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Doctor speaks out about health risks ET lakes, fish pose

By Christine S. Diamond
The Lufkin Daily News

April 19, 2004

Dr. Bill Shelton, director of the Arthur Temple Sr. Regional Cancer Center, recently spoke on national television about the health risks for Angelina County children posed by high levels of dioxin and mercury in water and fish.

Shelton who has practiced medicine for 44 years, was a guest speaker April 5 on the Children's Environmental Health Network review of the Bush' administration's effort to improve environmental health risks posed to the nation's children. The review, aired by C-Span, was the third conducted by the Children's Environmental Health Network during the Bush presidency.

Introduced as a "champion bass fisherman" and "champion for our children's health," Shelton also serves on the board of directors for the Texas Board of Children's Environmental Health.

"Two of the best lakes for bass fishing in the U.S. are Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend," Shelton said. "These and (other nearby lakes) all have been on the (state and national) advisory lists for over 10 years - not to eat the fish at the lakes."

The fish are unsafe for consumption, especially by children and pregnant women, because of the mercury levels found in the fish, he said.

"Methyl-mercury is so deadly to children, particularly the fetus and young developing child, " Shelton said.

Executive Network Director Rabbi Daniel Swartz said, "Very low levels of mercury can affect the fetus in ways that permanently disrupt building of brain and nervous system."

Mercury originates in the smokestacks of two East Texas power plants. The heavy metal particles are released from the atmosphere and eventually wind up in lakes and ponds, Shelton said.

Adding to the existing problem of mercury-producing power plants, Shelton said, are plans for a new power plant near Waco. Yet, "nothing negative has been said about this new plant - only positive feedback," Shelton said.

Shelton told viewers he was particularly alarmed at the lack of signs on East Texas lakes advising people of the health risks posed by eating the fish. There are no signs on Sam Rayburn or other lakes an only one sign on Toledo Bend Reservoir, he said. Shelton held up a picture of that sign for viewers, pointing out the rust and bullet holes.

"A lot of people in East Texas eat these fish. It's a regular staple in their diet." Shelton said.

An immediate consequence has been seen in the sharp rise in attention deficit disorder throughout the United States, Shelton said.

"I'm concerned about children with potential IQs of 130 all of a sudden in their development it drops to 85," because they can't focus or study, Shelton said. "That's not fair. Someone has got to take care of these kids and prevent this from happening."

Dioxin is the second big problem in Lufkin, Shelton told national viewers.

"Dioxin was used in Vietnam with Agent Orange to spray the jungles," Shelton said. " It's also a by-product used for whitening paper - the cheapest and most economical use."

Dioxin-containing residue dumped by Lufkin's paper mill for the past four decades now covers hundreds of acres in piles of 15 to 20 feet high, he said.

"Every time it rains and we get 60 inches of rain a year, all this dioxin runs into Paper Mill Creek and Sam Rayburn Reservoir," Shelton said. "Unfortunately there is a community of people that lives where Paper Mill Creek enters the lake, Rivercrest."

This "lower socio-economic group has a very high incidence of cancer, neurological incidents, mental retardation and learning disabilities in children," Shelton said. "It really breaks your heart to see them. No one has ever told them there was dioxin in the water, or the fish."

A few years ago, Shelton said "Four of us took it upon ourselves to catch fish from the river for testing, Rice University's lab analysis revealed elevated levels of dioxin," he said.

"The Southern end of the lake is resort country. We couldn't get them involved early on, but when they tested their soil in front of their homes at the water's edge and found dioxin contamination - suddenly we had their attention. Their million dollar homes are not worth anything now," Shelton told viewers.

The Environmental Protection Agency conducted its own fish test at Dam B and also found high levels of dioxin, Shelton said.

Even more frustrating is the practice of agencies like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to verbally condemn activities that cause the pollution, but then on paper approve the processes that cause the contamination, Shelton said.

Shelton's focus on East Texas was important to the national review of the Bush' administrations policy in order to show how actions in Washington D.C., affect people elsewhere in the country, CEHN Chairman Dr. Lynn Goldman said.

Overall, the network has said, Bush's tenure started out promising and hopeful but has been disappointing.

Swartz accused the administration of "repeatedly making politics out of what should be sound science" and "consistently depicting the environment as wilderness and whales - luxury items that are distant and disconnected from our daily lives."

"We're here to remind you that the environment is where we and our children live, work, play and pray," he said. "Nowhere is more intimate and critical than our immediate environment. This should inspire us to collective action - which is perhaps why some have been afraid to (discuss it)."

"Those who voted for the unborn protection act should be the first in line to insure that hundreds and thousands of wombs are no longer invaded by mercury. Those who say they are for family and children need to be united behind (the environmental children's health network.)"

Christine S. Diamond"s e-mail address is cdiamond@coxnews.com.

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