For nearly two years now, the News 4 Trouble Shooters have been investigating why people living near the former Kelly Air Force Base are dying of liver cancer at a rate twice as high as other parts of Texas. Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila tells us why health officials are now studying whether a very popular food here in South Texas could be responsible.
Many people living in the area are convinced their health problems are the result of the TCE, which was found to have seeped into groundwater. The plume of contaminated water was first mapped out in 1999 and stretched underneath 22,000 homes across the south and southwest sides of town. The area was even dubbed the "Toxic Triangle."
In the last few years, the plume has shrunk because the air force is slowly cleaning it up.
However, a number of studies have failed to connect TCE exposure, to the cancer cases. [Director of the Health Department Dr. Fernando] Guerra told us, "For the most part, we did not find an association in the study that we did, which is reassuring."
So now, the health department is going in a different direction. Texas A&M and Texas Tech researchers are now studying whether corn, like you'd find in corn tortillas, could be causing the liver cancer.
Dr. Kirby Donnelly, who is heading up the study from A&M's end, said it's not as silly as it sounds, when he sat down with Jaie Avila recently.
Avila asked, "You've got this TCE underground in the ground water, and yet you guys are studying corn tortillas."
Dr. Donnelly answered, "Yes, and I'm sympathetic to that frustration. I know on the surface it sounds like, 'Oh, you're coming here and we've got this environmental problem. We know the trichloriethelene's in the ground water. We know that these chlorinated solvents are getting into our households and you're looking at tortillas, and everybody eats tortillas, but not every doesn't get liver cancer.' Well, the issue, the more important issue is, the people who get liver cancer are likely getting liver cancer because of a number of things. Not just their environment. Not just their nutrition. Not just their genes."
You are probably wondering, if corn tortillas are to blame, why don't more of us who eat them get liver cancer? Not just people living near Kelly? Well, researchers tell us they think there may be a combination of factors, unique to that area, contributing to the cancer rate, such as the pollution, genetics, and perhaps, corn tortillas.
Now, I'm not a doctor, nor am I a university researcher, but if I had to take a wild shot at investigating possible causes of cancer in a specific area and the list of possible problems were contaminated groundwater, pollution, genetics, or corn tortillas, I might try to definitively rule out the first three before spending money to study enchiladas and chalupas.
Just sayin' --