Local doctor doubts report on Fort Chipewyan cancer rates

A provincial report showing no spike in cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan is not accepted by the community's only doctor and medical examiner.

A provincial report showing no spike in cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan is considered inadequate by the community's only doctor and medical examiner.

Dr. John O'Connor is calling for a more comprehensive report on the health of the northern Alberta community's 1,200 residents.

"I would be very, very happy if they said the rates of disease, cancer included, are no higher in Fort Chip than a comparable community elsewhere," he said.

"I would absolutely accept it, if I saw they had done a complete analysis … had all the information that they needed, and had the report peer reviewed prior to publishing it."

Alberta Health and the Alberta Cancer Board launched the investigation after O'Connor said in March he was seeing unusual diseases, including a rare and fatal form of cancer affecting the bile duct.

Elders say they didn't see these kinds of diseases until the oil industry started production near their homes on the southwestern tip of Lake Athabasca.

The board's findings were presented on July 17 to the province's Energy and Utilities Board, which is currently considering an application by Suncor Energy Inc. to expand its operations in the oilsands, doubling the amount of oil it can produce.

Fort Chipewyan is downstream from those operations.

'Very thorough review,' said health minister

Health Minister Iris Evans said Monday she is standing by the review.

"This was not so much a study, as it was an analysis, very thorough review by epidemiologists," she said.

Researchers used provincial and Alberta Cancer Board files, along with statistics and medical records from the community, she said.

Fort Chipewyan community leaders are meeting Tuesday with provincial and federal government officials. Ifthe group calls for an expanded study, they will get one, Evans added.

Not comprehensive enough: town doctor

O'Connor accuses Alberta Health of rushing the report to have it ready in time for the hearings into the Suncor expansion.

He says he was told it would take months to do a comprehensive study, not weeks.

He was not contacted for information, nor were the area's First Nations communities, he said. Without community input or involvement, the process has not been transparent, he added.

Last week, Dr. Yiqun Chen, the head of disease surveillance at the Alberta Cancer Board who did the initial research in the investigation, told CBC News on Tuesday she did not have "the complete data set for 2005, and less complete for 2004" when she reached her conclusion.

However, a spokesperson for Alberta Health said the department recognized the problem and reached its conclusion after cross-referencing other databases to look for unusual cancer cases.