CANCER-INCIDENCE IN NATICK, MASS.
47234 visits since 970316; last updated 060309.

This webpage is written by A. Richard Miller. I am not a doctor or a lawyer or a Town official (other than as past member and chairman of the Natick Conservation Commission, chairman of the 1970's Natick Environmental Concerns Commission, and chairperson of the new Cancer Study Task Force). I am a concerned citizen, a trained scientist and engineer, and I have occupied central roles on various environmental projects in Natick, regional and State-wide since 1968. I still serve on the Cochituate State Park Advisory Committee, and on the SSCOM RAB (U.S. Army Natick Laboratories' Soldier Systems COMmand Restoration Advisory Board) which for several years has been studying one of these environmental threats to Natick's well-being.

Natick's health is generally equivalent to that of its surrounding towns. However, as became well-known in February 1997, some specific problems need addressing now. On March 13, 1997 the Natick Selectmen created a Cancer Study Task Force to study these problems and to make recommendations for further action, and I am its Chairperson. I also contribute this webpage and its links and recommended publications -- based on inputs from many others -- to help that new group and other interested people to understand what is known and what must be done.

--A. Richard Miller, March 1997

See our November 1997 Status Report to the Natick Selectmen.
See our December 1997 Letter and graphs re Dow Chemical.
See our March 2001 "Precautionary Principle: panel discussion.

Like so many other towns, our town of Natick, Massachusetts is wrestling with environmental health problems. Potential problem categories include air pollution, soil pollution, and pollution of our drinking water.

Natick's public drinking water comes from local supplies, mostly from underground wells within Natick itself. The demands for water have increased over the years, pumping was increased, and new wellsites have been developed. The quality of the water has diminished. First iron and manganese levels increased, then sodium, and now we are worrying about the levels of known and suspected carcinogens.

The most obvious known contributor to the problems is the U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center (NRDEC, a.k.a. Natick Laboratories, "NLabs" and SSCOM), south of Kansas Street and on a point of land projecting into the South Pond of Lake Cochituate. Extensive testing has located two plumes of toxic materials in the groundwater: one rich in TCE (trichloroethylene, trichloroethene, ethelyne trichloride or Triclene, a known carcinogen), one rich in PCE (tetrachloroethylene, tetrachloroethene, perchlorethylene or Perc, suspected to be a carcinogen). This groundwater lies 50-60 feet under the Army land and is believed to be moving slowly toward Natick's main wellfield at the Springvale Pumping Station, about one mile to the north on the south side of Route 9 and between the South and Middle Ponds of Lake Cochituate. It is so serious that it has been designated a Superfund site (CERCLA) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Despite major efforts, it is not known how this material was introduced into the groundwater or when, and questions remain over how much of it will move into the drinking water supply -- and when. The SSCOM RAB holds monthly meetings (open to the public) at NLabs to review progress on this specific component of Natick's problem.

Meanwhile, Natick has nearly completed a new $4-Million addition to its Springvale water treatment plant: a building and three tall, silvery silos designed to move all or most of these volatile contaminants from the drinking water to the air, where we are told they will dissipate harmlessly.

Several other potential responsible polluters (PRPs) are also identified. These include:

Natick has these and other possible sources of contamination. However, the amount of contamination may not be significant in most cases. The first recent analysis of actual cancer incidences was undertaken -- following requests from Natick as early as 1988 -- by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 1993. Release of the final MDPH report ("Cancer Incidence Study, Natick, Massachusetts") was delayed for several years, precipitating a Public Records Law action (M.G.L. 66, Sec. 10, the Massachusetts version of the U.S. Freedom Of Information Act) which finally made the draft report ("Draft Health Consultation") available in late February 1997. This report only considered cancer incidences reported in Natick from 1982 through 1990. Incidences for several types of cancer are considered so much higher than average as to be non-coincidental. That is, something in these areas appears to be causing unexpected levels of these cancers.

Among these problems, the most conspicuous is an abnormally high level of pancreatic cancer in a cluster of homes within Wethersfield. In-home sampling of water, air, etc. was never done in these homes, because their actual location was not divulged to the Town of Natick. For several years this analysis has been known to the MDPH, but that State agency even refused to share the data with Natick's Health Director. Hence the FOI action which released enough information to understand that there is a problem, but not enough information to pursue its solution. While some might fear release of this data due to reduction of property values or through concern for doctor-patient confidentiality, most Wethersfield residents now wonder when a growing number of avoidable cancer incidences will outweigh those normal precautions.

We need to learn where the problem is so we can learn what the problem is so we can fix it.

The same study lists concerns in other sections of Natick, but none with so compelling a set of statistics. And the first public discussion of this information, at the SSCOM RAB meeting of February 25th 1997, revealed that many residents previously reported unusually high levels of perceived health problems which are not reflected in the draft study. Some are convinced that the numbers will look different -- more compelling -- once their information is properly considered, and support a new, Town-sponsored cancer-incidence survey.

