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Nuclink: Journal of Current Radiation and Public Health Issues

Volume 1, Number 1
September 14, 1998
Published by RPHP
PO Box 60 Unionville, NY 10988
Editor: W.L. McDonnell
http://www.radiation.org

WHY CANCER RATES IN THE HAMPTONS ARE SO HIGH
By Jay M. Gould, Director,
Radiation and Public Health Project

Residents of the affluent East End of Long Island, including the Hamptons---the summertime watering hole of the rich and famous--were recently shocked when informed by the New York Cancer Registry that they were now experiencing extremely high age-adjusted incidence rates for cancer of the female breast and male prostate. The rates were in fact about 20 percent above the Suffolk county average.

Why were these rates so high? One very logical explanation is that Long Island had nearly a half-century of exposure to both toxic pesticides and documented emissions of strontium-90 from reactors at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Suffolk county and from three troubled Millstone reactors located on the Connecticut shore across the Long Island Sound 11 miles north of the town of Orient on the eastern tip of Suffolk County.

Back in 1990, the New York State Cancer Registry was pressed by Suffolk county legislators Michael Tully and Thomas DiNapoli to publish age-adjusted breast cancer incidence rates for the years 1978-87 for every one of 62 communities which make up the county. These figures revealed that there was a cancer cluster just south of the BNL reactors made up by the five adjoining towns of Brookhaven, Bellport, Shirley, Medford and Yaphank.

The combined cancer rate for these towns was 30 percent higher than the county average, and could not be dismissed as a chance result. In fact its significance was heightened by another statistic: Age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rates in the files of the National Cancer Institute for Suffolk county had registered an extraordinary increase of 40 percent since 1950, when the BNL reactors began operating. The corresponding national increase was only one percent.

Residents of these above-mentioned five towns are now suing BNL for one billion dollars, following an admission in 1995 that groundwater flows from the Lab had contaminated private water wells in these towns. Subsequent revelations of high levels of strontium-90 found within the 25 square mile area occupied by the Lab led to denunciation of the BNL managers by Senator D'Amato. The managers were dismissed early in 1998, amid widespread fears that Long Island drinking water may have been contaminated.

In the summer of 1997, Dr. Helen Caldicott and I-- with the help of Suffolk county legislators George Guldi and Fred Thiele--asked Dr. Mark Babtiste, head of the New York State Cancer Registry, to update the breast cancer incidence rates for small areas in the county previously published in 1990, as a necessary first step in confirming the cancer cluster found near BNL.

Babtiste refused, on the absurd ground that he had no funds for such an undertaking. We then wrote an op-ed piece asking why the Cancer Registry was so reluctant to do the right thing. The article was rejected by the Long Island Newsday but was printed by the Suffolk Life weekly, mailed to every Suffolk county resident.

Legislator Thiele then succeeded in getting a million dollar appropriation from the New York State Assembly for the update, but which Governor Pataki immediately eliminated from the New York State budget. At this point, Babtiste said that local cancer incidence data would soon be released for the years 1988-93.

In the Fall of 1998, the Cancer Registry announced that their analysis of the updated age-adjusted cancer incidence for all small areas for this six year period found no cancer cluster near BNL but that the East End, more than 70 miles east of BNL, was now the only significant cancer cluster in the county.
But again, no data were provided for the various towns in the county to check this surprising finding.

It is at this point that, with a small grant of $5000 from the STAR board, I found that there was indeed an alternative source of information on current cancer rates for each of the more than 100 Zip code areas in Suffolk county.

The New York Health Department administers a dataset of computerized admissions records for every hospital in New York State called SPARCS, (Statewide Planning and Research Coordinating System). This dataset enabled me to secure the annual number of women with a Suffolk county Zip code who were treated for breast cancer for the years 1990-96.

My analysis of these rates, adjusted for differences in age, for each Zip code area in the North and South Forks--making up the East End and along the north shore of the county--did confirm that there was indeed a malignant force affecting these areas, but that it was clearly directly correlated with distance from the troubled Millstone reactors on the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound.

Thus for the recent seven year period, the annual age-adjusted breast cancer hospitalization rate in these 33 areas, all within 11 to 40 miles of the reactors, was 253 cases per 100,000 women, significantly higher than the corresponding rate of 231 cases for the remaining areas in the county, which are generally more than 60 miles southwest of the Millstone reactors.

There may remain other cancer clusters elsewhere in the county. For example the five towns south of the BNL reported a disproportionate and rapidly increasing number of cases in the past seven years, but may no longer be as bad as the Zip code area defining the North Fork town of Orient, closest to the Millstone reactors, with a current breast cancer rate of 314 cases per 100000 women.

We have estimated that from 1990 to 1996, 40 percent of the 330 women in Orient over the age of 15 may have been hospitalized for all types of cancer. And for all areas with significantly elevated rates, the excess is wholly concentrated among younger women under the age of 65.

