Families Against Cancer & Toxics

Stop cancer before it starts

Material on this page was developed by the Trust for America's Health and is reprinted here with permission. This information was prepared in 2005 and has only been partially updated.



Background

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define a cluster investigation as, "a review of an unusual number, real or perceived, of health events (for example, reports of cancer) grouped together in time and location." Cluster investigations seek to confirm cases of the disease; establish whether the reported cases represent an unusually high occurrence of the disease; and explore potential causes when possible.1

Sometimes "health events" are identified by surveillance efforts, but more often they are brought to light by concerned residents.2

TFAH’s Disease Cluster and Hotspot Map above depicts areas that have been investigated by government agencies and/or by private entities, which may include academicians, science-based organizations, or independent epidemiologists, as well as areas in which residents have raised concerns about unexpectedly high rates of disease. Areas represented by red dots are areas that are being or have been formally investigated by government agencies. Areas represented by yellow dots are areas that are being or have been investigated by private entities. Areas represented by blue dots are areas in which residents have raised concerns about unexpectedly high rates of disease in their communities, but those concerns have not yet been investigated.


Map Glossary of Terms

Disease Cluster - An unusual aggregation, real or perceived, of health events that are grouped together in time and space and that are reported to a health agency.3 For the purposes of this map, an area which has been formally investigated by a public health agency.

Disease HotSpot - An area which is being or has been investigated by private entities, which may include academicians, science-based organizations, or independent epidemiologists, OR an area in which residents are raising concerns about unexpectedly high rates of disease.

Notes

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Glossary of Terms. Retrieved August 12, 2004 from http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/glossary.html#G-A-

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. (1990, July 27). Guidelines for Investigating Clusters of Health Events/ Retrieved August 12, 2004 from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001797.htm.

3 Ibid. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. (1990, July 27). Guidelines for Investigating Clusters of Health Events/ Retrieved August 12, 2004 from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001797.htm.)


Anniston, Calhoun County, Alabama



Residents have reported cancerous, non-cancerous, thyroid, and neurodevelopmental effects that they believe may be linked to releases of various chemicals, including nerve gas, rat poison, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) since the 1970s from a nearby chemical manufacturing company. In addition to the releases of chemicals in landfills, a stream, and drainage ditches, soil collected in 1999 also tested positive for extremely high lead levels. A health consultation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released in July 2003, concluded that: "(a) exposures to PCBs in some residential soils present a public health hazard; (b) 500 of the 2,712 persons tested had elevated blood PCB levels; (c) exposures to PCBs in the air are an indeterminate public health hazard; and (d) further sampling and evaluation were needed to assess fully the scope of environmental contamination and to determine the important exposure pathways. Biomonitoring in these residents may have picked up unhealthy levels of toxicants long ago and could have diminished the magnitude of the health crisis in the years since.

More information:
US EPA Anniston Website
ATSDR Health Consultation


Maricopa County, Arizona



Residents of Maricopa County worried about environmentally related health problems in their community after a documented pediatric leukemia outbreak in the late 1980's. According to a Phoenix Times report in 1993, from 1965 to 1986, children in that west Phoenix community died of leukemia twice as often as children in other parts of the country. However, a Public Health Assessment from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released in 2000 documented that, "there also was no statistically elevated incidence of total cancers or leukemia for ages zero to 19 years in the Goodyear area when compared to the same age group nationwide during 1965 to 1986." This same report concludes, with respect to more current health concerns in the area, that "the Arizona Department of Health Services found no apparent public health hazard existed as a result of ingestion, dermal, or inhalation exposures by residents to the contaminated groundwater at the Phoenix Goodyear Airport North site given the current data."

More information:
ATSDR Health Assessment


Sierra Vista, Cochise County, Arizona



Sierra Vista currently has three times the incidence of childhood leukemia expected in a town its size. Out of a total populatiohttp://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/litchfield/laan of about 40,000, 12 children have been diagnosed; two have died. After vigorous lobbying by Cochise County and Representative Jim Kolbe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in 2004 that it would collect biological samples in Sierra Vista. The testing has yet to begin, and analysis of the samples will take up to two years. Residents are concerned about this rate of cancer, and wonder whether it might be linked to the fact that the town is home to two military bases. A jet fuel pipeline runs under the town as well. Biomonitoring would help find a common agent, if any, that may be contributing to the cancer among these residents.

More information:
Local Advocacy Group Website


Prairie Grove, Washington County, Arkansas



In October 2001, the Arkansas Department of Health began investigating a potential cluster of testicular cancer in Prairie Grove. From 1997 to 2001, five cases of the cancer had been diagnosed, which is about five times the national rate. The results of the study were released in 2002, which concluded that children were not being exposed to soil contaminants from their elementary school at levels that could cause adverse health effects. Fifty families have hired their own attorneys because they believe the cancers may be related to environmental factors. The town lies near a now-closed nuclear reactor, a low-level radioactive landfill, and a poultry plant.

