More cancer in Florida counties with Superfund sites

In the United States, Florida has the sixth highest number of hazardous waste sites known as Superfund sites—and in 2016 was projected to have the second largest number of new cancer cases in the country.

New research shows a possible link between the two—a discovery that could help direct public health efforts, researchers say.

“We reviewed adult cancer rates in Florida from 1986 to 2010,” says Emily Leary, assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Medicine. “Our goal was to determine if there were differences or associations regarding cancer incidence in counties that contain Superfund sites compared to counties that do not.

“We found the rate of cancer incidence increased by more than 6 percent in counties with Superfund sites.”

Florida is home to 77 sites that currently are or have been classified as Superfund sites by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Using cancer incidence data collected by the Florida Department of Health, the researchers looked for cancer clusters, or “hot spots,” of cases that were higher than normal. Because pediatric cancers often are genetic and not attributed to environmental factors, only adult cancers were included. Researchers did not distinguish between different types of cancer.

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“The findings show spatial differences—as well as gender differences—across Florida in adult cancer incidences,” says Leary, coauthor of the study in the journal Statistics and Public Policy. “This work is novel because it is another piece of evidence to support an environmental cause of cancer.

“While it would be premature to say these differences are attributed to Superfund sites, there does appear to be an association. More research is needed to determine what this relationship is and why it exists, but identifying that a difference exists is a necessary first step.”

“Our results can help public health agencies adjust policies and dedicate more efforts to areas with cancer hot spots,” says coauthor and postdoctoral associate Alexander Kirpich. “These results support the link between toxic environmental waste and adverse health outcomes, but more efforts are needed to better understand this link and what it means for residents in these counties.”

The University of Florida and the University of Missouri School of Medicine supported the work.

Source: University of Missouri