Families Against Cancer & Toxics

Stop cancer before it starts

September 17, 2009


This is a continuation of the Clusters page

Oak Ridge, Anderson County, Tennessee

More than 100 residents of Oak Ridge may have suffered from thyroid cancer, brain damage, and other illnesses from past exposure to toxic releases at a nearby nuclear weapons complex. According to the Tennessean News, scores of men and women who live near the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation, but never worked there, are suffering from patterns of illness their doctors cannot explain. The state health department, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and other agencies have studied the nuclear complex but have found conflicting results. Tracking of environmental releases and health effects could have identified health problems earlier and allowed preventive measures to be established.

More information:

El Paso, El Paso County, Texas

In 1997, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry provided a grant to the Texas Department of Health to investigate a report of elevated Multiple Sclerosis (MS) prevalence among a cohort of elementary students whose school was in close proximity to a smelter facility. This study of more than 5,000 former students included a review of the medical records of study participants who reported having MS. Past environmental sampling data indicated high levels of metals in the area. The investigators found a two-fold increased risk for MS among this cohort and recommended a multi-site case control study be done to examine metals exposure as a potential risk factor for MS.

More information:
ATSDR Report
ATSDR MS Fact Sheet

San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Several former workers from Kelly Air Force Base (AFB) and community members residing near the base have expressed concern about a possible cluster of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease). Health officials are investigating the base to determine whether exposure to various toxic chemicals is linked to the disease, and conducting a health survey to better understand risk factors for ALS. Reports of higher rates of other health problems such as birth defects, cancer, and learning disabilities have also been identified outside the base in nearby communities. These communities have also been affected by groundwater contamination from toxic releases at the AFB. Biomonitoring in these residents could help determine whether pollutants from the AFB are a contributing factor in these health problems.

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South Weber, Davis County, Utah

Evidence of a brain cancer cluster was discovered in May 2001. A study requested by residents near a garbage incinerator found nine cases from 1997-2000, which the Davis County Health Department labeled statistically significant. No association between the incinerator and the cancer cases has been established, but the incinerator was found to exceed federal emissions standards for dioxin, a known human carcinogen. Dioxins are a byproduct of incineration.

More information:

Plainfield, Vermont

A medical student investigated what appears to be an elevated number of cases of the neurological disorder, Lou Gehrig's disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS) to see whether they may be linked to occupational or environmental factors. Three of the six people afflicted in Vermont were dairy farmers. ALS is so rare that fewer than two people per 100,000 are affected, however residents know of six in their town of little more than 1,000 who have had ALS in the past or have it presently.

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Chesterfield, Chesterfield County, Virginia

Residents of Chesterfield worried that living near a military supply center might be linked with their seemingly high rates of cancer, as well as lupus and diseases of the liver, kidney, nervous system and lungs. Toxic chemicals, including trichloroethene (a known human carcinogen), were stored at the center and were known to have leaked into the soil and groundwater. The State Health Department conducted interviews in the Rayon Park area to determine whether there were unusually high rates of illnesses, and then requested that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) investigate whether the contamination could be linked to the health problems. In a health consultation released in April 2002, ATSDR concluded that no current human health hazard exists from exposure to surface water in the creeks.

More information:

ATSDR Health Consultation
ATSDR Public Health Assessment
EPA Website on Richmond Supply Center

Hanford, Benton County, Washington

Hanford is the name of a former nuclear weapons production site located in south central Washington state. Established in 1943, Hanford released radioactive materials into the air, water and soil. Many employees, as well as those who lived in the areas downwind from Hanford or who used the Columbia River downstream from Hanford, received doses of radiation. Those doses may have caused health problems or might cause them in the future. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has been conducting studies of the surrounding communities since 1994.

More information:
U.S. Department of Energy Health Study
Washington State Department of Health Overview

Port Angeles, Clallam County, Washington

Residents fear that exposure to dioxins, PCBs, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals are linked to the high number of deaths from cancer and respiratory disease, among others in their community. These contaminants have been found in drinking water and soil both in and around a nearby pulp mill and the mill's landfill. According to a 2001 article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer the state health study concluded that the rates of illness and death were elevated, but that the state was a long way from assigning a cause. Biomonitoring in these residents could help determine whether pollutants from the mill are a contributing factor in these health problems.

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Shoalwater Bay Indian Reservation, Pacific County, Washington

Health officials investigated what appeared to be a high number of miscarriages and stillbirths among the Shoalwater Bay Indian women. In a 1999 study of Shoalwater pregnancies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a miscarriage rate of up to 67 percent--much greater than the expected rate. In a more recent study by the state of Washington, the study concluded that the percent of pregnancies ending in unintended loss between 1996 and 2001 in Shoalwater, "was not significantly different from that reported in a similar national survey, of 19.5 percent." A nationwide health tracking network that collects such information would help shed light as to why so many pregnancies ended in an unitended loss.

More information:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Article: Tribe's future surviving after 10-year plague of lost children
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Article: Failed pregnancies isolated to Shoalwaters, health study finds
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Article: Shoalwaters' 'catastrophe' confirmed

Northeast, Washington, DC

Residents worry that the trash transfer station or the nearby power plant may be the cause of a number of Alzheimer's cases, deaths from cancer, and asthma cases being reported in the neighborhood. A Public Health Assessment by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released in July 2004, found that, "insufficient health outcome data exist to evaluate whether increased rates of respiratory effects or cancer are present in the River Terrace community." This same assessment noted, however, that "the maximum detected levels of ozone, sulfate and particulate matter may aggravate pre-existing respiratory diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis." Local activists continue to advocate for removal of trash transfer stations from residential neighborhoods.

More information:

ATSDR Press Release
Washington Post News Article: As Trash Site Persists, NE Neighbors Fume

Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

In April 1993, the bacterium, Cryptosporidium parvum, made 400,000 people sick and killed more than 100 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The outbreak was investigated by the Milwaukee Department of Health as well as the Wisconsin Division of Health. Since then, Milwaukee has made extensive overhauls to its water treatment system to improve filtration. Because cryptosporidiosis (an officially reportable disease) is tracked in Wisconsin, health officials were alerted early on and rapidly responded by testing the water treatment plant.

More information:
New England Journal of Medicine Article: A Massive Outbreak in Milwaukee of Cryptosporidium Infection Transmitted through the Public Water Supply

Emerging Infectious Diseases Article: Cost of Illness in the 1993 Waterborne Cryptosporidium Outbreak, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
CNN News Article: Milwaukee learned its water lesson, but many other cities haven't

Milwaukee Works Water Quality Report

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