More information:
Arkansas Department of Health Prairie Grove Fact Page


Daly City, San Mateo County, California



Residents of a housing project worry that the contaminated soil upon which their building was constructed may be the cause of genetic defects and various illnesses being reported. In 1990, state officials and San Mateo County first notified residents that the ground beneath Midway Village was laden with toxic polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, known as PNAs, which have been linked to cancer and other maladies. The housing project is also located next to a former Superfund site, the PG&E Martin Service Center. Without adequate tracking of these substances and human health, it is difficult to determine whether the environment is linked to these illnesses.

More information:
San Francisco Chronicle News Article: Gene Defects for Neighbors of Toxic Site Study Finds Aberrations in Chromosomes Among Daly City Project Residents


Lassen County, California



Residents downwind of a local weapons depot suspected that the high cancer rates in their community might be linked to the depot's open burning and detonation of munitions. While the depot's operations ceased in 2001, munitions burning had occurred for 50 years at the depot and no one knew if the smoke was harmful to human health. In 2000, a Nevada senator petitioned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate the public health implications of potential exposures to air contamination from the Sierra Army Depot (SIAD). The health consultation, released by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in November 2003, concluded that inhalation exposures were not an apparent public health hazard and recommended that if waste treatment operations resumed at Sierra Army Depot, the Army should conduct routine air sampling in at least one residential location downwind from the installation. Further, ATSDR concluded that the descriptive cancer registry did not suggest evidence of excess cancers based on the cancer types analyzed for census tracts surrounding SIAD. However, the exception to this finding was a slight excess of leukemias (all types combined) in the Susanville area for the period 1988 through 1997. This is a case where biomonitoring would help determine whether the smoke is adversely affecting human health. (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/sierraarmy/sad_p1.html) (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/sierraarmy/sad_p2.html#conc)

More information:
ATSDR Press Release
ATSDR Health Consultation
Las Vegas Review Journal Newspaper Article: Depot not exempt from laws: Bombs, bullets will no longer be burned


Simi Valley, Ventura County, California



Former employees of the Rocketdyne Laboratory and their families have been stricken with various cancers at higher than normal rates. In February 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that experts had testified that 120 area residents (the plaintiffs in a six year lawsuit) were exposed by inhalation to a number of hazardous substances, including hexavalent chromium, radionuclides, trichloroethylene and a "toxic chemical cloud containing multiple human carcinogens" that caused at least 83 plaintiffs to contract cancer. The experts concluded that the plaintiffs' exposure to hazardous substances released from Rocketdyne's facilities "in reasonable medical probability, was a substantial factor in contributing to the risk of developing their injuries or cancer." These results confirm a study by the state health department in 1991 that detected an elevated rate of bladder cancers in areas within five miles of the Rocketdyne facility.

More information:

California Department of Health Services Study

ATSDR Draft Preliminary Site Evaluation


Hamden, New Haven County, Connecticut



In 2001, a Connecticut Department of Health investigation was initiated over concerns about a cancer cluster at Hamden Middle School. The school was built upon a former landfill, and while it is currently considered safe, tests had shown trace levels of lead, methane, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the soil beneath the school. The study concluded that any exposures that may have occurred were not great enough to have caused health effects. If the U.S. had a Nationwide Health Tracking Network, cases of disease could be investigated and measures to prevent future cases established.

More information:
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Press Release
Yale Herald News Article: Hamden soil pollution extends middle school vacation


North Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut



Researchers have doubled the scope of their investigation into brain cancer cases at a jet-engine manufacturing company and are requesting another two years and an additional $4 million to complete the work. This study was prompted by the deaths of at least several dozen workers from the same rare, very fast-growing form of brain cancer. The study initially had been expected to look at the medical and work records of about 100,000 current and former workers. But that number increased to 200,000 during routine searches of company records, said a biostatistician at the University of Pittsburgh who is conducting a portion of the research. The due-date for the study is 2008, but researchers now want to push back the completion deadline to 2010.

More information:
Connecticut Department of Health Fact Sheet
Local Advocacy Website


Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, Florida



In February 2001, The Pensacola News Journal reported that rates for several kinds of cancer, rates for birth defects, and rates for low birth weight babies were all elevated in Escabmia and Santa Rosa counties as compared with national rates. The article reported that federal regulators suspect arsenic, dioxin, lead, mercury and other substances from contaminated Superfund sites and manufacturing plants, Escambia Treating and Agrico, are to blame. Without adequate tracking of these substances and human health, it is difficult to determine whether the environment is linked to these elevated cancer rates.

More information:


Port St. Lucie, St. Lucie County, Florida



Between 1981 and 1997, 30 children in St. Lucie County and 12 in Martin County were diagnosed with rare brain and nerve-cell cancers. St Lucie County Health Department, along with the Florida Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry and several other national agencies, began an epidemiological study in 1998 which was ongoing as of July 2004. The agencies have been unable to uncover what might be causing this high number of childhood cancers. This case highlights the necessity of collecting comprehensive exposure data in humans.

