Don't speculate on health concerns

The Buffalo News

EVERYBODY'S COLUMN

3/27/2002

 

We are dismayed that The News has given so much space to wild speculation about the causes of cancer and other ailments in Tonawanda.

For more than 60 years, Praxair and its predecessor company have been intensely interested in the well-being of their employees and neighbors in Tonawanda. Our hearts go out to those who suffer from health problems described in your articles, but we are unlikely to make much progress in improving our community's health if we ignore the facts.

As the state Health Department made clear, its recent survey could not determine a cause for the 10 percent increase in cancers in the community. The Health Department acknowledges it did not measure possible exposure of the local population to radiation or any other toxin; to our knowledge no other study has measured this, either. Praxair supports additional study that employs good scientific methods and where the limitations of the study are made clear.

Until more information can be gathered, let's focus on what we know:

Praxair's predecessor company sponsored two scientific, peer-reviewed, published studies, and updates of those studies, of the health of employees who worked at our Tonawanda site from the early 1940s through 1994. These studies show no consistent excess of cancers normally associated with radiation.

Another study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, published last year, also found no excess cancers associated with radiation among women who had worked at the site during the Manhattan Project.

Factors other than radiation - such as heredity, exposures to industrial production and lifestyle decisions such as smoking and diet - have well-established links to some of the types of cancer cited in the Health Department survey. These need to be examined as part of any study as well.

Because the Manhattan Project was a war-time government activity, the removal of material containing low-level radiation is being carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers. According to the Corps, the site does not pose an immediate health risk to the public or environment given current land uses. Removal is being done as an extra precaution so that if the property ever changes hands and is put to different use in the future, it cannot pose any health risk.

Corps workers have been wearing air samplers to measure possible exposures on the site, and have received zero exposure to potential inhalation radiation over the past year. Another device worn to detect total radiation showed readings no higher than normal background levels. Similarly, radiation levels at the property perimeter are consistent with normal background radiation.

PETER D. GRIFFIN, M.D., M.P.H.

Corporate Medical Director,

Praxair, Inc.

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