Dr. Ed Nadel, biostatistician of the Suffolk County Health Commission, has reviewed my methodology, and reported that his analysis of the breast cancer incidence rates of the East End zip code areas for the years 1989-1993 produced similar results with far fewer cases.
However, Dr. Nadel could not release the incidence data for each area without the permission of the New York State Cancer Registry.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele (Rep) has since petitioned Dr. Mark Babtiste to release these figures, pointing out that each year the Connecticut Cancer Registry routinely publishes age-adjusted cancer rates for each town in Connecticut. These figures show that the highest female cancer rates in the state are concentrated in the 12 towns within 15 miles of the Millstone reactors.

Eventually, the full truth of the situation will be known, because it is becoming increasingly possible to acquire the data necessary for an accurate analysis.

Up until now State departments of Health and federal agencies have had a monopoly control over access to sensitive local vital statistics, whose publication could presumably upset property values.
But online access to privatized databases like SPARCS, which are used for marketing purposes by the hospitals, have effectively broken that monopoly, not only in New York but in all states.

For example, the Atlanta Center for Disease Control has an annual report on hospital admissions. This report indicates that the Suffolk county age-adjusted breast cancer hospitalization rate for the years 1990-96 is 17 percent above the national rate.

As another example, this website (www.radiation.org) now offers access to increasing numbers of epidemiological and clinical demonstrations of the connections between low-level radiation and cancer. We will also increasingly link to various official databases of vital statistics necessary to expose these connections.

Should you know of particular databases available on-line, please let us know by email.

The Internet coupled with advances in information technology have made it possible to reveal the true health effects of nuclear fission products to citizens everywhere in the world seeking the truth about radiation. This information has previously been withheld from the public since the birth of the Nuclear Age.


An Interview with Dr. Gould

Q. How did you get involved in examining the cancer situation in The Hamptons?
A. As a former member of the EPA Science Advisory Board in the Carter administration, and now a resident of East Hampton, I was a logical choice. A new East End non-profit organization called STAR (Standing for the Truth About Radiation) asked me to seek an explanation for the high cancer rates.

Q. Can you tell us a little more about STAR?
A. STAR was organized by local citizens worried about contamination from Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). The Board of STAR includes such notables as Alec Baldwin, Dr. Helen Caldicott and Jan Schlictmann, the protagonist of the best selling A Civil Action. STAR is headed by David Friedson, CEO of a $600 million dollar NY Stock Exchange company.

Q. Let's hope they are able to discover the extent of the contamination that has taken place as a result of BNL. Could you describe a little further how you got involved in this study?
A. I was asked to do this because my previous experience at the EPA made me privy to the fact that while public health officials are required by law to publish cancer rates at the county level, they are extremely reluctant to reveal cancer rates for small areas within the county, because of the political sensitivity of such data.

Q. Could you say more about your time with the EPA?
During my service on the EPA Science Advisory Board, the EPA--founded by President Nixon in 1970 as part of his war on cancer--had published colored county cancer mortality rate maps. These maps revealed that counties in New Jersey and Louisiana with high concentrations of petrochemical plants had significantly elevated male cancer mortality rates.

I had developed a database of petrochemical manufacturing plants that contained each plant's five digit Zip code, which enabled EPA to discover which local areas below the county level generated the largest volumes of chemical wastes. But at that time use of such information by a federal agency was violently opposed by large petrochemical companies as an invasion of their privacy.

With the election of President Reagan in 1980, EPA lost interest in exploring localized links of cancer to toxic wastes, and I resigned in that year.

After retiring in 1983, I established a non-profit research agency to seek an explanation for the following epidemiological puzzle I had encountered while at EPA. Male cancer rates were high in Louisiana for obvious occupational reasons, but female cancer rates there were among the lowest in the nation and remain low still today. Many years later, I found the explanation, along with the reason for the high breast cancer rates in Long Island.

Q. Could you tell our readers in a few words what that explanation is?
A. Yes. This is an important point. I discovered an important truth about the health effects of nuclear fallout first articulated so eloquently by Rachel Carson in the opening page of the second chapter of Silent Spring: In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of life.

Q. Could you explain a little more about how this partnership works?
A. Strontium-90, released through nuclear explosions and reactors into the air, comes to earth in rain or drifts down as fallout, lodges in soil, enters into the grass or corn or wheat grown there, and in time takes up its abode in the bones of a human being: There to remain until his/her death.

Q. In conclusion, is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
A. The point I would like to leave our readers with is simply that the Long Island breast cancer epidemic offers a good example of the validity of Rachel Carson's prediction of the deadly capability of strontium-90 to interact with DDT and other industrial chemicals.

Q. Thank you for taking the time for this interview. We look forward to your next article.