More information:


Moreland, Bingham County, Idaho



In November 1993, a concerned resident of Bingham County reported a potential brain cancer cluster to the Idaho Division of Health, focusing on a one-mile radius circle surrounding an abandoned dump site in Moreland. The Idaho Division of Health evaluated people in 6 southeastern counties, including Moreland, and found a high rate of cancer in the most recent data. Biomonitoring in residents around the landfill could have helped determine what contaminants residents have been exposed to.

More information:
Cancer Data Registry of Idaho


Nez Perce County, Idaho



Nez Perce County has one of the highest lung cancer rates in the state and rates of bronchial, female kidney, and prostate cancers are all above the state average. In fact, the Cancer Data Registry of Idaho reported in 2003, that statistically there were significantly more cases of cancer in Nez Perce County than expected, based upon rates in the rest of the state. Similarly, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) 2003 Health Consultation reported that data analysis indicates more total cancer cases (12%) than expected for this area compared to the remainder of Idaho. While the Idaho Division of Health had previously determined that the Potlatch pulp mill was a hazardous waste site of potential public health concern, due to the release of chloroform into the air, the 2003 ATSDR report concluded that it was not possible to determine if past exposure to chloroform was associated with the increased cancer incidence.

More information:
ATSDR Health Consultation

Fact Sheet from Cancer Data Registry of Idaho


Shoshone County, Idaho



Shoshone County residents report higher than normal rates of certain cancers. In fact, a Cascadia Times article in November 2000, reported that, "Shoshone County ranks first in Idaho for cancers associated with arsenic poisoning, including cancers of the bladder, kidney, colon and larynx." The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry completed a study in the county in 2000, which documented that the toxic wastes at the Bunker Hill Mining And Metallurgical site were a current public health hazard and that people living in the vicinity of the Bunker Hill site were exposed to metals that can produce adverse health effects in the long term.

More information:
Cascadia Times News Article: Out of the Earth, Into Our Lungs EPA Health Consultation: Note: ATSDR State Facts Sheet refers to consultations for Shoshone-Bannock Indian Tribe but this tribe lives in Southeast Idaho (CARIBOU COUNTY) near the Southeast Idaho Phosphate Resource Area (SEIPRA)


Chicago, Cook County, Illinois



In the summer of 2000, residents in the Chicago area reported the presence of mercury in their homes. A gas company had been replacing old, indoor mercury regulators with new, outdoor regulators and found that during the replacement process, mercury had been spilled in some of the homes. According to an Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry report in 2001, over 200,000 homes might have been at risk for up to 11 years. Currently, more than 200,000 homes have been inspected, and mercury has been found in more than 1,000 of these homes. If a system had been established for tracking health and environmental exposures, the duration of exposure and the number of people affected by this incident could have been drastically reduced.

More information:
Illinois Departmentt of Public Health
ATSDR Health Consultation


Christian County, Illinois



In the mid-to-late 1980's, seven children were diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare nervous system cancer, in Taylorville, Illinois, when only one case would have been expected. In a Summer 2000 report, the Ilionois Deparment of Public Health labeled these cases a cancer cluster. Officials noted that coal tar released during the cleanup at a nearby utility plant might have played a role. Certain residents filed a lawsuit which, after six years, was settled in favor of the plaintiffs against the utility plant. Without adequate tracking of these substances and human health, it is difficult to determine whether the environment is linked to these elevated cancer rates.

More information:
Illinois Department of Public Health Website Report

Illinois Department of Public Health Report – this is a report-didn't find website

EPA Superfund Website for Illinois


DuPage County, Illinois



In Spring 2001, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) requested that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) evaluate residential well water for contaminants in Downers Grove, Illinois. The IDPH study, released in March 2003, concluded that about 200 wells contained trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) at levels greater than the USEPA drinking water standard of 5 µg/L for each chemical. The IDPH determined, therefore, that exposure to contaminated groundwater in Downers Grove was a public health hazard. IDPH also concluded that while long-term exposure to contaminated well water could pose a very low increased cancer risk, no health studies were available definitively associating an adverse health effect in animals or humans exposed to the levels of TCE and PCE observed in Downers Grove.

More information:
ATSDR Public Health Assessment


Naperville, DuPage County, Illinois



In August 1999, CNN reported that a three-year investigation found that occupational hazards may have contributed to the development of brain tumors in as many as 19 employees at a BP Amoco Corp. research facility in Naperville, Illinois. But BP Amoco said that the study -- conducted by investigators from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University -- could not identify a specific cause of the cancer. The study found that two agents commonly used in experiments -- ionizing radiation and n-hexane -- may have contributed to six cases of glioma, an often deadly form of brain cancer. Five of those six scientists had died at the time the study was released. This cluster highlights the necessity of collecting comprehensive exposure data in humans.

