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TCE exposure poses threat to health

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WAKE FOREST, N.C. -

After waiting four months for clean water, a Wake Forest resident is still not drinking water after being connected to an EPA-approved well.

Frances Cuda's private well has supplied her family's water for 19 years. But four months ago Cuda and 21 nearby residents learned their wells were contaminated with a carcinogen called trichloroethylene, or TCE.

So far the Environmental Protection Agency has connected 9 affected residents, including Cuda, to clean water from a nearby community well. The others are expected to be complete in January. However, residents wonder how the TCE exposure will impact their health in the future. 

"I still drink bottled water and I don't even know if that's safe," Cuda said. "It is going to take a long, long time to feel relaxed about water."

Dr. Rick Langley, a medical epidemiologist with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, says the TCE contamination levels in Cuda's neighborhood are too low to cause immediate health effects.

"We are more concerned with the long term chronic health risk of the individuals," Langley said.

Epidemiology is the study of the patterns, causes and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations. It is the cornerstone of public health, and informs policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive medicine.

Langley says three types of cancers --kidney, liver and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma -- are linked to TCE.

"I have cysts," Cuda said. "Not one cyst, but cysts."

Cuda, who also has Parkinson's, believes the water made her and her neighbor sick.

"My neighbor had cancer twice and died. And she was in her 50s."

Doctors cannot say whether TCE caused Cuda's illnesses.

"There are some case reports that have associations with Parkinson's. That's not proven, but there are some associations," Langley said.

While Parkinson's, and especially cancer, are associated with TCE, there is no definitive medical evidence that the diseases people like Cuda have are a direct result of the TCE contamination.

"It's not in my family. They don't have Parkinson's. I'm the first to come down with it. I found out where it came from in my mind."

In 2002, TCE was dumped from a building on Stony Hill Road. DENR was alerted about the contamination in 2005, and nearly seven years later, in June 2012, the EPA confirmed TCE had spread to the private water wells of 21 families.

Fore more information about water contamination and health effects, call your local health department or the N.C. Division of Public Health, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch at (919) 707-5900.

 

Charlotte Huffman

An award-winning journalist with an investigative edge, Charlotte has driven legislative change with reports on workplace safety concerns and contaminated groundwater. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

Poison in the Water

There are at least 2,000 sites statewide where DENR knows there is TCE contamination that is likely spreading into the water of unsuspecting families. More>>

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