August 5, 2013

I Now Know What Caused My Parkinson's Disease

Thanks to additional research after my blog post yesterday, I now realize with almost 100% certainty what caused my Parkinson’s disease.

When we arrived in Switzerland a few days ago, I posted about my family’s Swiss origins. My father was born near Zurich 120 years ago. I gave a brief bio on dad and mentioned that he spent most of his work life at the Morse Chain Company which had a factory at the top of South Hill in Ithaca, NY. We rented half of a house further down South Hill.

I wasn’t sure what Morse Chain produced, so I Googled the company. I was surprised to find that most of the hits described environmental impact studies about toxic waste from the plant . . . and indications that the factory’s waste products had contaminated homes situated lower on South Hill.

Morse Chain Company Atop South Hill. Slattery and Schappi Families Below

In our years there, we shared half a house with the Slattery family, whose son Joe was a childhood friend. Joe and I have exchanged Christmas cards over the years and I was surprised to recently learn that he had Parkinson’s disease, too. Two kids from different families both growing up in the same house . . . both ending up with Parkinson’s. It seemed an improbable coincidence.

The Culprit: Trichloroethylene (TCE) 
I’ve now learned that the toxic chemical from the Morse Chain plant has been identified as trichloroethylene (TCE), used most commonly to degrease metal parts. I found a 2011 study that made this startling conclusion: people exposed to TCE are six times more likely to develop Parkinson’s.

Dr Samuel Goldman of The Parkinson's Institute in Sunnyvale, California, who co-led the study published in the journal Annals of Neurology, commented:
Our findings, as well as prior case reports, suggest a lag time of up to 40 years between TCE exposure and onset of Parkinson's, providing a critical window of opportunity to potentially slow the disease before clinical symptoms appear.
Unfortunately my 40 years are up. Perhaps others can be spared.

Recent environmental studies continue to find TCE contamination on South Hill, even though the company stopped using the chemical almost 40 years ago. I can only imagine how high the contamination levels in our old neighborhood might have been 70 years ago.

Groundwater contamination by TCE is widespread. Studies estimate up to 30% of U.S. drinking water supplies are contaminated with TCE. In Europe, the chemical was reclassified in 2001 as a "category 2" carcinogen, although it is still used in industrial applications.

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