DECATUR, Ala. - We're continuing to follow a developing story out of Morgan and Lawrence Counties that could potentially affect hundreds, maybe even thousands of our viewers. We now have more details about a medical research study that will address the health effects of various toxins that might be in your drinking water.
We now know the initial meeting with physicians and researchers for the study will take place in Moulton, at a date and time to be announced as early as next week. We're told the initial meeting will focus on explaining what the study will involve, along with who and how many people will be chosen to participate. The study will focus on kidney disease here in North Alabama, and its possible causes.
We're told the researchers already suspect the high incidence of kidney disease in this region may be the result of environmental issues related to pollution in the Tennessee River. A number of municipalities in North Alabama get their drinking water from the river and researchers believe not all of the toxins are successfully filtered out before it reaches your home.
Ron Mixon, of the environmental watchdog group Warriors for Clean Water, says the researchers will be working to establish the presence of clusters of kidney disease through diagnostic testing.
“This type of diagnostic testing would cost thousands and thousands of dollars for you to do, and your insurance don't pay for this type of testing."
Those chosen for the study will not be charged for the testing. Even their travel expenses will be covered.
The diagnostic results will be provided to each patient, again free of charge, to aid in their treatment. The overall results of the study will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific paper for other researchers and physicians.
We should point out we had to agree not to identify the research facility that will conduct the study just yet. We also cannot name the specific toxins in the water the facility will be studying. The research team believes that could influence the outcome of the screenings.
However, we can say researchers will try to establish a link between the toxins with what is described as a high incidence of kidney disease in North Alabama.
Pollution in the Tennessee River has already led to a number of lawsuits and this study could become the first definitive link between that pollution and the health effects of those of us who use the river.
Mixon says previous research has already established the presence of the toxins in Wheeler Lake. It's undisputed. Now he says medical researchers have the study and have identified several of the toxins that are known to cause certain health problems, such as kidney disease.
“And they think a major part of the problem with kidney disease up here is environmental, and that's what they're out to show,” Mixon explains.
Mixon says the goal of the study is not to fuel additional lawsuits against those who put the toxins in the river, but rather to establish a firm relationship between the toxins and the incidence of kidney disease in the region. In fact, Mixon says the research team has vowed not participate in any litigation resulting from the study. However, their research, once published, will be in the public domain and could very well become evidence in current and future lawsuits.
Mixon says the ultimate goal is to establish the evidence needed to declare the Wheeler Basin a Superfund site, which would bring the full weight of the federal government to bear upon efforts to stop the pollution and clean up the river.
He says the kidney disease research is the first of several planned studies. Others will examine the effects of the toxins on other organs in the body.
If you or someone in your family has suffered from kidney cancer or another kidney disease, you may qualify for the study. To inquire, simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll need to include your name, zip code, and details of kidney issues in your immediate family.
WHNT News 19 will continue to follow this developing story with additional updates.