Search for N.B. smelter link to cancer rates ditched
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 3, 2007 | 3:03 PM AT
The New Brunswick government has quietly abandoned plans for an independent study that would look for a connection between high cancer rates in the Belledune area and pollution from the nearby Xtrata Zinc Canada Brunswick lead smelter.
The province said last week it would not follow through on a study announced last year that would have had researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland follow up on a 2005 study.
The Memorial study was to have been a followup the 2005 Belledune Area Health Study, which found the region to have a higher rate of certain cancers and other diseases than the rest of the province.
Environmentalist Inka Milewski said the Memorial researchers would have studied whether lead pollution was to blame.
"They were going to re-examine some of the industrial emissions and potential impacts of those emissions on people's health. It was going to be quite comprehensive," Milewski said.
But the province said last week it has its own study underway, one that will not look at the role of industrial lead pollution from the nearby smelter, as it tries to find an explanation for the high rates of disease in the area.
Provincial epidemiologist Chris Balram said the province and the university couldn't agree on how the study should be done, though he wouldn't give details.
Balram said the 2005 report, which also examined concentrations of lead, cadmium and arsenic in the environment, concluded lead levels in the area did not pose a risk, and that other factors such as lifestyle could be to blame.
"You can have in some areas clusters of cancers associated with certain risk factors clustered in that area. It's a possibility," he said. "It's been shown in other studies."
Last year, Balram said that heavy metal contamination couldn't be ruled out as the cause of high cancer rates in the Belledune area.
The 2005 study found low lead levels in the area in recent years, Milewski said, but much higher levels going back decades.
She says those amounts should be looked at as a potential cause of today's high cancer rates in the area.
The 2005 Belledune Area Health Study found residents who lived near the town smelter between 1989 and 2001 have significantly higher rates of oral, respiratory and prostate cancers than people anywhere else in New Brunswick.
It also found people living near the smelter over the 12 years studied suffered more deaths from circulatory disease, cancer and suicides than expected.
Final results from the provincial study are to be in by September 2008.
The lead smelter was operated by Noranda until the company merged with Xtrata Zinc in 2006.
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