Earlier this week, a researcher from the state Health Department met with Watertown residents from the neighborhood near the New York Air Brake plant. The Health Department has agreed to study the area’s disease patterns because residents suspect that pollution from the plant has made people sick.
The meeting kindled both hope and frustration for people worried about the chemical pollution. In a school auditorium, a state health official tried to manage expectations about what the study could accomplish. A lack of records and other practical challenges limit who and what illnesses can be included. It won't address what caused people's illnesses.
What the study can do, though, is reveal whether the occurrence of some diseases in the area are out of step with the rest of upstate New York. Carol Molinari requested the study. She says that could boost the case against Air Brake – including her suspicion that the plant is behind her two sons' birth defects.
"I want to see the numbers. Give us the information and let us make a determination after you have done the study," she said. "This is point A, and we go forward from here."
Molinari is taking part in a class-action lawsuit against several companies connected to the Air Brake plant.
James Bowers, from the Department of Health, led the meeting. He says based on feedback he gathered there, the study will look at birth defects, birth outcomes and cancer diagnoses in the area between 1980 and the present.
Bowers says the study has limits, but he hopes it will help the residents.
"There's a lot of angst, there's a lot of anger and fear and health concerns in this community. They clearly want us to go ahead with the study, and they want to work with us, which is great," he said.
Bowers says the study will take about two years. He says his preliminary work suggests an elevated incidence of birth defects, but cancer rates appear normal.