Fillippi Ryan features the Logan Airport health study

It was his first piece of legislation back when he was a young state representative almost a decade ago. And Senator Anthony Petruccelli is still fighting for funding for a comprehensive study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) on the health of residents around Logan Airport–in particular residents living in East Boston.

Petruccelli and Representative Carlo Basile had the study as an earmark to be put into the state FY10 budget. However, all state earmarks were cut due to the fiscal crisis that hit the country and the state.

Now, Basile and Petruccelli are trying to convince the Patrick Administration to make the health study a gubernatorial priority and get the approximately $200,000 of funding needed for the DPH to once and for all complete the decade long study.

“It’s a matter of public health so it something that should be a priority,” said Petruccelli.

Basile agreed and said that it’s a small price to pay to see the study be pushed over the last hump.

“It needs to be completed because it may reveal what people living in East Boston have suspected for so long,” said Basile.

Now, Petruccelli and Basile have gotten a little star power to help with their cause.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, investigative reporter for Channel 7 (WHDH), aired a segment this week questioning why the state would pull the plug on the health study when it was so close to being completed and the state has already spent $1.3 million of tax dollars on it.

The broadcast included comments from residents like Ernest Torgersen.

“It seems like every time you turn around, somebody new has got it or somebody you know knows a neighbor that has it,” said Torgersen on the show. “We have to know what our future is going to be. Is it too late for some people, I would say yes. is it too late for the future? Absolutely not.”

Ryan’s investigation revealed a list from the DPH showing that on-going health studies in Abington, Falmouth, Pembroke, Rockland, Weymouth, and Wilmington were also halted.

Again, for the FY11 budget, Basile filed an amendment to the budget that earmarked $195,000, all that is needed to complete the local health study. The House did not include it the budget.

Now it’s up to Petruccelli to try and get in funded in the Senate’s version of the budget.

Already bits and pieces of the study were leaked to the media. Last year a rough cut of the DPH study suggested Logan is making residents sick and killing scores of residents here and in surrounding communities.

This of course came as no surprise to people living here whom didn’t need a report to prove what residents have been saying all along. However, the new data obtained by WBZ two years ago helped drive home the point.

State health data obtained by the station showed that compared with the statewide average, there are elevated rates of heart disease in Everett, Hull, Malden, Lynn, Medford and Saugus. Asthma rates are also higher in Boston, Chelsea, Everett, Lynn and Revere.

“But it’s what was found in the neighborhoods of East Boston that really caught the attention of Suzanne Condon of the state Health Department,” WBZ reported. “And it’s this simple fact: Lung cancer rates are higher the closer you get to the airport.”

Condon, the lead investigator, told the station that smoking is probably not the cause.

But it’s the callous statement by Massport at the time that really had East Boston residents peeved. A spokesperson for the Port Authority said “the city of Boston, as well as major highways, also contribute to air pollution and that may be another explanation for the elevated number of diseases in the five-mile area” and not the airport as the sole contributor.

However, Massport could not explain other diseases directly related to specific toxins in jet fuel.

In 2004 the East Boston Times first reported a link between Logan and the unusually high cluster of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) cases in East Boston and Winthrop. Xenobiotic exposure, or exposure to environmental toxins found in jet fuel.

A former East Boston resident discovered the link while researching the high number of people living with MS in East Boston and Winthrop and submitted her findings to the DPH. All the people studied had two things in common–they were diagnosed with MS and lived under or near Logan’s approach and departure paths.

Robin Dolan, who has been living with MS since 1992, completed the five years of extensive scientific research into the probable cause(s) of MS in East Boston and Winthrop and hopes her study will raise the state’s awareness of the high occurrences of the disease in these areas.

While she admits that her MS study may not be the smoking gun that Logan expansion opponents, Dolan is content with bringing the outbreak of MS in East Boston and Winthrop to the forefront.

“I have been told not to expect admittance of guilt,” she said. “I just would like awareness that MS may be caused by a state agencies (Massport). The DPH should show sincere concern for, and want to protect, the health of the citizens of Massachusetts. When I get receipt that the study was received by the DPH, even if I never hear from them, I and others will know they know.”

Twenty- four individuals with MS from East Boston and Winthrop participated in Dolan’s study but since the completion of her research 10 more people with MS from East Boston that were not part of the original study have come forward, bringing the number of known cases in the area to 34.

“Given the minimum number of 34 people having MS from the areas of East Boston/Winthrop, an unequal burden of disease is in question,” she said. “Environment statistically appears to play at least a 70 percent role in the risk of development of the condition.”

“We are talking about my neighbor, my classmate, people in very close proximity to each other. For a small community to be sharing a disease that doesn’t make the Nation Institute of Health’s (NIH) top category of illnesses is odd. If you look at the aerial view of East Boston you will see how much is consumed by the airport and how the cases of MS surround the airport.”

According to Dolan the affects of an airport are felt seven miles in radius and the closer proximity means the greatest impact, but where the impact truly ends is uncertain.

“Bottom line we live in a very industrial world and receive an onslaught of foreign materials each and every day,” she said. “In my reading on the history of East Boston and Logan Airport it became apparent that Massport has been given leniency for decades regarding residents.”

As Massport goes forward with it’s plans to once again expand Logan with centerfield taxiway, Dolan is saddened by the affects it may pose.

“The airport took away the beauty of East Boston,” she said. “What I see now is that no one understood, or had the capacity to understand, that not only would their rights to enjoy living be taken away in walks or picnics or swimming or ball games or whatever, but in addition their rights to a healthy, carefree life would be as well.”

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