196339 Community health and smelters: An historical perspective

Tuesday, November 10, 2009: 3:15 PM

Marianne Sullivan, DrPH , Department of Health Professions and Family Studies, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
Nonferrous smelters produce metals such as copper, lead, and zinc. In the US, particularly in the west, pollution from smelting has been a problem both for the industry, and surrounding communities, since the turn of the twentieth century. Pollutants released by smelters include sulfur dioxide, and toxins such as lead and arsenic. Western smelters generally operated with few controls on their emissions for much of the twentieth century, resulting in exposure of communities to air toxins, and heavy metal contamination of surrounding soils. Based on historiographic research, including oral history interviews, this presentation provides an historical perspective on community health and smelting, with a particular focus on children's health. I consider when concerns about human health effects were raised, by whom, and how government, industry and communities responded during the twentieth century. I argue that for many decades, deference to the smelting industry, industry influence on science, lack of independent research, and economic concerns helped to shape the response of both health and other government officials. Health effects of smelter pollution remained largely unexamined until the early 1970s, when a CDC-led inquiry into lead exposure near the El Paso smelter touched off a series of investigations of children's exposure to toxic metals near nonferrous smelters. These investigations helped to validate longstanding concerns of people living close to smelters. However, I will argue that despite evidence that community health was being affected, government largely failed to implement effective public policies to address the problem.

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe the factors that influenced the response of public health and other government officials to the problem of environmental health hazards from smelting.

Keywords: Children's Health, Environmental Exposures

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: This research is based on my dissertation entitled: Game Without End: Politics, Pollution, Public Health and the Tacoma Smelter.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.