Higher than expected levels of three cancers found near Domtar site, province says

Higher rates of three different types of cancers were found amongst people who had lived in the area of the former Domtar site in northeast Edmonton, provincial health officials said Thursday.

'It’s important to understand that these numbers don’t mean that living in this area is related to cancer'

A sign posted near the former Domtar site in the Hermitage area on the north side of Yellowhead Trail. (Rob Riberdy )

Higher than expected numbers for three types of cancers were found among people who lived near a former Domtar site in northeast Edmonton, provincial health officials say.

A review of population health found cases of three types of cancers – breast, endometrial and lung – were higher than expected among people who had lived in the area of the former wood-treatment plant for 10 years or more, the government said Thursday in a news release.

Among that group, provincial health data found:

  • 34 cases of breast cancer in women, when 16 to 31 cases were expected;
  • 14 cases of endometrial cancer in women, when three to nine cases were expected;
  • 22 cases of lung cancer in men, when six to 14 cases would have been expected.

Health officials stressed the data does not explain why there were higher numbers of cases of those cancers. An initial analysis found no difference in cancer rates in the area of the former creosote plant compared to other areas in Alberta, a news release said.

The province had issued health and environmental orders last year to protect people who live near the creosote plant.

Fencing and dust control introduced last year now protects residents from potential exposure, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health. 
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, provided an update Thursday on the former Domtar site. (Peter Evans/CBC)

"I understand that these results are going to be scary for people," said Hinshaw. "It's important to understand that these numbers don't mean that living in this area is related to cancer. It simply is a finding that we're now trying to get more information about."

Officials said there hasn't been any difference in childhood cancers compared to other parts of Alberta.

The province will work with federal experts to conduct a field epidemiology investigation to try to identify what population health factors might have contributed to the higher number of cancer cases.

Soil sampling

Sample tests done by the province in 2017-2018 found hazardous contaminants in the soil, Hinshaw said.

The province said in a news release that 183 samples from the site had levels of dioxins, furans and other contaminants that exceed health guidelines.

Of those, 96 per cent were located in fenced-off areas at the site.

More than 1,039 sample locations were chosen on the site, with 1,457 specimens analyzed by the province.

A wood treatment plant operated on the site from 1924 until 1987.

Developer Cherokee Canada was developing the site for residential use.

Cherokee Canada, Domtar Inc. and 1510837 Alberta Ltd. fought seven orders issued in 2016 by Alberta Environment and Parks at an Environmental Appeals Board hearing last summer. 

The board's independent report will provide a "proper science-based process" for remediation work and will "put to rest the issue of health risk impact in this community," Cherokee Canada said in an emailed statement.

"Raising the spectre of health risk without substantiation and erroneously drawing a link to the development site raises more questions and detracts from the rigorous process undertaken by the board to review the department's actions towards Cherokee," said John Dill, managing director of Cherokee.

"This continued misrepresentation of the safety of the community and now the undermining of a judicial process is causing anxiety in the community and harm to local residents and businesses."

Remediation of specific areas is expected to begin in the spring, once ground conditions improve, according to Alberta Environment and Parks officials.

The province plans to take steps to remediate the area themselves if the companies involved do not complete the work before May, officials said. 

A soil sampling report from the former wood-processing site, also known to the government as Parcel Y, is expected to be released later this month. 

With files from The Canadian Press


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?