Sherry Broder


Kids and Heptachlor: What's in the Future?

November 1988

When people find out I took the heptachlor case," says Honolulu attorney Sherry Broder, "they never ask me when they are going to get a refund. Instead, they always ask me about the kids—were they harmed from the heptachlor in the milk?"

Broder won a $4 million settlement from Meadow Gold and Foremost after the two dairies in 1982 sold milk from cows that had been fed heptachlor-contaminated pineapple chop. Heptachlor causes cancer in laboratory animals and may cause leukemia in humans. No one knows for sure its long-term effects, and the consequences of drinking contaminated milk may not show up for a decade or more.

What Broder did with the $4 million settlement set a precedent for toxic chemical law suits and was written up in the Harvard Environmental Law Review; The money went to the Hawaii Heptachlor Research & Education Foundation, a non-profit institution set up under court supervision to conduct medical monitoring programs, focused primarily on the 80,000 Oahu children, now aged 6 to 11, who are most at risk.

"We've moved very quickly," says Richard Scudder, project director for the foundation. The foundation put together a blue-ribbon advisory committee of 11 volunteer scientists, including two local members, Chin Suk Chung, a scientist at the UH School of Public Health, and Grant Stemmerman, a physician with the Japan-Hawaii Cancer Study at Kuakini Medical Center.

The scientific advisers put out a nationwide call for research proposals, received 40 of them and decided to fund four, at a cost of $1 million over the next two years. Two of the studies are on heptachlor's cancer-causing potential. A third is on how to remove heptachlor, which tends to concentrate in fat cells, from the body.

But the most crucial study is headed by Dean Baker of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who also conducted studies at Love Canal. This study, "Estimation of Human Exposure to Heptachlor in Hawaii," will collect samples of blood and breast milk from O'ahu residents and compare their heptachlor concentrations with similar samples from Mainland and Neighbor Island control groups.

"The study will answer the biggest question—exactly what the exposure was," says Scudder. "Once that is established, we can decide which direction to go next."

Unfortunately, Scudder points out, parents can't volunteer their children for testing. "That would skew the results and keep the study from being scientifically valid." Scudder gets frequent calls from concerned parents. "1 wish we had a clinic and I could say, yes, bring the child down—but we just don't have that capability."

The Hawaii Heptachlor Research & Education Foundation is capable, however, of monitoring the problem over the long term. "Some of our scientists wanted to spend all the money right away," explains Scudder, "but our board decided we wanted to still be here in 10 years, in case the health problems take that long to show up."

If the heptachlor problem turns out to be larger than the foundation can handle, Scudder hopes that the Environmental Protection Agency or the National Institute of Environmental Health will get involved. He is currently clarifying the foundation's status with the IRS so that it will be able to accept contributions from sources other than the court settlement.

"Our job now is to do the basic, preliminary work," says Scudder. "We're talking about a large number of children here; we want to find out what's likely to happen to them."

—John Heckathorn

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