Wednesday, December 26, 2001
Cancer findings lauded
Area activist hopes study of Linde area leads to more research
By Tim Schmitt
A member of a local watchdog group was "pleasantly surprised" that the findings of a recent Department of Health study back what he's been insisting for more than a decade:
The area around the Town of Tonawanda's former Linde site, including the city of Tonawanda, has higher than normal cancer rates. Don Finch of the FACTS (For A Clean Tonawanda Site) group said the study breathes new life into a fight that has seen its share of road blocks.
"I don't know how this thing has been covered up all these years," Finch said. "But to have someone actually come out and say that there might be a problem is uplifting."
Finch doesn't believe the problem is as bad as the Love Canal findings of the 1970s, but he believes the entire Western New York area is something of a chemical wasteland.
"It's an entire corridor from Lackawanna to Lewiston," he said. "If you move here you have a choice. Do you want to live on top of radioactive, toxic or [heavy] metal materials? This all seems to weave together."
According to the New York State Department of Health's study, people in the 14150 and 14217 area [ZIP] codes have a total number of cancer cases about 10 percent higher than expected. Because of the findings, department will conduct another study in a tighter area around the Linde site.
"What we found was an excess of certain cancers that were statistically significant. This was not due to chance," said Claire Postisil, a DOH spokesperson. "We will be conducting a more in-depth investigation on a smaller study area."
The study found an excess of colorectal, lung, breast and urinary bladder cancers, all of which are important in radiation-sensitive sites. The number of cancer cases in the region between 1994-1998 was expected to be near 2,200, but the actual figure was close to 2,400.
For Finch, who asked the DOH to come to the Tonawanda area to conduct the study, the moment brought a bittersweet validity to his previous notions. He has long believed that the site's lengthy exposure to uranium contamination was a breeding ground for cancer.
"I was pleasantly surprised to see what they found. I'm used to people coming in and saying that there's no immediate health problem," he said. "That's a rather vague statement. When does it become a threat?
"It's not that I want them to find a whole bunch of people with cancer, but we know that there is more to this."
The follow-up study will probably exclude the city of Tonawanda and should focus to the north of the Linde site through the Sheridan-Parkside region. Postisil said she expects the follow-up to be done by the end of 2002.
"What we're doing before we start the study is to solicit any community input. We need to determine a final study area that accurately covers the people that live in and around the site. Once we determine the study area then we'll proceed."
For Finch, who worked at the Linde/Praxair site for 20 years, the results can't come soon enough.
"I think the findings will show that there is a higher than normal rate of cancer and I feel if this is so, this survey should be extended a little further out. Let's see just how far out does this problem go," he said.
The DOH is asking for community input. It would be good if anyone who knows of someone living in the affected areas to call and ask them to get the word out to their neighbors.
NY State Department of Health addresses:
Aura L. Weinstein, M.P.H. Director,
Cancer Surveillance Program
NY State Department of Health
Albany, New York 12237
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Aura L. Weinstein)