Niagara Gazette

February 12, 2013

DOH finds high cancer rates in Town of Tonawanda

By Jessica Bagley
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — A long-awaited two-year study of Tonawanda's health, released Monday, indicates elevated rates of cancer in the area of the town near the industrial corridor.

The news draws attention yet again to the constant environmental worries in the area as well as the allegations that the industrial plants are knowingly emitting dangerous chemicals into the air. 

The state Department of Health initiative began in 2010 and was brought about by the state Department of Environmental Air Quality Study, which found high concentrations of a known carcinogen, benzene, as well as formaldehyde, in the Tonawanda air. 

The DOH concentrated on reproductive effects and cancer, as both have been associated with exposure to benzene and formaldehyde. 

The DOH study 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 of newborns, but evidence of elevated major defects was, fortunately, not discovered. 

"This confirms what our residents are living each day," Rebecca Newberry, of the Clean Air Coalition said. "We've been getting a lot of calls specifically about the lung and bladder cancer, and many people are feeling a little bit vindicated." 

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

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.

In the report, available online on the DOH website, officials make clear the the study cannot prove that environmental issues have caused the higher rates of cancer.

"There are many other factors that may also contribute to the development of these types of cancer. These factors include smoking, family history, and occupational exposures, as well as others. In the general population, smoking is the most important risk factor for both lung and bladder cancer. We do not know the individual medical and exposure histories for the people included in this study," the report states.