Study Links Emissions, N.J. Cancer
By JOHN CURRAN
A six-year, $10 million government study of high cancer rates among children in this central New Jersey community found that contaminated well water and air emissions from a chemical factory were linked to some leukemia cases.
The study, released Tuesday by state and federal health officials, was commissioned after 90 children in Dover Township were diagnosed with cancer between 1979 and 1995 - 23 cases more than researchers would normally expect to find.
Leukemia, brain cancers and central nervous system cancers all occurred at higher-than-normal rates, state officials said.The report acknowledged uncertainty in some findings because of the statistically small number of people involved.
It also pointed out that "no single risk factor evaluated appears to be solely responsible for the overall elevation of childhood cancer incidence" in the township.The findings were disappointing but not surprising, said Linda Gillick, who has led the charge by victim's families for an investigation."I didn't come into this expecting a smoking gun," said Gillick, whose 22-year-old son suffers from neuroblastoma. "They came in and gave it their best effort.
"The study examined the lifestyles of the victims and their families, including how often they drank tap water and how much exposure they had to wells contaminated by waste from Reich Farm, a federal Superfund site where more than 4,500 drums of Union Carbide waste were dumped in 1971.
Public health assessments released earlier labeled Reich Farm and a site formerly occupied by Ciba-Geigy Corp. as public health hazards because chemicals from the sites had seeped into drinking water supplies.The new study found that girls whose mothers used water from a Toms River Water Co. well field from 1982 to 1996 while they were in utero had higher incidences of leukemia.
No specific contaminant could be identified as a cause.It also found an association between air emissions from the Ciba-Geigy chemical plant and leukemia in girls 5 years old or younger whose mothers had been exposed to emissions during pregnancy.
The finding appears to suggest that exposure was a risk factor for childhood leukemia in the girls, the report said.Union Carbide Corp., which has taken responsibility for the Reich Farm, has long denied responsibility for the illnesses as has Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp., the successor company of Ciba Geigy.
Last week, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Union Carbide and United Water-Toms River, which bought the public water system serving most of the township from Toms River Water Co. in 1994, agreed to cash settlements with 69 families with stricken children, but they admitted no responsibility in doing so. The amounts were kept confidential.
Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., said the $10 million study left some unanswered questions."For all of our scientific progress, identifying specific causes for cancer in the environment is still very difficult," he said.
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