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Disease Clusters Identified in 13 States, Including Texas

by Greg Marcum, JD, PE on April 4th, 2011

On March 28, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Disease Cluster Alliance (NDCA) released a study identifying 42 disease clusters in 13 states, including Texas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define “disease cluster” as a greater-than-expected number of cases of disease that occur within a group of people in a geographic area over a defined period of time. The study shows the incidence of numerous types of cancer, birth defects and other chronic illnesses, and provides details by location and disease type for each state with identified clusters.

Concern about disease clusters has risen to importance such that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee conducted a hearing on March 29 addressing the issue. Consumer health advocate Erin Brockovich called on senators to pass a law documenting disease clusters in the U.S. The NDCA intends to investigate disease clusters in all 50 states and US territories.

The exact cause of disease clusters is unknown, but the study suggests the cause could be pollution through releases of toxic substances to air, water and soil media. The organization admits that “these links can be controversial.”

The disease clusters spotlighted in the NRDC report are not a complete list. To shed light on the issue, the study reported on 13 states with known clusters that occurred after 1976 and that have been confirmed by federal, state or local authorities or that were discussed in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study reported disease clusters in five Texas counties: Bexar, El Paso, Ellis, Harris, and Nueces counties.

Disease Clusters Identified in Texas

Disease clusters identified in Texas by the NRDC and NDCA.

Researchers at the University of Texas’s School of Public Health found that children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel have a 56% greater chance of getting leukemia than those living elsewhere. These children live in census tracts with the highest benzene and 1,3 butadiene levels in the air. The Houston Ship Channel is the largest petrochemical complex in the United States.

Click here for the full NRDC/NDCA study.

More information is available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/28/usa-disease-clusters-idUSN2819814620110328.

The Texas disease cluster map is from the NRDC/NDCA study.

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