Fear Of Rising Disease Tolls In A Massachusett's Town

Posted Oct 7, 2007 by Debra Myers
The exciting news in Middleborough, Massachusetts is the possibility of casinos being built in a town starving for jobs. On the flip side of this story, comes the sad reality that this is a community that has way too many people with Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Victor Sylvia near one of the abandoned factories in Middleborough  Massachusetts. He believes the a...
Victor Sylvia near one of the abandoned factories in Middleborough, Massachusetts. He believes the area is responsible for cases of disease.
In what should be a time of excitement for this town, there are too many questions and concerns over the fact that there are dozens of cases of Lou Gehrig's disease that is centered around an old industrial site, and whether it's because of pollutants from these now closed factories that's caused this disease to run rampant. The citizens are now awaiting a report that will come sometime this year that could reveal the answers to their concerns.
A study, financed by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and conducted by state health scientists, will be followed by the creation of a statewide registry to track cases of the disease, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the cause of which is not fully understood.
But it seems that having these casinos come in will not only help to pull this town out of near-financial ruins, but could also generate money toward learning more about this disease, and possibly toward finding a cure.
The casino complex will be built by the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians, and will employ as many as 10,000 people. A spokesman for the tribe said that he had no idea about the ALS cluster, but that it would not change their plans for building there.
Meet Victor and Marion Sylvia. They have invested many years into proving that pollution from these factories is to blame for this disease. The pollutants are "heavy metals and solvents from plating and shoe factories, and the toxic chemical cocktails of other industries".
Victor knows many of the dying and those already gone. "Our hearts go out to these poor souls," he said. "There is no cure."
He himself is now 78 years old and relies on a cane. He conducts his activism from their kitchen table, and has 40 years of research accumulated. He says he knows that it's this pollution that's the cause behind these illnesses, when in 1976 he saw "a multicolored mess of melting snow and ice near the factories."
Sylvia admits that he's getting old and tired, and said that he knows that there's the possibility that it may never be found out that one or all of these factories are what caused the prevalence of this disease.
Suzanne Condon, director of the state's Center for Environmental Health, said an environmental link may emerge from the report. "About 10 percent of the time we do these types of cluster investigations we tend to see that the environment may have played a role," she said. "But with ALS, we don't really have a surveillance system in place," because there is still no definitive answer to what causes it.
For these people's sake, I hope this study will shed some light on why there are so many people that had or have Lou Gehrig's disease.