MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Belledune study shows cancer link

Published by MAC on 2007-07-04

Belledune study shows cancer link

Times & Transcript - Appeared on page D8

4th July 2007

To The Editor:

The province's epidemiologist, Christofer Balram, said previous studies have ruled out exposure to lead and other heavy metals from industrial sources as the reason for the high cancer and disease rates in Belledune (Times & Transcript, June 30, 2007). That's why the new health study for Belledune will look at diet, physical activity rates and family history as a possible cause for the high cancer, disease and mortality rates in the area.

In making that statement, he is ignoring the results of the 2005 Belledune Area Health Human Heath Risk Assessment commissioned by his department.

That particular study examined the cancer and disease risks faced by Belledune residents as a result of their exposure to lead, arsenic and cadmium emissions from industrial sources in Belledune. The study found that, for the time period (1967 to the present) and for all areas of Belledune, the cancer and other disease risks associated with industrial emissions of arsenic were above the provincial health standards and considered unacceptable. The cancer and disease risk associated with industrial emissions of cadmium for all time periods for Townsite #2 and Lower Belledune -- neighbourhoods closest to the smelter -- were also above the provincial health standards and considered unacceptable.

As for exposure to industrial sources of lead, the disease risks for adults in Lower Belledune were above the provincial health standard and considered unacceptable for all time periods. Between 1975 and 1984, children in all areas of Belledune were exposed to unacceptable disease risks as a result of their exposure to lead from industrial emissions.

All these results can be found in pages 136-167 of the 2005 Belledune Area Health Human Heath Risk Assessment.

It is a well-established scientific concept that the time it takes for cancers and other diseases to develop after exposure to lead and other contaminants can take decades. This time period is referred to as the "latency period".

The question that has not been answered by any of the Belledune studies done thus far is this -- did the high health risks experienced by children and residents 20 to 30 years ago result in the high cancer and disease rates we see in the community today?

Answering this question should be the priority for the new health study for Belledune.

Inka Milewski,
Science Advisor,
Conservation Council of New Brunswick,
Miramichi

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