CHARLESTON, W.Va.– A neurologist and author is visiting the Mountain State to spread awareness and explain more about a link between harmful chemicals and a life-threatening nervous system disease.
Often starting with a slight tremor in the hand, Professor of Neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and co-author of Ending Parkinson’s Disease, Dr. Ray Dorsey said Parkinson’s is the world’s fastest-growing brain disease, doubling in the number of diagnosis over the last 25 years.
Dorsey is currently doing a mid-west listening tour to learn about people’s experiences living with Parkinson’s Disease. He also aims to shed some more light on the reasons behind the disease, and how many chemical and environmental factors potentially play a huge role.
“We want to know why is this, why has Parkinson’s gone from what was a really rare disease to now a very common disease, and we think there are many causes of the disease, especially certain pesticides, a common dry cleaning chemical called trichloroethylene (TCE), and air pollution,” said Dorsey.
During his tour, Dorsey has noticed the causes of Parkinson’s can vary across geographical locations. For instance, in Pittsburg he noticed the reasoning could be due to the city’s high air pollution while here in West Virginia, it’s chemical-related.
His book describes two West Virginia Superfund sites contaminated with the common dry cleaning chemical perchloroethylene or PCE, a closely related chemical to TCE that not only brings up the link between it and Parkinson’s, but other health risks, as well.
Dorsey said knowing more about the causes of the disease can lead to a more hopeful future in stopping it.
“If we know what the causes of the disease is we can prevent more of it from occurring, we can, you know, limit our exposures to pesticides, we can stop using chemicals that are over 100 years old that we know causes cancer and increases the risk of Parkinson’s likely by 500%, we can breath cleaner air, we can change our environment and prevent people from ever getting this disabling disease,” he said.
Co-facilitator and member of a local Parkinson’s support group, Susan Chapman said the group meets every month and tries to host guest speakers like Dorsey to provide information and hope in preventing the disease.
Upon meeting the group for breakfast Tuesday morning in Charleston, Dorsey was to join them on a visit to Ravenswood where a PCE leak affecting the town’s water supply took place in 1989.
Chapman, living in Ravenswood at the time, said she remembers the spill clearly but was unaware of the many dangers it was potentially bringing as a result.
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s herself, she and her family immediately got to work researching what may have caused it, as a genetic test showed there was no link to the disease running in her family. She now speculates her diagnosis was linked to the Ravenswood chemical spill.
However, she and the group helped to get a bill passed last year for WVU to collaborate with CAMC and Cabell-Huntington Hospital in compiling a registry of all of the people in the state who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, in part as an effort to raise more awareness of the connection between some chemicals and the disease.
“The hope is that we will be able to see some common denominators, where they lived, when they were diagnosed, how long did they live in that area, and multiple things,” said Chapman.
She said they also currently have a piece of national legislation out on the table to continue researching the cause on a wider platform, along with working with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to develop a cure of the disease.
While Chapman said West Virginia is the third highest state with Parkinson’s, she is feeling hopeful for the future towards its prevention.
“This…having the WVU registry for all Parkinson’s patients is a huge step going forward,” said Chapman.
Dorsey said with the many progressive medical advancements, there’s no reason for Parkinson’s to continue being the major threat it currently is, and changing the environment, reducing the use of some dry cleaning chemicals, and stopping the use of harmful pesticides can create a world where the disease is less of a commonality.
“Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world free of Parkinson’s?” “We live in a world that’s largely free of Polio, we live in a world where drinking and driving is socially unacceptable, we live in a world where HIV is preventable and treatable, these are all gifts we’ve inherited from previous generations and we have a duty to receive those gifts and obligation to reciprocate,” said Dorsey.
He was also lined up to speak to the support group Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. at Blessed Sacrament Church in South Charleston.
Dorsey agrees West Virginia’s passage of a Statewide Parkinson’s Registry will help the state identify many of the people who were likely exposed to paraquat, PCE, TCE and other chemicals.