Paul Christian has lived in Glynn County for 43 years. He’s calculated that in that time he’s eaten three quarters of a ton of seafood, most of it caught in the area.
As a marine biologist working for the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension Service he was well aware the Glynn County is home to four Superfund sites and that the Department of Natural Resources has issued warnings about eating seafood from some local waters.
So when Emory University researchers in partnership with Rebuilding Together Glynn County and other local organizations put out a call for volunteers to give a blood sample and answer demographic questions for a chemical exposure study, Christian was there.
He wanted to find out more about his own exposure as well as add to the body of knowledge for the benefit of the community.
He wasn’t the only one. Participants poured into the study site in an old school in Brunswick over several days earlier this month, with walk-ins filling out the already packed schedule despite rainy weather.
Noah Scovronick, assistant professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and a co-leader of the study. called the response “overwhelming.”
After about 200 people signed up in advance online and by phone, the study stopped recruiting.
“We probably would have had 250 or so and that’s good, it’s really impressive,” he said. “Because, a lot of the time we recruit for studies … we’ve really struggled to get the numbers we’re looking for.”
A diverse group responded.
“One of the reasons I think this study has been so successful is the range of backgrounds,” Scovronick said. “We’ve had a lot of people with a lot of knowledge of the ins and outs of the environmental issues here and a lot of people (whose knowledge) is more anecdotal.”
Count Christian among those who knows a lot about pollution in the area’s waterways. While he’s eaten seafood at least once a week for years, he’s avoided the heavily polluted Turtle River area and consumed lots of whiting, also known as Southern kingfish, out of an area known as the whiting hole in front of the King and Prince Hotel on St. Simons.
“I figured that about 20% of my whole consumption was just that one species,” he said. “We figured well, it’s migratory.”
Researchers will analyze the blood samples for contaminants including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and PCBs. They’ll also test pesticides that have been banned but persist in the environment, including toxaphene, which was once produced at the Hercules plant in Glynn County.
The study’s main question is whether area residents have blood levels of certain contaminants that are higher than what’s found in the general population of the United States. The researchers are not yet looking to discover how people were exposed or whether exposure resulted in any health problems.
“It’s just too bad we’re even having to do this but that’s the way life is,” Christian said.
Preliminary results of the study are expected later this year.
The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.