Scleroderma mystery remains unresolved in Boston

The Globe reports on a new state study that failed to find an environmental link between a cluster of scleroderma cases in Southie. Not that the sample of women was too small to come up with any solid confusion In other words, not enough women signed up for the study for researcher to come to a solid conclusion, except genetics might be a factor. From The Globe :

Elizabeth Lombard’s right hand is stiff and wooden, unable to flex or move.

“It won’t bend,’’ she said, displaying the tightened skin that is pulling back her fingers into a crooked and clawlike form.

Lombard has scleroderma, a rare, life-threatening autoimmune disease that hardens muscles and internal organs, and causes the body’s immune system to attack itself.

The disease, which has no cure, has long confounded South Boston, where a cluster of longtime residents from the City Point section – most of them middle-aged women – were falling ill with it. The residents, who lived near a power plant and hazardous waste sites, believed they were victims of their environment.

Their case gained national media attention and sparked an 11-year investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In their findings, released earlier this month, state researchers acknowledged “higher than expected cases’’ of scleroderma in South Boston, a neighborhood of roughly 30,000 people.

But it determined that genetics, not the environment, played a significant role.

“It’s not necessarily that the community they were living in was producing this disease,’’ said Robert Simms, the chief of rheumatology at Boston Medical Center and a researcher in the study. “When you look at the data, it does not support that.’’

Also, see The Silent Spring Institute on on how hard it can be to trace a long-brewing disease back to an original, environmental cause. The group has been looking at the breast cancer cluster on Cape Cod.

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