Critics grill NYS on cause of high local cancer rate

By Patrick Daley, Chronicle Staff Writer

The overwhelming majority of people who rose to speak at a cancer study information meeting on Nov. 7 at SUNY Adirondack challenged New York State officials from the Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation as to what’s causing Warren County’s very high cancer rate.

As previously reported in The Chronicle, a state summary cited smoking, alcohol use and obesity as likely contributors to elevated rates of lung, laryngeal, esophageal and oral cancers in Warren County from 2011-2015 when compared to the rest of New York State excluding New York City.

It’s upsetting for the people living here, knowing the pollution that is going on here, to have you say that the highest cancer rate in the State of New York is because we’re too fat, we drink too much and we smoke too much,” said one person who spoke during the question and answer session.

“I think that’s the data you had. Part of the complaint you’re hearing is we need more work done.”

Dr. Barbara Wallace of DOH responded: “I don’t want to stand up here and say that we’re blaming people for all of the cancer. I feel strongly about that as a cancer survivor myself. Nobody wants to think that they contributed to their cancer.

“The message is that when we looked at excess cancer here compared to other parts of the state, the things that differed were the behavioral parts that we could identify, with all of the other limitations that I mentioned, because we do know there are a lot of limitations.”

“You downplayed environmental factors,” contended Tracy Frisch of Argyle, who heads up local activist group the Clean Air Action Network. “That’s illegitimate and unethical because you don’t have the data to come to those findings.”

Dr. Wallace replied, “I will say that there were limitations to the study. I think we’re in agreement that there were things that were beyond the scope of this study. The governor directed us to do the study. We had 12, 18 months to do it.”

Much of the Q&A centered on the study’s use of air pollution data, limited to a time frame from 1973 to 1996.

Randi Walker, a scientist with DEC, acknowledged “we have 13 air toxin monitors around the state, but here in the immediate area we don’t have any air monitors.”

Then she added, “But on the large facilities [such as factories], what we have is continuous emissions monitoring for pollutants that are good indicators of what those facilities are putting out.”

One resident cited micro-areas with anecdotally high incidences of cancer, such as River Street and Bluebird Street in Hudson Falls, known PCB-affected areas.

“I’m absolutely interested in the River Street neighborhood,” replied Jim Bauers of DOH. “But it’s unlikely that an industrial site is going to have an impact on the 65,000 people in Warren County. It’s not going to drive the excess. That’s why we’re treating this [study] a little bit differently.”

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