Dennis Prevost, left, talks with former neighbor Paul Cronin, right, about the high number of cancer victims in his former neighborhood Thusday, Sept. 12, 2002, in Fort Edward, N.Y. Prevost told the Times Union in June 2017 that it was frustrating that the state Health Department said up front they would not make any links between PCB use in Fort Edward and any cancer elevations found. (Cindy Schultz/Times Union) less Dennis Prevost, left, talks with former neighbor Paul Cronin, right, about the high number of cancer victims in his former neighborhood Thusday, Sept. 12, 2002, in Fort Edward, N.Y. Prevost told the Times Union … more Photo: CINDY SCHULTZ A view of the General Electric capacitor plant on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Fort Edward, N.Y. The state Health Department studied cancer rates in Fort Edward and nearby Hudson Falls in the mid-2000s and said it found some anonmalies, but no cancer cluster. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union) less A view of the General Electric capacitor plant on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, in Fort Edward, N.Y. The state Health Department studied cancer rates in Fort Edward and nearby Hudson Falls in the mid-2000s and said … more Photo: PAUL BUCKOWSKI
The Hoosic River flows under Church Street on Wednesday, May, 10, 2017, in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)
The Hoosic River flows under Church Street on Wednesday, May, 10, 2017, in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. (Will Waldron/Times Union)
Cancer studies of contaminated sites often reveal little proof
Dennis Prevost spent more than two years sitting in the living rooms of Fort Edward families listening to their stories about health problems. He encountered people who had battled brain cancer, stomach cancer, infertility issues and leukemia.
Then after the state Health Department agreed to do a cancer study in Fort Edward in the mid-2000s, Prevost said the state told him upfront that no link would be drawn between any adverse health effects and the operation of General Electric’s Washington County plant, where toxic PCBs and solvents were used for decades.
“The end result, predictably, is an inconclusive study,” said Prevost, now a Texas resident who was previously a community activist in Fort Edward around the issue of GE’s polluting of the Hudson River. His younger brother, who grew up in Fort Edward as Prevost did, died from brain cancer at age 46.
The frustration Prevost felt is now being echoed in Hoosick Falls, where a fast-tracked cancer study released two weeks ago said there appears to be no increased rate of cancer among the Rensselaer County village’s 3,400 residents despite what some experts suspect was decades of the toxic chemical PFOA polluting the community’s drinking water supplies.
Such study results which find no elevated cancer rates are common nationwide, with public health advocates saying it’s rare for federal and state government entities to connect illness to industrial pollution. A large part of the problem is in the research itself with investigators not following residents who have moved, or no studies that definitively link most chemical exposures to health problems like cancer, birth defects or heart disease.
But critics also say federal and state health agencies are subject to political pressure, and confirming industry-related health problems may involve the complicated task of not only holding an influential employer accountable, but taking responsibility for a situation that might be impossible to remedy.
“No one can criticize them for using the standard (science),” said Stephen Lester, science director with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Virginia, a group that was founded by Love Canal resident and advocate Lois Gibbs. The 1978 evacuation of Love Canal, a Niagara Falls neighborhood built on a toxic waste dump, led to today’s environmental regulations. “But they have to maintain control,” Lester said. “If they don’t do it this way, there are consequences. Consequences mean they have to take action, they have to do things that will cost the state money. They’re reluctant to do this.”
The state Health Department acknowledges the limits of studying health outcomes in small communities, which includes also accounting for a person’s age, smoking habits and income. State health officials also confirmed, as Prevost described, that health effects are usually studied first before trying to provide a link to environmental pollution. The state denied any suggestion that studies are designed to satisfy a government administration or industry.
“Our investigations use the best scientific methods and a world-class registry to identify incidences of cancer and to explore potential causes,” department spokesman Gary Holmes said in a statement. The agency uses the New York State Cancer Registry in its research, a database that has information on a patient’s diagnosis and where they live.
State health officials also noted times when studies have backed up residents’ concerns, like a 2012 investigation that showed increased leukemia among men in Liberty, Sullivan County, after a gasoline additive poisoned the village’s water supply sometime before 1992. They also pointed to a 2013 study that showed elevations in multiple types of cancers in Tonawanda, Erie County, where residents have expressed concerns about air emissions from various industries.
The study recently released on Hoosick Falls said that, other than lung cancer, there was no rise in cancer rates for village residents between 1995 to 2014 including cancers of the kidney, testicles and prostate, which have been linked in other studies to PFOA exposure.
