Orange County Register (CA)
Oct. 22--Cancer-causing pollution was detected at higher levels downwind of Canada's "Industrial Heartland," where tar sands are processed, and people living in these downwind areas also had higher rates of some cancers, according to a new study led by a UC Irvine researcher.
While the study and its authors do not identify the industrial area as the definitive cause of higher cancer rates, the lead author, UC Irvine researcher Isobel Simpson, said greater vigilance about pollution and its health effects are warranted.
"We certainly would recommend both increased (volatile organic compound) monitoring as well as increased health surveillance in this area and other areas where these two things could be occurring together," she said, including the Los Angeles region.
She said she hopes to encourage reductions in emissions from the Industrial Heartland.
For the study, which included researchers from the University of Michigan, scientists took air samples in Fort Saskatchewan, a rural area downwind of the heartland, in 2008, 2010 and 2012. The heartland area processes oil, gas and tar sands.
Each of the sampling efforts yielded higher-than-normal levels of pollutants called volatile organic compounds, including benzene and others that are known to cause cancer.
Levels of some chemicals were higher than those in cities known for high pollution, such as Mexico City in the 1990s and the Houston-Galveston area today.
The scientists also gathered more than a decade's worth of health records, and found that men living near the higher pollution areas also showed higher levels of leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma than men in neighboring counties.
"What we're observing is these two things in the same place," Simpson said. "Excess concentrations of these carcinogens, and observing excess cancers -- exactly the kind of cancers caused by these carcinogens."
The results make it plausible that the heartland area's emissions caused the increase in cancer, she said, although more detailed health surveillance, along with better emissions and exposure data, would be needed to make a more definitive connection.
More research also needs to be done, she said, on the health effects of low-level exposure to contaminants, as well as the effects of exposure to multiple carcinogens.
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