Questions & Answers
The Daily Record News Group
words "hazardous waste" can strike fear into those who
live or work near it.
for good reason. The hundreds of materials classed as hazardous
can cause health problems ranging from general aches and pains to
fatal cancer cases.
some people who formerly worked at the Cotter Corp. later developed
such diseases, including longtime company chemist Lynn Boughton,
who died in 2001.
fought for years to prove his lymphoma was related to exposure to
radiation at work, finally prevailing in a lawsuit in 1998.
workers were not the only ones who were exposed to hazardous substances.
uranium and molybdenum migrated through groundwater into the Lincoln
Park neighborhood north of the Cotter facility and the area was
declared a Superfund cleanup site, residents there came to believe
pollutants from the groundwater and blown through the air had caused
their health problems.
2001 a judge agreed, awarding a $43 million judgment to a group
of 30 Lincoln Park residents, who claimed exposure to hazardous
substances had caused their individual cases of cancer, arthritic
problems, tooth problems, abnormal bone growth, gout, and general
aches and pains.
decision is currently under appeal by Cotter.
But lawsuits and legal responsibility aside, studies of cancer in
Lincoln Park are largely inconclusive. The incidence of some cancers
are higher than what researchers expected to find, but because the
population of cancer victims is small, conclusions are difficult
to draw based upon statistics alone.
radiation-caused health impact most feared is cancer.
to statistics compiled by the Colorado Central Cancer Registry,
it is likely 46 percent of Coloradans will develop cancer at some
time in their lives. Daily exposure to natural background radiation
accounts for part of the risk. The state's high altitude, and higher-than-average
levels of indoor radon and radiation from rocks and soil, contribute
to the risk, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health
can cause cancer by altering the structure of cells. Different hazardous
substances react differently in the body, and where they migrate
can affect what kinds of cancer or other health problems they cause.
like uranium, deposit in the lungs, kidneys, bones and soft tissues,
causing cancers or other diseases in those organs.
increases uric acid and can cause gout-like symptoms.
the substance of most concern in the soil at the Maywood Superfund
Site in New Jersey, deposits in the lungs and bones and can lead
to cancer in those sites.
a decay product of uranium, is carried throughout the body, but
most commonly deposited in the bones.
a decay product of thorium and uranium, is most commonly breathed
in, so it also can lead to lung problems.
compiled in Colorado and studies done specifically in Lincoln Park
do not point to what are termed "statistically significant"
variances in cancer rates, although they do point to a higher than
average level of lung cancer cases.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment conducted three
cancer studies in the Lincoln Park area during the 1990s, trying
to calm residents' fears that exposure to uranium and molybdenum
had increased their chances of getting the disease.
first two studies showed slightly elevated numbers of lung cancer,
enough to warrant continued watch, according to Jane Mitchell of
the CDPHE epidemiology department and Jack Finch, who coordinates
statistics in the Colorado Central Cancer Registry for the Health
first study, issued in 1991, showed 30 lung cancer cases among men,
where just 21.5 were expected, and 13 among women, where 10.1 were
1991 study examined the 30 male lung cancer cases found then for
evidence of an occupational influence accounting for the disease,
but said none was found.
1993 study showed 41 cases of lung cancer among men, where just
30.12 cases were expected. If two additional cases had been found
it would have been enough variation to make it statistically significant,
1998 study found 48 cases of lung cancer in men, where 42.87 were
the researchers found 74 lung cancer cases involving both men and
women had occurred in the 17-year-period from 1979 to 1995 in Lincoln
Park. They had expected to find 66.
said the studies focused on cancer diagnoses that occurred in 1979
to 1995 among residents of the census tract that most closely corresponds
with Lincoln Park.
studies looked at cancer of the lungs, bones, liver, breast and
thyroid, leukemia and lymphoma because radiation exposure has been
linked to those cancers. They also examined brain and prostate cancer
rates because of concerns expressed in the community.
cases of brain cancer during the 17-year study period, five of thyroid
cancer and 24 of lymphoma also were higher than the rates expected
for those diseases, but not statistically significantly so. None
of the other cancers studied reached the levels that researchers
would have expected based upon statewide cancer rates.
cancer contributors considered
coordinating with census figures, the researchers can compare cancer
cases to other demographic factors. An aging population or unusual
gender balance can influence the rate at which cancers occur, Finch
not so much looking to see if there's cancer at all," he explained.
The studies instead compared the number of cases found to the number
that would be expected in a population with the age and gender breakdown
of Lincoln Park.
cancer cases documented in the studies were those of people whose
addresses were within the Lincoln Park census tract, even if they
died at hospitals elsewhere, Finch said.
But the studies could not take into consideration how long those
people had lived in the area - whether they were longtime residents
or relative newcomers to the community that attracts many retirees.
The studies also could not count people who formerly lived in the
area but moved away prior to diagnosis.
health scientists conducting the study also had no way to know the
levels of uranium or other chemicals each person was exposed to
from the soils.
the first study did not take into consideration the number of people
who smoked. Smoking is a major risk factor for lung cancer, which
is the most common form of cancer found in Lincoln Park.
study, "Cancer in Central Colorado, 1997-1999," conducted
by the Colorado Comprehensive Cancer Prevention and Control Program,
found people in an eight-county region that included Fremont County
were more likely to smoke. Twenty-nine percent were current smokers,
compared with 20.2 percent statewide. In the 18-34 age group, 43.4
percent smoked, compared with 24.4 percent statewide.
the CDPHE epidemiologist, said the third Lincoln Park study eased
researchers' concerns that there might be an undue number of lung
cancer cases there.
with work to clean the Lincoln Park Superfund site progressing,
the researchers felt comfortable that cancer rates would not rise.
