Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The state Department of Health painted a frightening picture Tuesday of elevated cancer rates among residents in neighborhoods near the town’s industrial corridor.
“We did find elevations — statistically significant elevations — in total cancers, some specific cancers, like lung and bladder, as well as preterm births and heart defects,” James Bowers, of the DOH, said during his presentation Wednesday at the Sheridan Parkside Community Center.
The DOH worked with the DEC to identify neighborhoods 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.
Bowers said the DOH investigation found elevated levels 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.
The DOH also found evidence of elevated preterm births and heart defects in newborns, but evidence of elevated major birth defects was, fortunately, not discovered.
Bowers cautioned the 175 people in attendance that DOH is not able to prove that environmental effects caused the illnesses, but most attendees still said they lay the blame squarely on companies like Tonawanda Coke.
Air monitoring around the foundry has uncovered high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen.
But Bowers cautioned it’s only one cause — and not the most likely, statistically speaking.
“Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer,” he said. “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.”
The study examines rates between 1990 and 2009, and the rates were then compared to analyses of statewide data and Erie and Niagara county rates.