FILE – In this Jan. 21, 2016 file photo, the Hoosic River runs through the village of Hoosick Falls, N.Y. No higher incidences of certain types of cancer linked to the toxic chemical PFOA were found in the upstate New York village whose water supplies were contaminated by the chemical, state health officials said in a report released Wednesday, June 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File) ORG XMIT: NYR102
FILE – In this Jan. 21, 2016 file photo, the Hoosic River runs…
Some residents and advocates were angered by the report, noting not only the relatively small time frame that researchers used, but also because town residents weren’t included even though their private wells were also contaminated. The state said 1995 is the earliest date the registry electronically has addresses, and that population data couldn’t adequately be broken out for the town of Hoosick. The distrust was fueled by the fact that for more than a year the Health Department said the water was safe to drink.
Elevated levels of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, were found in the village’s public water system in 2014 by Michael Hickey, a former village trustee whose father died of kidney cancer. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the current occupant of the village’s McCaffery and Liberty street factories, and former occupant Honeywell International, have since agreed under a state consent order to assist in water filtration and cleanup.
Dr. David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute of Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, said it was irresponsible of the state to release a study that did not adequately assess health effects. The state does not track where a patient used to live an important distinction since cancer might not be found until decades after a person’s environmental exposure which is called a latency period. Also, large populations are often needed to compare a community’s cancer rate with that of the general population.
David Carpenter, head of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University at Albany, was part of a five-state study that found unsafe levels of carcinogenic chemicals in air around natural gas wells and pumping stations.
David Carpenter, head of the Institute for Health and Environment…
“The more I think about that study, the more it makes me angry,” said Carpenter, who has published multiple health studies, including a 2003 investigation that found lower-birth-weight babies were born to mothers who live near polluted sites. “To publish a report on a little tiny population when you can predict in advance you won’t find anything is deceitful.”
Holmes shot back at criticism made of the state’s commitment to such investigations.
Kodak Park is seen here looking northeast from Ridge Road Oct. 30, 2003. ( Jamie Germano / The Rochester Democrat-Chronicle )
Kodak Park is seen here looking northeast from Ridge Road Oct. 30,…
“To blatantly disregard the state’s aggressive actions to hold corporations accountable and the tens of millions of dollars recovered each year from companies that violate the law is unfair to the health professionals who have spent their careers using innovation, excellence and integrity to promote public health and protect New Yorkers,” Holmes’ statement read.
Adding to concerns about study methodology is the fact that such investigations usually take years to complete. In Rochester, concerns about cancer in neighborhoods abutting Kodak Park grew loud in the late 1980s. Kodak Park, which consisted of more than 1,000 acres of the film giant’s factories, was also one of the state’s largest releasers of toxic emissions at the time. In the mid-1990s the state found rates of pancreatic cancer were higher than average in Kodak Park-area residents. But the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal entity, said the state needed to study in greater depth incidences of childhood brain cancer. The state analyzed cases from 1976 to 1997 and found childhood brain cancer was disproportionately higher. But that study wasn’t done until 2008, after Kodak had already handed off parts of the park to other companies.
In Fort Edward, the state Health Department did a cancer study by ZIP code in 2003 that looked at patients from 1996 to 2000; it found no elevated cancer rates. The state said it would then conduct another study starting around 2007, this time on health conditions possibly related to a solvent plume that had migrated from near the General Electric factory to underneath residents’ homes two decades before possibly reaching their private wells.
When asked last week about what happened to the follow-up study, the state said Fort Edward was merged into a larger study of nine other sites affected by solvents, including the highly polluted Dewey Loefell landfill in Rensselaer County. The study is not complete yet.
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice will soon begin advocating for environmental pollution to receive the same type of government response as that done for infectious diseases or mass cases of food contamination. Gibbs, whose advocacy drew national attention to Love Canal, said government responses in the future should involve long-term monitoring of residents’ health conditions rather than releasing inconclusive studies.
“If you have a cancer cluster in a small population, it may not be statistically valid,” said Gibbs, whose organization is assisting residents in Portsmouth, N.H., dealing with water polluted with a chemical similar to PFOA. “But there’s enough evidence to suspect something is going on and that in and of itself should lead to action.”
Originally posted here:
Cancer studies of contaminated sites often reveal little proof – Albany Times Union
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