More information:


Hammond, Lake County, Indiana



A parents' group called IRATE, Illiana [Illinois-Indiana] Residents Against Toxiocarcinogenic Emissions, was concerned that more than 30 children with various types of cancer had been found in a 31-mile radius around a local chemical company. IRATE worried that the pediatric cancers may have been caused by the release of 1,2-dichloroethane (ethylene dichloride, or EDC) and vinyl chloride (VC) from the plant during the Pyro-Chek manufacturing process. A public health assessment by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, released in June 2001, concluded that contaminants detected in samples from an air monitoring station 1.5 miles from the site were not at levels of health concern and that the site was not a public health hazard. Indiana State Department of Health concurrently released its findings in a health consultation and concluded that rates of childhood cancer were not elevated for Lake County or for the community surrounding the Keil Chemical Company. This cluster highlights the necessity of collecting comprehensive exposure data in humans.

More information:
ATSDR Public Health Assessment


Middletown, Des Moines County, Iowa



In 2002, Hawk Eye News reported a study of cancer among former Iowa Army Ammunition Plant (IAAP) workers that showed a pattern of lung and some other cancers several times higher than that found in the rest of the state. In addition, patterns for some forms of cancer, including cancer of the liver, mouth and eye areas, are higher among some residents of Middletown and West Burlington, excluding IAAP workers, than they are for the rest of the state, according to a study by the State Health Registry of Iowa. By contrast, a Health Consultation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released in January 2004, found that the environmental releases of beryllium and depleted uranium (DU) from the plant and from the Burlington Atomic Energy Commission Plant in Burlington, Iowa were not at levels that would result in adverse human health effects to facility residents or to those living nearby. Tracking of environmental releases and use of preventive measures could have protected both employees' and residents' health.

More information:
ATSDR Press Release

ATSDR Health Consultation

EPA Website Report –report –didn't find website

EPA Superfund Website Description


Paducah, McCracken County, Kentucky



Hundreds of former employees at a gaseous diffusion plant were exposed to unsafe levels of radiation, some of whom got cancer. According to a Department of Energy report in 2000, employees previously worked in dangerous conditions often without protective equipment or proper training. Indeed, CNN reported that employees told the House Commerce oversight and investigation subcommittee that for years managers withheld from them information that they were being exposed to plutonium, telling them the uranium powder that contained traces of the dangerous metal was "safe enough to eat." The subcommittee was examining allegations of widespread health, safety and environmental violations at the plant. Tracking of environmental releases and use of preventive measures could have protected employees' health from cancer-causing radiation.

More information:


Mossville, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana



Calcasieu Parish is the site of a large number of companies that produce petroleum-based chemicals, chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents, and other organic chemicals. In 1998, the Enviromental Protection Agency asked the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to review the results of blood tests for several residents of Calcasieu Parish. After 28 residents were found with elevated levels of dioxin in their blood, which can cause a number of adverse health effects, ATSDR expanded its exposure investigation. The two follow-up ATSDR studies concluded that: blood dioxin levels between people who live in the Calcasieu Parish and Lafayette Parish, which is the comparison group, are similar; no difference in blood dioxin levels exists in people who live close to or far from industry; and most of the people tested have blood dioxin levels similar to those in ATSDR's comparison group. A nationwide health tracking network would provide such data.

More information:
ATSDR News Release



Vermilion Parish, Louisiana



Residents in Vermilion Parish are concerned that the high level of arsenic in their drinking water could be causing the large number of cancer cases in their community. Some residents said that they sent water to be tested and the arsenic measured between 70 and 100 parts per billion, above the Environmental Protection Agency's allowable 50 parts per billion. Volunteers are going door-to-door to find out exactly how many people in the community have been diagnosed with cancer. For instance, more than half the residents that live on Daby Road have been diagnosed with cancer over the last 5 years. Biomonitoring in these residents could help determine whether pollutants in the drinking water are a contributing factor in these cancers.

More information:
Acadiana KLFY Television News Article: Residents Worried About Arsenic Levels in Water
Acadiana KLFYTelevision News Article: Arsenic Water Survey


Fairfield Center, Somerset County, Maine



Residents of Fairfield, Maine petitioned the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) regarding concerns of potential exposure to contaminants from the Central Maine Disposal Landfill (CMD) and an increased incidence of brain cancer within their community. In 2000, the Maine Bureau of Health requested that ATSDR conduct a health assessment of the CMD Landfill. The study concluded that, according to past and current sampling data reviewed, the landfill does not pose a public health hazard. No adverse health effects would be expected to result from people drinking water from private wells that were sampled. A system that tracks environmental exposures and health effects could have helped to identify what is causing these cancers.

More information:
ATSDR Health Assessment


Cape Cod, Barnstable County, Massachusetts



In 1993, Cape Cod was first identified as having elevated breast cancer rates by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Further study found that breast cancer incidence was about 20% higher on Cape Cod than in the rest of Massachusetts, for 1982-1994. A state study of all cancers on the Cape, from 1986-1994, indicated that cancer rates were elevated for prostate, breast, and for melanoma. Currently, Silent Spring Institute is investigating exposures to pollutants over the past 40 years using a geographic information system (GIS), environmental and biological sampling, and interviews with 2,100 women.

