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Jan 08, 2011 1:17 pm
Two media accounts of the report from scientists from the Harvard University School of Health Thursday night at Ravena High School about heavy metal exposure to members of the Ravena community differ enough to make one wonder what really happened there.

From The Albany Times-Union story Friday headlined "Town sees mercury spike":
"Nearly one person in 10 tested for toxic mercury had elevated blood levels enough to warrant a visit to their doctor, according to a study of people who live around the Lafarge cement plant by the Harvard University School of Public Health." -- Brain Nearing
From The Daily Mail story Saturday headlined "Harvard’s Lafarge test results inconclusive":
"Results from a study by the Harvard School of Public Health eagerly awaited by local environmental groups about the presence of heavy metals in human blood and hair in people from the Ravena area have proved inconclusive." -- Hilary Hawke
So what was said at the meeting? Let's go to the audiotape, or, digital file.

WGXC's Sam Sebren recorded the meeting, so you can hear for yourself what happened Thursday night at Ravena High. Click here to listen to an mp3 recording or paste the following url into your computer's media player:

UPDATE: Sunday, The Register-Star and The Daily Mail, ran the following correction to the story both papers ran on Saturday:
Editor's note: The percentages reported for higher than normal mercury levels in the "Harvard metals test results aren't definitive" story that ran Saturday was erroneously cited as 7.3 percent of the 172 participants.The correct number is 9 percent for adult blood samples and 10 percent for all participants' hair samples. The following is the corrected version of the story.

Sebren reports on the evening:

"A hundred or more people filled the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School auditorium Thursday night, Jan 6, 2011 for a presentation by Dr. John Spengler and Dr. Michael Bank from the Harvard University School of Health to report on the initial test results from the HSPH "Ravena Area Human Biomonitoring Project." During May 2010, 185 people living within a 10 mile radius of the LaFarge factory volunteered for blood and hair testing and completed a questionnaire to determine their fish consumption, smoking habits, and known or potential sources of heavy metal exposure. The project measured mercury levels in hair samples, and, lead, mercury, arsenic, selenium, aluminum, and cadmium in blood. The testing process is complex because contaminants enter bodies through a variety of pathways, both dietary and environmental. The Harvard doctors said further study was necessary, as much of the research was very preliminary. They did say one thing was conclusive: For total mercury in blood, "Ravena is higher than the national average," Dr. Bank said. Lead and cadmium levels tested lower than the national average. Though Dr. Spengler said none of the mercury in blood level results are determined to be toxic, further study will be required to determine if there are environmental sources of contaminants in Ravena that should be specifically addressed to safeguard the health of those in the community. Dr. Bank said, "This is a scratch in the surface, but a real solid scratch that confirms doing further research." The Harvard test is complicated by a New York State law restricting scientists to only using New York State laboratories to certify test results. The research team will be drafting a final report to be submitted for publication later in 2011. Dr. Bank states, "Low-level chronic exposure to heavy metal mixtures is something that needs attention. We are glad our investigation is helping to identify the people in the population who may be most at risk from the different heavy metals that we measured."

In The Daily Mail, Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, R-108th District, was quoted reflecting that paper's version of events. “I believe Lafarge is on the right track with the modernization project and I’d like to see it go up as quickly as possible," McLaughlin told Hawke. "It’s a big job provider and the company is trying to improve and take care of issues. Let’s face it, the plant is not going away. We should do everything we can to make sure Lafarge builds a new one ASAP.”

The study had been initiated by a grassroots advocacy group, Community Advocates for Safe Emissions (CASE), which advocates for tougher controls on mercury pollution from the Lafarge plant across Route 9W from the high school. "This study is significant, and raises a lot of questions," said CASE co-founder Elyse Kunz told Nearing in the Times-Union. "It begs what the state Health Department has been telling us, that there was no problem if people were not eating the fish."

Times-Union story

The Daily Mail story

Fox23: "High mercury levels found in Ravena residents"
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