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#127 - Counties With Superfund Dumps Also Have Excessive Cancers, 01-May-1989

A new study by federal EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
personnel reveals excessive cancer deaths in counties that have
Superfund dumps (which we call "Superfund counties"), compared to
counties that do not have such dumps ("non-Superfund counties").
Counties that have Superfund dumps have excessive deaths from cancers
of the lung, bladder, esophagus, stomach, large intestine, and rectum
among white males; the same counties have excessive deaths from cancers
of the lung, breast, bladder, stomach, large intestine and rectum among
white females.

The study was conducted by two staff members at the EPA Health Effects
Research Laboratory in Research Triangle, NC, and by a professor at the
University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, FL.

The study team used EPA data to identify 593 Superfund dump sites where
there was laboratory-confirmed evidence of chemical contamination of
groundwater supplies and where there was no alternate public water
supply (in other words, where groundwater was the sole source of
drinking water). The selected 593 dumps are located in 339 counties in
49 states. The study team used National Cancer Institute data on deaths
among white males and females, 1970-1979, for 13 types of cancers to
make the comparisons.

The excess cancers became apparent when the Superfund counties were
compared to all non-Superfund counties, nationwide. The study team
tried to match Superfund counties with other individual counties
selected to have the same size white population over age 64, the same
percent in-migration (people moving into the county during the study
period), same median family income, and the same percentage of workers
employed in manufacturing. However, 64 Superfund counties were unique
(e.g., Los Angeles County, CA; Kings County, NY; Harris County, TX), so
they abandoned the effort to find matching counties.

The study team then looked at geographical regions to see if they could
identify a national patterns of disease. In EPA region 1 (Connecticut,
Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont) they
compared 23 counties with Superfund sites vs. 44 counties without
Superfund sites; in the counties with Superfund sites they found
increased deaths from female breast cancer. In EPA region 2 (New York
and New Jersey) they compared 40 Superfund counties vs. 43 non-
Superfund counties and they found no excessive cancer deaths in the
Superfund counties, compared to the non-Superfund counties; in EPA
region 3 (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia)
the team studied 11 Superfund counties vs. 83 nonSuperfund counties and
they found excessive deaths from bladder cancer in females, cancer of
the large intestine among males and females, and cancer of the rectum
in males; in the remaining EPA regions, 4-10, (which include all the
rest of the U.S. except Alaska) they studied 241 Superfund counties vs.
2500 non-Superfund counties and they found excessive deaths from lung
cancer in males and females, female breast cancer, and bladder,
esophagal, and rectum cancer among males.

[We note that an earlier study of New Jersey, using different
techniques, identified several cancers that occurred at excessive rates
in municipalities having Superfund dumps, compared to municipalities
lacking Superfund dumps. See G. Reza Najem and others, "Clusters of
Cancer Mortality in New Jersey Municipalities; With Special Reference
to Chemical Toxic Waste Disposal Sites and Per Capita Income."

EPA region 3 (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West
Virginia) is the only geographical area where deaths from cancers of
the gastrointestinal tract occurred among both men and women.

The researchers point out that their study does not prove that the
Superfund dumps caused the observed patterns of disease. They note, for
example, that the excess cancer deaths in Superfund counties may have
occurred not because of direct contamination from the dumps, but
because companies that produced the wastes may also have contaminated
local food supplies, local air, and local water directly by emitting
chemicals into the local environment. Another possibility is the
Superfund dumps are located in heavily industrialized areas, or may be
located in areas that differ from non-Superfund-site locations in other
important but unknown ways. (Our experience with Superfund sites
indicates that they tend to be located in sparselypopulated rural
areas, not heavily-industrialized urban areas. --Editors)

Get: Jack Griffith and others. "Cancer Mortality in U.S. Counties with
Hazardous Waste Sites and Ground Water Pollution." ARCHIVES OF
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH Vol. 44, No. 2 (March/April, 1989), pgs. 69-74.
Free reprints available from: Jack Griffith, Ph.D., USEPA, Health
Effects Research Laboratory (MD-55A), Research Triangle Park, NC 27711.

--Peter Montague



A 1984 study by the federal Centers for Disease Control revealed a
pattern of excessive cancer deaths in Clinton County, Pennsylvania,
where the Drake Superfund site is located. The researchers focused
first on bladder cancers, but then found others cancers in greater

The Drake Chemical Company used, manufactured and stored scores of
chemicals on a 46-acre site for many years, including the known human
carcinogens beta-naphthylamine, benzidine and benzene.

Researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
evaluated health data for Clinton County and found that bladder cancers
doubled in Clinton county from 1950 to 1979, whereas bladder cancers
decreased for all of Pennsylvania and remained the same in the whole
United States during the same time. Ten bladder cancers occurred among
white males in Clinton (a county of 39,000 people) during the decade of
the 1950s; by the decade of the '70s the rate was up to 23. However,
during the same period, the bladder cancer rate among white females in
Clinton decreased. On this basis, the CDC researchers conclude that
probably the cancers were caused by occupational exposure to chemicals,
rather than general exposure resulting from the Superfund dump.

The cancer rates for nine other types of cancer were even more elevated
in Clinton County than were bladder cancers. The CDC researchers
conclude that at least one of these cancers (non-Hodgkins lymphomas, or
cancers of the lymph glands) struck both men and women in Clinton
County at excessive rates, "suggesting" that a "general environmental
exposure" to at least one carcinogenic chemical occurred.

Other elevated cancer rates in Clinton county included leukemias among
women (but not men), bone cancer among men (but not women), cancer of
the salivary glands (among men, but not women), cancer of the uterus,
and cancers of the rectum and larynx (among women, but not men).

Get: Lawrence Budnick, and others. "Cancer and Birth defects Near the
Drake Superfund Site, Pennsylvania." ARCHIVES OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH,
Vol. 39, No. 6 (November/December, 1984), pgs. 409-413.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: cancer; health effects; superfund; landfilling;
landfills; leaks; studies; epa; drinking water; water pollution;
groundwater; gender; males; females; race; caucasians; exposure;
cancer; health effects; studies; pa; landfilling; superfund; npl;