More information:


Middleborough and Weymouth, Massachusetts



Residents suspect that a cluster of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) may be linked to toxic waste from local industries. Middleborough, has metal plating and organic solvent wastewater sites, as well as agricultural activities that use pesticides and herbicides. Weymouth surrounds the South Weymouth Naval Air Station Superfund site; heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides are the contaminants of concern for this community. State health officials are currently identifying cases of ALS and MS, which will then be mapped out to determine whether there are clusters near hazardous waste sites. The study is expected to be completed by fiscal year 2005. Without adequate tracking of these substances and human health, it is difficult to determine whether the environment is linked to these elevated disease rates.

More information:
ATSDR MS/ALS Fact Sheet


Saugus, Essex County, Massachusetts



Residents in the Central Street neighborhood of Saugus, MA are concerned about the four cases of multiple myeloma (a rare blood cancer) that have been diagnosed there. One of the four people died in 2000. There were eight cases of the cancer between 1993 and 1997 in Saugus, slightly higher than what would be expected. Scientists do not know yet what causes the disease, but some research suggests that exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants may increase the risk of getting multiple myeloma. Residents wonder if pollution from an old chemical plant may be the cause. The Department of Public Health planned to investigate as of 2001. Without adequate tracking of human health and potentially related environmental hazards, it is difficult to determine whether the environment is linked to elevated disease rates.

More information:


Scituate, Plymouth County, Massachusetts



Residents suspected a cancer cluster in the Third Cliff neighborhood of Scituate, Massachusetts and were concerned about the quality of their drinking water. Residents requested that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) conduct an investigation. In August 2001, a report released by MDPH and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseae Registry evaluated residents' concerns with respect to five types of cancer (leukemia, breast, kidney, testes, and liver). The report concluded that cancer incidence from 1987-1997 was no greater than expected, though rates of breast cancer and leukemia did occur in greater than expected numbers. The final conclusion was that the municipal water supply in Scituate posed an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard for the past and future, but presently posed No Public Health Hazard. A nationwide health tracking network would be valuable in helping to provide such data.

More information:


South Boston Neighborhood, Suffolk County, Massachusetts



An unexpectedly high number of cases of scleroderma and lupus have been diagnosed in residents of South Boston. Residents wonder if environmental contaminants such as hazardous waste, leaking oil or jet fuel exhaust from the airport can be linked to their autoimmune diseases. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is currently investigating. Without adequate tracking of these substances and human health, it is difficult to determine whether the environment is linked to these elevated disease rates.

More information:
About.com Article: Scleroderma in Southie: High rate of the disease prompts study


Great Lakes Region, Michigan



There have been efforts for the last thirty years to monitor the health of humans and animals living in the Great Lakes region. Fish advisories have been issued periodically warning residents about polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, pesticides and other chemicals in the lakes that are associated with cancer, birth defects and learning disabilities. In 2004, President Bush signed an Executive Order creating the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force. Under the Environmental Protection Agency's leadership, the Task Force brings together ten Agency and Cabinet officers to work on restoring the great Lakes. In addition, the President directed the creation of a regional collaborative process.

More information:
US EPA Website on Great Lakes Region
US EPA Human Health and Great Lakes Region Website


Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota



Workers at a manufacturing plant for asbestos products were exposed to levels of asbestos in excess of current occupational standards for much of the time the plant was in operation (from 1936 to 1989), and cases of asbestos-related disease have been reported in former workers. Approximately 260 properties around the former plant have been identified as contaminated with asbestos-containing wastes from the site. The Environmental Protection Agency has since removed asbestos-contaminated soil from these properties and adjoining alleys. Low levels of asbestos have been detected in some air samples collected around the site. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a health consultation in 2003 and concluded that past exposure to asbestos is a public health hazard for workers in the plant, children who played on the piles of waste materials or vermiculite, and residents who lived near the site. Had a tracking network been in place to monitor environmental exposures in these employees, this tragedy may have been avoided.

More information:


Jackson County, Mississippi



Numerous residents were exposed to the pesticide, methyl parathion, after a pest-control operator illegally sprayed indoors. In November 1996, residents had to be temporarily relocated and nearly 500 homes and businesses had to be decontaminated. While no one died or was seriously injured in the short term, many of the early victims were misdiagnosed with the influenza virus -- a fact that only underscores the need for a nationwide health tracking network to monitor environmental threats.

More information:
EPA Press Release
ATSDR Press Release
CNN News Article: Homeowners worried after pesticide use


Herculaneum, Jefferson County, Missouri



Children have excessively high blood lead levels in Herculaneum. Residents are concerned that the lead comes from a nearby lead smelter not complying with federal air pollution standards. The smelter has been in operation for more than 100 years, and screening conducted by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in 2002 determined that 28% of children in the area had elevated blood-lead levels. This represents an urgent public health hazard. In March 2003, MDHSS, in cooperation with ATSDR, presented preliminary results of all known blood-lead data collected from Herculaneum residents in 2002 to the Herculaneum Community Advisory Group. A health consultation released in August 2003, further evaluated those data and compared them to the 2001 blood-lead data. The blood lead data reviewed indicate that exposures have occurred, are occurring, and are likely to occur in the future and that these exposures may have an adverse impact on human health.

