Researching kidney disease in the Tennessee Valley

DECATUR, Ala. - An important follow-up to a story we first brought you several weeks ago. A recent study of the pollution in the Wheeler Basin of the Tennessee River has prompted a nationally known medical research facility to take action. If you live anywhere within the Tennessee Valley, this may be important to you.

The study was originally published in Environmental Science and Technology. It focused on the presence of PFC compounds like PFOA and PFOS in Wheeler Lake. But additional information was gleaned on the presence of heavy metals in the water and in the sediment on the river bottom. Several of those substances are well known to cause serious medical issues.

As a result of that study, yet another major research project is being launched to determine cause and effect. In other words, what does it mean to our health that those substances are present?

Ron Mixon, of the environmental group Warriors for Clean Water, met with the research staff this week to go over the report.

“The dean called in the kidney specialists from the hospital and he said (looking at the report) tell me what you see. And they both pointed to the same two chemicals and they said these are kidney killers,” Mixon explained.

The initial research for this groundbreaking new study will focus on kidney disease and kidney failure across North Alabama. They'll start by creating a database from which to work.

“The main thing they need is your zip code because they will be comparing how many kidney failures is in this zip code, how many kidney failures is in that zip code, what is the average number of kidney failures in the United States,” Mixon says. That information will be compared with other environmental data in an effort to determine if there is a higher incidence of kidney disease in proximity to the Tennessee River.

They'll also need to know if kidney disease runs in your family. From the database, a number of people will be selected to undergo free testing to determine the cause of their kidney problems. Mixon says researchers suspect those cases that are not hereditary, may likely be caused by environmental issues.

We should point out in order to bring you this story, we had to agree not to name the well known medical research facility conducting the study at this time, nor could we name the specific compounds for which the researchers are searching. Among the reasons is concern over tainting the research results.

Nixon says if you or someone in your immediate family suffers from kidney disease or kidney failure, you’re urged to participate in the study. Simply email your name, zip code, a brief description of your kidney problems and whether kidney disease runs in your family, to kidneystudy2017@gmail.com. All information will be held in strict privacy. You should also include a return email address or telephone number so researchers can contact you, if necessary.

WHNT News 19 will continue to monitor this issue and report new information as it becomes available.