Box 3-1 Altgeld Garden, Chicago

Altgeld Garden is a public housing community in southeast Chicago built in the mid-1940s. Since its construction, it has been surrounded by industrial facilities. Initially, these were heavy industry (steel, petrochemical, and manufacturing). Currently, they include manufacturing and water and waste treatment facilities. In the surrounding area are more than 100 industrial plants and 50 active or closed waste dumps. The area contains 90 percent of the city's landfills.

As a consequence, the 10,000 residents of Altgeld, who are predominantly African American, have been exposed to a broad variety of environmental stressors, raising concerns about the impacts of these exposures on their health. In addition to worrying about airborne exposures, many members of the community also believe that their houses are constructed on top of chemical and biological wastes. Well water has been found to contain cyanide, benzene, and toluene. According to EPA, this section of Chicago has the city's highest concentration of ambient lead and the second highest concentration of fine dust particles (Motavalli, 1998). Community health concerns have focused on several endpoints, with childhood cancer, prostate, bladder, and lung cancer, endocrine disease, hypertension, infant mortality, and asthma being the most prominent. In response to these concerns, several federal, state, and local agencies have evaluated or investigated the community.

single cytokine or other biomarker (see below) is eventually identified, for example, as a means of diagnosing asthma, it is unlikely that the environmental factors most responsible for the expression of asthma in communities of concern will be identifiable by a single biomarker of exposure.

Different exposures act by different biological mechanisms and will require different biomarkers. Even after a reliable assay for a biomarker of exposure, susceptibility, or biological effect is developed in the laboratory, its clinical and public health applications remain to be determined. For these reasons, among others, research into exposure assessment needs to be multidisciplinary.


In the 1980s, the inability to link exposures to health outcomes by population studies and traditional methods for the classification of exposures led to the study of biological markers, or biomarkers, as possible tools for exploration of the effects of environmental exposures (Cullen and Redlich, 1995). As initially described by the National Research Council (NRC, 1989a,b), biomarkers, in the context of environmental health, are indicators of the effects of external exposure as manifest internally, in biological systems or samples. They reflect molecular

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