community believes that Lafarge’s emissions are definitively causing health problems in the community. At one recent meeting of the state Health Department, a longtime Ravena resident pointed out that the pollution could be coming from the Thruway and other industrial sites aside from Lafarge. The Community Advocates for Safe Emissions points out that Lafarge is one of the largest producers of mercury and a recent EPA report named it in a list of New York’s top 15 polluters.
The results of the Harvard study will be disclosed at 8 p.m. on Thursday in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School auditorium, 2025 Route 9W, Ravena.
Albany Times Union, “Plant’s effects results on tap,” Stephanie Lee, 1/3/2011
The Daily Mail, “Harvard to reveal Lafarge results,” Hilary Hawke, 12/31/2010
EPA.gov, “Health Effects -Mercury,” (retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/hg/effects.htm)