Today’s Rachel Carson is a woman I know, admire and love, Dr. Beverly Paigen. I was reminded of how important Dr. Paigen is when asked to present her with an award from the Maine Environmental Health Strategies Center.
When I began to think about what I would say about Dr. Paigen I realized how groundbreaking her research was back in 1978 at Love Canal. How when she presented her theories and her research findings around the Love Canal chemicals and adverse health problems she was dismissed, ridiculed, and harassed by those who wanted to silence her, just like Rachel Carson.
Beverly conducted health studies and showed that 56% of the children were born with birth defects. She suggested that this rate may occur in the next generation as well. She found there were more girls than boys born at Love Canal. All of these finding and others were what we are calling today endocrine disrupting chemical effects. In 1978 endocrine disrupting chemicals were not on the radar screen of most environmental health scientists other than in wildlife, as Rachel’s work pointed out.
Beverly demonstrated how the chemicals had likely moved out of the dumpsite the Love Canal and into the homes that surrounded the site. Again she was dismissed. Today, there is a name for this movement of chemicals called vapor intrusion and there is even an EPA approved technology to remove the chemicals from homes called vapor intrusion mitigation technologies.
Beverly like Rachel Carson suffered for her commitment to speak truth to power. She worked for the State of New York Department of Health as a researcher at Roswell Cancer Institute. Her boss was the Health Commissioner who opposed acknowledging anything was wrong at Love Canal. The result of her speaking up . . . of her speaking out . . . was her staff at her research laboratory was cut, as was her budget, space and she was asked to keep a written record of everything she did.
Later she was called in for a personal IRS audit. As the auditor began to open his file a news article about Dr. Paigen fell out. Beverly called foul play and asked the state of New York for an apology for harassing her. The State did publicly apologize.
When the NYS Health Commissioner refused to sign the agreement for millions of dollars in research funds that would come to Roswell and the state from the federal government, she took her research money and left the state. But she didn’t stop her work with the Love Canal families. Beverly continued her research with Lynn Goldman at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital and published the first study on growth and maturation of Love Canal children exposed to environmental chemicals. This study like the others link slow growth of long bones in children with environmental chemical exposures.
All of the studies that Dr. Paigen did at Love Canal were vindicated. NYS Department of health confirmed the birth defect rate of 56% and found that Love Canal children were giving birth to children with the same rate of birth defects. Her studies on abnormal sex ratio were also confirmed as was so many of her other findings.
The State of New York has never apologized for their harassment and unfair treatment of Dr. Paigen. But, Beverly isn’t really looking for an apology she just wants the public health scientists to conduct scientific studies that are not politically manipulated, that answers as best as science can, the questions of environmental exposures and health. People, American families need honest answers in order to make decisions on their lives. Government health scientists need to be left alone to conduct scientific research regardless of the outcome, not be told what to do and say.
I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly say thank you Beverly for your courage, passion and most importantly for providing the groundbreaking scientific findings to the world regardless of the consequences. You are today’s Rachel Carson.