More information:
ATSDR Fact Sheet on MS

Sugar Creek, Jackson County, Missouri



Residents of Sugar Creek, a small community near Kansas City that is adjacent to an Amoco oil refinery, have indicated their concern about the rate of multiple sclerosis (MS) in their community. Anecdotal information suggested a twofold to fourfold elevation in MS prevalence above the U.S. figures. The Jackson County Health Department entered into a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseaes Registry in September 2000, to more fully explore MS prevalence in the area. This research activity includes the development of methods for case ascertainment and case confirmation and the estimation of MS prevalence for Sugar Creek and the surrounding community of Independence. If MS had been tracked, health officials would have known when cases first started appearing and started investigating.

More information:
ATSDR Press Release
ATSDR Press Release
ATSDR Press ReleaseATSDR State Fact Sheet
ATSDR MS Fact Sheet


Libby, Lincoln County, Montana



Countless deaths and illnesses have occurred in mine workers and their families as a result of asbestos exposure from the nearby vermiculite mine. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry prepared a mortality review, in cooperation with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, to develop accurate information about deaths potentially associated with asbestos exposure in Libby. The report concluded that, when compared to Montana and U.S. mortality data, there was a 20 percent to 40 percent increase in malignant and nonmalignant respiratory deaths in Libby from 1979 to 1998. Tracking of asbestos-related illnesses might have caught this much sooner and allowed preventive measures to be established.

More information:
Seattle Post Intelligencer News Article: Up to 30% tested in Libby hurt by asbestos

ATSDR Press Release
ATSDR Press ReleaseATSDR State Fact Sheet


Fallon, Churchill County, Nevada



Sixteen children have been diagnosed in Fallon with leukemia since 1997. Three have died; two relapsed in the summer of 2004. An investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded in 2003 that there are no links between environmental contaminants and the leukemia cases in Fallon. However, biomonitoring tests conducted by CDC found residents in Fallon had elevated levels of arsenic and tungsten in their urine. Arsenic is a known carcinogen, but has not been linked to leukemia. Little is know about the health effects of tungsten--it is currently being studied by the National Toxicology Program. A tracking network that collects data on environmental exposures and health effects could have helped discover the cluster earlier and aided health officials in their investigation.

More information:
ATSDR Press Release
ATSDR Health Consultation

Local Advocacy Website
CDC's Fallon Website


Reno, Washoe County, Nevada



Seven current and former employees at Traner Middle School have been diagnosed with cancer since November 2000. The school has 25 teachers and staff. Officials were concerned that the cancers might be related to asbestos or radon in the school. The state conducted an epidemiological investigation and concluded that there were not elevated rates of cancer in the school. Biomonitoring would help find a common agent, if any, that may be contributing to the cancer among these people.

More information:
Las Vegas Sun News Article: Health official: Reno school not cooperating in probe
Las Vegas Sun News Article: Air tests show only slight radon levels at Traner Middle School

More information:
Pediatrics Article: Prevalence of autism in a United States population: the Brick Township, New Jersey, investigation.
ATSDR Public Health Assessment


Toms River, Ocean County, New Jersey



Health officials have confirmed that they have found a link between exposure to certain water and air pollution and childhood leukemia in the town. In the 2003 New Jersey Department of Health Report on Cancer Incidence, excess childhood cancer incidence over the years 1979 to 1995 was reconfirmed in Dover Township for all cancers combined and leukemia, and in Toms River for all cancers combined, brain and CNS cancer and leukemia. In Toms River this incidence was almost exclusively in children under age five. For Toms River in the 1996-2000 period of study, the small number of cancer cases indicates that the rate might be declining. Tracking of environmental exposures could have caught the cluster much sooner and allowed preventive measures to be established.

More information:
NJ Department of Health Overview of Toms River Projects


Albuquerque and San Jose, San Miguel County, New Mexico



Private wells supplying drinking water to the community of San Jose were contaminated by organic solvents from a nearby Superfund site, according to a 1995 fedeal health study. The wells were decommissioned and a new municipal water well was built. Still, the community has concerns about rates of cancer among residents. Of note is the fact that the San Jose area is home to three different Superfund sites, numerous Brownfields sites, and 36 polluting industries.

More information:
EPA Superfund Website for South Valley
ATSDR Public Health Assessment


Organ, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Soil and dust in and around homes near a now-inactive silver mine have been found to contain levels of lead and arsenic high enough to be considered a public health concern by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. One clean up was completed, but county officials have formally requested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take further steps to remediate the area given concerns about local health. This formal request of EPA was sent in 1991, but the county has received no response to their request.