"You wouldn't expect to see rates go up," Mitchell said.
said she hoped that the work done to clean up the Superfund site
and work at the Cotter property would contain the contaminants on
site so there wouldn't be any exposure in the neighborhood.
if there was an increase in exposures, it would be five to 10 years
before related lung cancer cases would begin to show up. "It
takes quite awhile to see that," she noted.
added that the small size of the population - Lincoln Park had 3,904
residents according to the 2000 census - means there is less opportunity
to detect a significant statistical difference in the rate of cancer
said the Health Department would be willing to take another look
at Lincoln Park cancer rates if members of the community request
broader studies also seem to indicate that Fremont County residents
do not experience an unusual rate of cancer.
death statistics for 1990-2000 show there were 4,934 deaths of Fremont
County residents in that time period. Cancer deaths accounted for
19.8 percent of the total.
the 81212 ZIP code specific to Canon City, there were 3,544 deaths
and again 19.8 percent were due to cancer.
in the region, 20.7 percent of deaths in Pueblo County were due
to cancer, 23.1 percent in El Paso County, and statewide the rate
was 22.1 percent.
main area where Fremont County stood out among the death statistics
was in cardiovascular disease deaths, which accounted for 42 percent
of deaths in the county, compared with 35 percent in Pueblo County,
34 percent in El Paso County and 35.4 percent statewide.
report, "Cancer in Colorado 1993-1998" done by the Colorado
Central Cancer Registry, compared cancer rates of the state's counties.
It found the highest mortality rates for all types of cancers among
men in 1995-96 were in Fremont, Adams, Denver and Mesa counties.
areas where Fremont County stood out included:
- A higher
rate of colon cancer among women.
- A higher
rate of colon cancer deaths among both men and women.
- A higher
rate of skin cancer among women.
- A lower
rate of lung cancer among women during the
study period. With that exception, Fremont
- County did
not stand out among the other counties in its rates of lung cancer.
Dorothy Twellman, Fremont County coroner, is charged with investigating
"deaths by poison, suspected poisoning, chemical or bacteria,
industrial hazardous material, or radiation."
in her 10 years as coroner, she can recall issuing only one death
certificate citing radiation exposure as the cause of death, the
one for former Cotter chemist Lynn Boughton.
County has many cancer deaths, but she hasn't had time to look into
which were radiation-related, she said.
said she only sees deaths, but there are people who are still living
who may have been exposed to radiation and could be affected in
think the reality is a lot of people who have been exposed haven't
died yet," she said.
the Lincoln Park and Maywood Superfund sites, as many as 19 hazardous
substances have been detected.
ecological risk assessment of the Lincoln Park area conducted for
Cotter by Stoller Corp., released in 1998, identified several chemicals
of concern, including radioactive elements: uranium, radium-226
and thorium-230, and metals: arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury,
molybdenum, selenium and zinc.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released information
from that report in 1999. The report concluded: "Overall, potential
risks at the site are low and not of health concern."
Maywood site's 2001 annual environmental monitoring report identified
several chemicals of concern there, including aluminum, arsenic,
beryllium, cadmium, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, radium,
radon, tetrachloroethene, thorium and uranium. The beryllium, cadmium,
chromium, lead or nickel measurements were within state or federal
1997 report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
on "Cancer Incidence in Three Communities Near the Maywood
Area Superfund Sites (Bergen County), New Jersey: A Site-Specific
Follow-up Health Study," said the only unusual finding there
was a twofold increase in cancer of the brain/central nervous system
among women, but because the study sample was so small the increase
might not be statistically significant.
found incidence rates for all cancers and for other specific types
of cancers were not significantly different than expected in comparison
with average New Jersey incidence rates.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment acknowledges
that some risks in life are acceptable, while others are not.
tend to ignore everyday risks like driving to the grocery store
or riding a bike. Risks imposed upon us are less acceptable,"
according to a report the Health Department did analyzing the risks
the Rocky Flats Superfund site posed.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry cites the lack
of control residents near a Superfund site have over their situations
as a contributor to another common health problem - stress.
agency initiated a study in 1999 on psychological responses to hazardous
substances, looking at adverse effects on psychological health that
might result from living near a hazardous waste site or being exposed
to a hazardous substance.
expert panel put together by ATSDR said most of the responses people
have to toxic substances are normal.
and psychologists performing field research in communities near
hazardous waste sites have pointed out that unlike a natural disaster
- which has a discernible low point followed by a recovery phase
when life begins to return to normal - life near a hazardous waste
site is a more nebulous and uncertain situation," the report
researchers said life near a hazardous waste site "can breed
uncertainty about exposures and subsequent and latent health effects
and spark social and political turmoil, all of which serve as additional
stress can lead to long-lasting elevations in blood pressure, changes
in immune-system function, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress
disorder, the report said.