A neurologist visited Onslow County this week to shed light on how trichlorethylene (TCE) and other chemicals are contributing to increases in Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Dr. Ray Dorsey, a professor of neurology at the University of Rochester, says he made the trip because Parkinson’s is the world’s fastest growing brain disease, America’s 14th leading cause of death and preventable.
“We wrote a book in which we argue that there are many environmental factors fueling the rise in Parkinson’s disease. [and] Camp Lejeune was one of the most heavily contaminated sites for TCE, [which] often leads to Parkinson’s disease in people, ”said Dorsey, who recently co-authored Ending Parkinson’s Disease: A Prescription for Action.
Dorsey points to past activism that led to advances that changed the course of the disease, such as the March of Dimes for polio in the 1930s and the slogan “Silence = Death” for the HIV movement in the 1980s.
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“We need the same kind of transition for Parkinson’s disease where a group of ordinary Americans most directly affected by the disease stand up, make their voice heard, and change the course of Parkinson’s,” Dorsey said.
THE LEJEUNE CONNECTION
It was commonly reported that from 1953 to 1987, drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River was contaminated.
TCE, a carcinogen, reached up to 18,900 parts per billion (ppb) in a well at Camp Lejeune in 1985, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and was detected at 1,400 ppb in basic drinking water in 1982. Today’s drinking water standard for TCE is 5 ppb .
In Ending Parkinson’s Disease, Dorsey and colleagues, citing reports from the Huffington Post and Wilmington StarNews, write how the base received water warnings and failed to respond from 1980-1984.
The Marines waited four years to close contaminated wells, according to a 2010 House Oversight Subcommittee hearing in which a National Academy of Sciences panelist identified contamination as the greatest human exposure to TCE in drinking water in American history.
Until 2017, the Veterans Administration (VA) granted PD presumptive service connection status to Lejeune veterans based on “strong evidence of a causal relationship” with contaminants.
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A AVOIDABLE DISEASE
Navy veteran Amy Lindberg was at Camp Lejeune in the mid-1980s and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago. The VA confirmed its initial symptoms, such as mild tremors and internal system problems, an example of non-movement symptoms that it says can appear before the physical manifestations of the disease such as a dragging foot or a non-swinging arm.
Lindberg says other symptoms can include gastrointestinal problems, thinking problems, mood problems, loss of smell, and depression as a result of dopamine loss.
“Silent, non-motor symptoms could lead to a Parkinson’s diagnosis,” said Lindberg. “If you take advantage of the benefits and recognize these things early enough, you may be able to make some lifestyle changes, or at least be treated sooner so that your progression will be slow.”
A Red Letter campaign has sent thousands of letters to the White House calling for three things: a ban on the chemicals TCE, paraquat and chlorpyrifos, improved access to telemedicine and more funding for Parkinson’s research.
“When we get rid of the chemicals that are contributing to the rise in Parkinson’s disease, not only will we improve our lives, but we will [life] much better for future generations, ”said Dorsey.
Although TCE has not been clearly proven to cause Parkinson’s, Dorsey says research shows that exposure to the solvent in the workplace can exponentially increase the likelihood of developing the disease, which is projected to be 12.9 million cases worldwide by 2040.
He and his colleagues may lead the indictment for now, but Dorsey says it’s not the doctors who will change the course of the disease.
“The only way we can prevent and end disease is through activism and ordinary Americans and ordinary citizens around the world to hear their voices,” Dorsey said. “We need greater awareness among people that Parkinson’s is not a normal part of aging. It is a disease, it is treatable and preventable. ”
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Reporter Calvin Shomaker can be reached via email at [email protected]