More information:
ATSDR Health Consultation


Buffalo, Erie County, New York



Residents in the Hickory Woods subdivision suspect that the illnesses they suffer may be linked to the contaminated land upon which their neighborhood was built. Hickory Woods was built on top of soil that contains waste from a nearby former steel and coke plant. The New York Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conducted two studies in 2000 and 2001, one sampling the soil of the subdivision and the second taking an exposure survey of residents' health. The soil study confirmed higher than usual background levels of contaminants but not exceeding public health hazard levels; the exposure survey results suggested that more thyroid conditions might exist among Hickory Woods residents than among the general U.S. population. Based on the predisposing conditions of those with thyroid disease, the state determined that no further investigation was warranted. This is a situation where the public’s right to know about health risks from their community environment was not considered.

More information:

NY State Department of Health Fact Sheet
NY State Department of Health Report


Elmira, Chemung County, New York



In August 2000, state health officials began investigating a high incidence of cancers in current and former students of Southside High School in Elmira, NY. The school was built on land that was once occupied by various industries. In fact, petroleum tanks have been found buried on school grounds. The study found no excess of cancer among students at the high school; however, an excess of testicular cancer was diagnosed between 1997 and 2000 among males 15-19 years of age living in the area served by the school. A follow-up study was released in 2001 and again in 2003, which found no excesses of any type of cancer in the area. Community residents are still concerned about chemical exposures.

More information:


Hillcrest, Broome County, New York



Six children under the age of 14, living within blocks of each other, were diagnosed with various cancers from 1980-1988. Hillcrest residents raised concerns with county health officials, and a study of childhood cancer incidence was conducted by the New York State Department of Health. This detailed review of the cancer cases was released in 1999, but no explanation was found for the unusual pattern of the cancers. However, the investigation did report that the cancers could not have occurred due to chance alone. This same area came under state investigation again in 2003, when trichloroethylene vapors, TCE, were found in soil gas samples. TCE has been linked to cancer. The state will investigate whether vapors from the soil have entered the air in residents' homes.

More information:
The New York State Health Department Media Advisory


Long Island, New York



The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, a joint effort by the National Institutes of Health, state and local health officials, and the Columbia School of Public Health, was initiated in 1993 when residents raised concerns about the high rates of breast cancer in their community. The major findings of the study were reported in 2002, and showed no increases in the rates of illness among area women who might have been exposed to organochlorine pesticide compounds. However, researchers said that it is possible that breast cancer risk in some individuals may be associated with organochlorine exposures because of individual differences in metabolism and ability to repair DNA damage, and they are continuing to investigate these possibilities. The researchers also found that exposure to one type of organochlorine, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), was associated with a modest increased risk for breast cancer.

More information:
National Cancer Institute Website


Staten Island, Richmond County, New York



The Fresh Kills Landfill was one of the largest municipal landfills operating in the nation from 1948-2001, and was investigated by federal health officials numerous times. Residents near the site have complained of respiratory illnesses, reproductive difficulties, and elevated cancer rates. Health officials reported consistent results from their various exposure studies; contaminants in groundwater, soil, and fish posed no health hazard to residents while contaminants released into the air may have posed a past public health hazard, but do so no longer.

More information:
ATSDR Health Consultation
USA Today News Article: Radioactive dust covered plant
USA Today News Article: Research ignores private nuclear contractors
Local Advocacy Website


Camp Lejeune, Onslow County, North Carolina



Residents report that birth defects, stunted growth, and cancers may be linked to contaminated drinking water at this military base. In the early 1980's tests conducted by a private firm found that water wells on the base contained cancer-causing chemicals such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), but the wells were not shut down until 1985. A study was announced in 2003 called "Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds in Drinking Water and Specific Birth Defects and Childhood Cancers at United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina." Residents would like the study, currently being conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, to be expanded. A tracking network that collects data on environmental exposures and health effects could have helped determine whether chemicals in the water were associated with these health problems.

More information:
ATSDR Fact Sheet
Local Advocacy Website


Lorain County, Ohio



More than 200 residents were exposed to the pesticide, methyl parathion, after an unlicensed pest-control operator illegally sprayed indoors. In November 1994, Ohio officials reported a pesticide operator who had applied pesticides for 17 years to hundreds of residences. The Environmental Protection Agency sampled more than 800 homes, tested more than 500 people, and decontaminated 232 homes. Further, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry initiated a study in 1999 of long-term effects of methyl parathion exposure in children in Ohio. A nationwide health tracking network that tracks pesticide exposures could have caught this crisis much sooner and helped to decrease the public health impact on the community.

More information:

ATSDR Press Release
ATSDR Press Release
ATSDR Press Release


Marion, Marion County, Ohio



When nine graduates of a high school were found to have leukemia in 1997, an investigation of the cancers and their potential link with the environmentally contaminated school grounds was initiated. The high school was built on a former military depot where chemical waste had been dumped routinely. Trichloroethylene (TCE), a probable human carcinogen, was a contaminant found in the soil. The school has since been relocated, and a new school was built for the district. Tracking of environmental exposures could have identified this elevated cancer rate much sooner and allowed preventive measures to be established.

