(Above) The Rockwool mineral wool factory, scheduled to begin production this spring, is visible across the road in front of North Jefferson Elementary School.
It’s about giving families peace of mind, emphasized Dr. Michael McCawley and Dr. Catherine Feaga, speaking about the WVU School of Public Health research project to study the potential exposure and near-term health effects of heavy metals in children in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia (See below for more information about free testing). Dr. McCawley, who is currently a Clinical Associate Professor with the School, worked with the US Public Health Service for almost three decades, studying miners’ health, occupational respiratory disease, aerosol measurement, and ultrafine particles. Dr. Feaga is a practicing family physician specializing in integrative medicine, which focuses on the health of individuals in the context of lifestyle and environment.
Both Dr. McCauley and Dr. Feaga noted the value of collecting health data before operations begin at the Rockwool mineral wool factory near Kearneysville. Establishing baseline measurements of the heavy metals detectable in local children now will enable better interpretation of data collected in the future. “We don’t know what the outcomes might be,” said Dr. McCauley. “If we can bring more certainty and understanding to the community, it gives families the capacity to make informed decisions about their children’s health.”
The study will be collecting hair samples from children of all ages (from birth to age 18). “The potential for harm to kids of metals exposure is well known,” said Dr. McCauley. He noted that with an accurate baseline and ongoing testing, “we can detect smaller effects and see trends early. The metals are either there or not – this could be innocuous or it could be a perfect storm. We want to start with as much information as possible and follow up to alleviate the uncertainty.”
What’s The Risk?
Since the chemical characteristics of heavy metals are similar to the minerals that are essential to growth, the body will readily absorb them. Children are particularly susceptible, as they are more metabolically active.
The study will measure various metals, some of which have been linked with a variety of health issues. The list of metals and the potential health issues they cause includes:
- Arsenic: Skin problems (including cancer); lung & bladder cancer; problems with cognitive development, intelligence, and memory; lung disease; heart attacks; adverse pregnancy outcomes & infant mortality.
- Cadmium: Lung disease & cancer; kidney disease; bone weakness & fractures; neurological & skeletal birth defects in the unborn; concentrates in breastmilk.
- Chromium: Lung disease; upper & lower respiratory cancers; kidney & liver failure; gastric & intestinal ulcers; miscarriage.
- Nickel: Allergic reactions; upper & lower respiratory problems (asthma, bronchitis, cancer); blood & kidney problems; abdominal pain & nausea.
- Lead: Anemia; immune dysfunction; metabolic dysregulation; headaches, gastric distress, fatigue, weight loss, cognitive dysfunction, decreased coordination, depression, anxiety, & aberrant behavior (ADHD/ADD); transmission in breastmilk.
- Manganese: Developmental delays & mental disability; memory problems; difficulty with speech and walking; SIDS; infertility; inflammation of the kidneys & kidney stones.
- Zinc: Dysregulation of copper levels; metal fume fever; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; pancreatitis; infertility; low birth weight.
Free Heavy Metal Testing
Residents of Berkeley and Jefferson Counties are invited to participate in this study. Visit Go.WVU.edu/JeffersonCountyStudy for more information. The study organizers will hold a free testing event at Sam Michaels park on May 15 & 16 from 10 am to 5 pm.By Staff Contributor