October 9, 2013

A Visit to My Boyhood Home in Ithaca, NY: Did My (and Others') Parkinson's Begin Here?



This photo was taken last week in Ithaca, NY, enroute to the World Parkinson Congress in Montreal. I'm standing in front of the half of the house my dad rented. From age 7 to 26, I lived here.  

I wanted to stop in Ithaca to get together with my terrific brother, who still lives in the area. So do his equally terrific son and daughter-in-law. It was great having dinner with them at the BoatYard Grill on Cayuga Lake. 

But this summer, I learned of a surprising connection between my Parkinson's and the house, shown here in full:


My family rented the right half, 215 Prospect St. The Slatterly family owned the house and lived in the other half, at 217. They had a son Joe. He was my age and we were good friends.

We remained in contact through occasional notes on Christmas cards. Three years ago, when he wrote that he, too, had Parkinson's disease, I thought, "What a strange coincidence."

I didn't give that coincidence more thought until this summer. While in Zurich, Switzerland -- my father's birthplace -- I thought a lot about my father. As I wrote about his early life for this blog, I recalled his Ithaca employer -- the Morse Chain Company. I Googled it to get some additional background.

WOW! The initial hits linked to stories about toxic waste contamination from Morse Chain. Here's a quote from one of the reports:
Trichloroethylene, or TCE, was used by the Morse Chain factory, which occupied the facility now known as the former Emerson Power Transmission plant. Use of the chemical ended in the late 1970s, but it remains at the site and downhill from it, in the soil and rock beneath the South Hill neighborhood.
Prospect Street -- where Joe Slatterly and I lived -- is on South Hill.

As I reported earlier, I researched the contaminant TCE and found a recent study that concluded those exposed to TCE are six times more likely to develop Parkinson's disease.

That Joe and I both ended up with PD no longer strikes me as "a strange coincidence."

Recent Developments
When I returned from the World Parkinson Congress on Sunday, I called Joe Slatterly . . . and got his widow. My childhood friend died last year of Parkinson's-related causes.

Yesterday, I tried to locate another playmate from those early years on South Hill. He lived around the corner on Hudson Street. I called . . . and ended up talking with HIS widow. He had died a few years ago of ALS. I Googled "TCE and ALS" and found several studies about possible links, but results were inconclusive.

I'll continue to explore the connection between TCE contamination on Ithaca's South Hill and my Parkinson's. Stay tuned.  

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