More information:


Wellington, Lorain County, Ohio



Residents of Wellington have expressed concerns about elevated rates of multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurodegenerative disease, and the possible association with environmental contaminants. Specifically, residents worry about the health effects from a local iron foundry and an adjacent landfill. In 2000, ATSDR entered into a cooperative agreement with the Ohio Department of Health to develop precise diagnostic criteria and determine the actual number of cases of MS in the area. If MS had been tracked, health officials would have known when cases first started appearing and started investigating.

More information:
ATSDR Press Release
ATSDR MS Fact Sheet


Bartlesville, Washington County, Oklahoma



A smelter site was labeled a public health hazard in 1995 because nearby residents were being exposed to cadmium, lead, and zinc surface soil contamination at levels that could result in adverse health effects. Residents expressed concerns regarding elevated rates of cancer, birth defects, and childhood behavioral problems. A more recent federal study reported that children in the area did not have elevated blood lead levels for the years 1998-2001. Another follow-up study is scheduled for 2004. No studies as yet have been able to determine whether the cancers and birth defects are related to the environmental contamination.

More information:
ATSDR Public Health Assessment


Bucks County, Pennsylvania



Elevated levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), a probable human carcinogen, have contaminated the groundwater in Bucks County. The contamination was first noticed in 1994, and other sites were labeled contaminated in 2000 and again in 2004. Residents are concerned about the safety of their drinking water. The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are evaluating the most current exposures, and are taking action to reduce those exposures.

More information:
US EPA Website for Region 3
ATSDR Health Assessment


Butler and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania



Drinking water in the Petroleum Valley of Pennsylvania was contaminated by several toxicants, including resorcinol, sulfonic acids, and calcium petronates, which was thought to have leaked into the water system at former industry waste disposal sites. Since mid-2001 and continuing as of September 2004, more than 900 homes, schools, and businesses have depended on state-supplied water from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conducted an investigation and found that the water surrounding Bear Creek Chemical Area posed an indeterminate public health hazard, while surface contaminants, in soil and sediment, were deemed not an apparent public health hazard.

More information:

ATSDR Bear Creek News Release
ATSDR Bear Creek News Release
EPA Regional Website
Note: The Bear Creek Area Chemical Site includes at least 17 locations where historical industrial-waste disposal either has been documented or is suspected. The disposal areas include Fairview, Park and Concord Townships in Butler County and Perry Township in Armstrong County


King of Prussia, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania



In King of Prussia a hazardous waste site containing volatile organic chemicals and metals was labeled a public health hazard in 1995 by federal health agencies. Groundwater and surface water at the site had been contaminated with these and other toxic chemicals. There were approximately 200 residences within one-half mile of the site, and those residents raised concerns regarding the safety of the drinking water supply.

More information:
ATSDR Preliminary Public Health Assessment
EPA Website for Region 3


Throop, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania



In 1991, a high number of residents in Throop were found to have elevated blood lead levels. Federal health officials believe that the exposure may be due to waste from a nearby battery disposal site. In 1999, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released their health consultation evaluating the impact of past exposure to lead on the community.

More information:


Worman, Berks County, Pennsylvania



A metals manufacturing facility was labeled a public health hazard by federal health officials in 1993. Residents of Worman Township near the site had been exposed to groundwater contaminated with site-related volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Residents expressed fears regarding the safety of private well water supplies, and the Environmental Protection Agency took the lead in remediating the contaminated wells.

More information:
US EPA Website for Region 3
US EPA Superfund Site
ATSDR Public Health Assessment


South Kingston, South County, Rhode Island



The University of Rhode Island closed the Chafee Social Sciences Building, Kingston Campus, in 2000 due to concerns over contaminated window caulking that left chemicals in the building air and dust. High levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were discovered indoors and outdoors, and university officials hired private epidemiologists to investigate whether exposure to PCBs was associated with cancer cases among employees. After an 18-month closure for remediation, the Chafee Building was re-opened in 2002. If the U.S. had a Nationwide Health Tracking Network, cases of disease could be investigated and measures to prevent future cases established.

More information:
University of Rhode Island Press Release
University of Rhode Island Press Release


Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina



A cluster of pleural cancer (cancer of the lining between the lung and chest) in Charleston was identified in 1997. Nineteen cases were diagnosed in little more than one year, and 12 of those worked at the nearby naval shipyard or naval base, according to a South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control study. Because occupational risk is very strongly associated with pleural cancer, state health officials believe that exposure to asbestos in shipbuilding may have played a role in the development of the cancers. However, without tracking occupational exposures and health effects, it is difficult to reach conclusions.

More information:
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Press Release


Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, South Dakota



A chemical disposal pit was labeled a public health hazard in 1992, and placed on the Superfund list after nitrates were found in nearby water wells and chemical vapors were reported in the air at a nearby school. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry report noted that exposure to high levels of nitrates in water can cause methemoglobinemia ("blue-baby" syndrome) in children less than six months old. Residents had also expressed concern about the rates of learning disabilities in children that attended the elementary school. This site was deleted from the Superfund list in 1999.

More information:
ATSDR Public Health Assessment
EPA Superfund Deletion Notice


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