Thyroid Disease In the Columbia Basin

The importance of knowledge is something that has built up over time. Literacy is a large part of how, as a community, we have been able to make advances in technology, medicine or even growing food. As a community we can teach each other things that you might not find in a text book. Like cooking the secret family recipe or playing a sport. There are many literacies out there that are not developed from reading a text book, which is just the general definition of literacy, to read and write. A literacy that I have become quite knowledgable in is thyroid disease. Yes, I have developed most of this literacy through texts books and other sources but at first it was as simple as noticing the symptoms of others with thyroid disease through my career and my own personal experiences with thyroid disease.

As I have developed my literacy in thyroid disease, I have become more concerned for our community. More concerned with how thyroid disease has developed, not just by genetics, but also by exposures to elements humans should not be exposed to. Our community has been exposed to different levels of radioactive materials since the early 40s' due to the Hanford Nuclear Site. This has inspired me to ask questions such as, "Did exposures to radioactive materials increase thyroid disease in our area?" I know this question has been asked, not just by myself, but also by others living in the Columbia Basin. Most of these people live the every day fight of thyroid disorders.

The affects of thyroid disease on the body can range from hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. People afflicted with either have to take medications or have surgeries in some point in their life. This has a life long effects on the body. Thyroid disorders are not something to ignore. The symptoms alone can be draining on the body but with out treatment cancers or even worse, death, can occur. The thyroid gland is a major part of the endocrine system and controls hormones that regulate growth and development through the rate of metabolism. Many people in our local community have been diagnosed with thyroid disorders or have seen how this disease can affect the people around them.

Research done by the Hanford Thyroid Disease Study(HTDS) from 1988 to 2002 found that Hanford's release of radioactive iodine-131 into the environment had "no effect on the health of the area population"(Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center). But this report also states that if there is an increase risk of thyroid disease from exposure to Hanford's iodine-131 it is probably too small to observe using the methods available to this research team.

During the HTDS they focused on how people in the Columbia Basin were exposed to iodine-131. From 1944 to 1957 Hanford released an unknown amount of radioactive materials into the air. The radioactive materials then settled onto the vegatation that the cows and goats grazed on. Researchers believed that people in the Columbia Basin ingested it through contaminated milk. Once humans ingested the radioactive iodine, it would go directly to the thyroid gland (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center). The thyroid gland needs iodine to help produce hormones but it can not tell between good and bad iodine. This is where the radioactive iodine would start to break down the thyroid gland. Causing life long problems.

Both my daughter and I struggle with the every day symptoms of thyroid disorders. My daughter, who was born in Richland, was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism when she was just 5 years old. My literacy in thyroid disease is what actually pushed me, as a parent, to get her tested. If it wasn't for my literacy I probably would have never known why my daughter was tired and cold all the time, or why she wasn't developing as well as other kids her age. In this way I'm thankful for my literacy and can only ask more questions about why thyroid disorders are becoming more of the "norm".

As I am,not only a patient, but someone that has worked in the medical field for several years, I have built a community around myself of people I have met through work, friends, or family members that struggle with thyroid disease. We all understand the difficulties of this disorder. One minute your fine and the next you can barely keep your eyes open. We inspire each other to get regular check ups, lecture each other on taking medications and also try and help each other with controlling symptoms. Some of us grew up here in the Columbia Basin and some of us are from other places within the United States. Unlike my daughter, I am one of the few that was not born here in the Columbia Basin but developed my thyroid disease after time has past.

Due to my literacy and the community that surrounds me I have been motivated to further my academics in the medical field. Our community has two different things going for them in the Columbia Basin. The growing medical community or working out in the area (Hanford). Even though Hanford has come along way since the 40s' and 50s'. I truly feel that the Columbia Basin should have a larger medical community with more specialist to help aid in the growing health issues. At this time Hanford is claiming that none of their releases of iodine-131 to the environment had affects on our community. So all I can do at this time is continue with my goal to be a Physician Assistant.

Work Sited

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Summary of the Hanford Thyroid Disease Study. CDC, 2002.

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