Tonawanda News

October 10, 2013

Health department recommends cancer monitoring

Final health review report released, further monitoring recommended

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The state Department of Health is recommending a biomonitoring study for the Tonawanda area after completing a three-year health review that found elevated rates of cancer among residents living in the town’s industrial corridor.

The biomonitoring includes taking blood and urine samples from residents in the area. 

"We recommend developing the biomonitoring plan in collaboration with the community so that various options are thoroughly explored," the final review's report, available online, states.

The DOH began the initiative in 2010, after a state Department of Environmental Air Quality Study found high concentrations of a known carcinogen, benzene, as well as formaldehyde, in the Tonawanda air. Although the basic results of the study were published in February, the DOH recently released the final report, its recommendation and responses to public comments.

The DOH scheduled two meetings for the public to discuss the final report. The meetings, which will include a brief presentation and question and answer period, are set for 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Sheridan Parkside Community Center and at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the St. Timothy Evangelical Lutheran Church on Grand Island. 

The study concentrated on reproductive effects and cancer, as both have been associated with exposure to benzene and formaldehyde. The DOH worked with the DEC to identify areas of the town that were more likely to have high or moderate effects from benzene exposure, and examined health outcomes in four different subsections identified as Brookside-Terrace, Sheridan Park, Riverside and Grand Island.

The study examines illness rates between 1990 and 2009, and the rates were then compared to analyses of statewide data and Erie and Niagara county rates.

The DOH review found “statistically significant elevations” of lung cancer and bladder cancer in both males and females, esophageal cancer in males and uterine cancer in females, as well as oral-cavity/pharynx cancer in males and leukemia among women.

In one subsection studied, Sheridan Park, the DOH expected to find 268 cases of cancer, but 332 cases were found.

The DOH also found evidence of elevated preterm births and heart defects in newborns, but evidence of elevated major defects was, fortunately, not discovered.

The study found that bladder cancer had statistically significant elevations in the Brookside area for men; total cancers, lung cancer and bladder cancer had statistically significant elevations in Sheridan Park for men and women.

Elevations of uterine cancer in Sheridan Park were also found.

No types of cancer were statistically significantly elevated in Riverside except for lung cancer for women, and in Grand Island, esophageal cancer was statistically significantly elevated among men, and uterine cancer among women.

At a series of public meetings held on the study in February, DOH official James Bowers cautioned the public that the department cannot determine the cause of the illnesses.

Most attendees, however, said they blame Tonawanda Coke, the River Road company found guilty of violating two environmental laws including benzene emissions.

But benzene is only one potential cause, Bowers said, and not the most likely, statistically speaking.

“Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer,” he said at a meeting in February. “And we don’t have any of that data, about lifestyle, diet, exercise ... lung and bladder cancer can be caused by industrial emissions, but it’s hard to say one way or another what actually caused the outcomes.”

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.