In early March 1997, even before the Town-appointed Cancer Study Task Force could assemble and get up to speed, some Natickites approached the MDPH for immediate attention to the Wethersfield homes in question. The MDPH promised to seek a way to share that location, and proposed an indirect solution: utilizing available mortality data, which for quickly-killing pancreatic cancer is a near match for the unreleased incidence data. That information was transmitted to the Natick Health Director. The MDPH prioritized on-site measurements and visits to Natick agencies. It expanded its February-released draft study (based on 1982-1990 cancer-incidence data) by addiing data from 1991 and 1992, and it addressed various agency recommendations which were gathered back in 1995-96. It addressed some of the new citizen questions, as well. MDPH made an interim presentation to the NCSTF on April 10th, and presented its study results at the NCSTF meeting of May 8th.

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry announced its intention to produce another related study, a quick one to begin soon. It presented its plan for that study at the April 17th meeting of the Natick Cancer Study Task Force, and presented its study report at the May 27th meeting of the SSCOM RAB. Some components will be delivered later.

The NCSTF has continued to gather and analyze available death records, and to reduce that information to a computerized database which promises to extend from 1975 through 1995. Mapping and more sophisticated computer display of this complex data are ongoing projects. It has identified possible future projects, which could benefit this investigation and other local needs: a new, locally-driven health study, and the development of an accurate, independent, regional groundwater model for Natick.

All these issues will require further discussion in the weeks to come. Your comments can help. (You can e-mail your feedback below.)


Links to related Webpages

Natick Cancer Study Task Force: Membership, Recent and Upcoming Meetings, Old Meetings, Nov. 1997 Status Report., Dec. 1997 Letter and graphs re Dow Chemical, "Cancer Study Moves Forward" (Natick TAB, Jan. 26, 1999), "Cancer Study Future Uncertain" (Natick TAB, Feb. 16, 1999).
The Precautionary Principle.
Natick, MA - History, Issues, and Environmental Facts (Marco Kaltofen).
U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Health Consultation for U.S. Army Natick Laboratories (Appendix D, Items 17-20 approximately summarize the NCSTF comments), Guidelines for Health Studies, Site Activity Query, ToxFAQs, links.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control: Cancer Registries At-A-GlanceAge-Adjusted U.S. Death Rates for All Cancer, 1988-92.
U.S. Army Natick Laboratories: SSCOM, SSCOM RAB, Lake Cochituate watershed.
Other U.S. Dept. of Defense: SSCOM, Environmental Restoration, Restoration Advisory Boards.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: SSCOM, Superfund Site Information, Audit Privilege Laws, links re Hazardous Waste Site Characterization and Remediation Technologies.
U.S. National Cancer Institute: Cancer Mortality Maps & Graph Web Site, Atlas of Cancer Mortality, etc..
Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health: home page.
Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health, Community Health Information Profile: MassCHIP, Cancer Incidence in Massachusetts, Statewide and City/Town Supplements
Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection: Natick Water Supply Fact Sheet, Waste Clean-Up Site Lists.
Environmental Defense Fund: Scorecard for Middlesex County, Massachusetts. 
Michigan State University:
EnviroTools.
U.S. News Online: "The War On Cancer".
Rachel's Envir. & Health Weekly: "Truth about Breast Cancer (971106)", "Living Downstream (970925)", "Toxic Substances Control Act (970918)", "Lymph Cancers (970904)", "Cancer Trends (970612)".
Donella Meadows: on industry tactics; her weekly column, "The Global Citizen".
General Cancer Links: American Cancer Society, CancerNet, SEER Cancer Statistics, OncoLink, Silent Spring Institute, Toxics Action Center.
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation: State Health Facts Online.
Usenet newsgroup: sci.med.diseases.cancer.


Recommended Publications

These books and other reports in print -- all now available through the Morse Institute Library (Natick's public library) -- are useful reading for our work:

Living Downstream -- An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment, by Sandra Steingraber (Addison-Wesley, May 1997). While other books are useful to our task, I believe this readable book describes our task! You can read Rachel Environment & Health Weekly's online review of it now, on the "970925" link, above. Also, more reviews at Amazon.com and an interview with the author.

The Enemy Within: The Struggle to Clean Up Cape Cod's Military Superfund Site, by Seth Rolbein (Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod, Orleans MA, 1995). Discusses the parallel, massive problems at Massachusetts Military Reservation (Otis AFB, Camp Edwards). Also available from Barnes and Noble.com.

Broken Trust - An Environmental Disaster, a special reprint re Massachusetts Military Reservation, from Cape Cod Times in January 1997. This excellent series of illustrated news articles is available for $3 in person from the Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod or from the Cape Cod Times, for $5 by mail. A condensed, online version is available.

A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr; Marty Asher, Editor (Vintage Books, September 1996). Detailed and insightful description of the famous toxic-plume legal action in nearby Woburn, Massachusetts. Review at Amazon.com.

Trust Us, We're Experts, by Sheldon Rampton and John C. Stauber (Penguin Putnam Inc., 2001). How and why so much information is unreliable. Reviews and Text exerpts at Amazon.com.

Inside the Cancer Charities (U.S. News and World Report, December 25th, 1995).

Assessment of Cancer Incidents in Natick, Massachusetts (1982-1992), Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 1997. The release of its February 1997 draft started our project. In presenting this "completed" version, MDPH made it clear that further additions are expected.

Public Health Assessment for U.S. Army Natick Laboratories in Natick, United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, May 1997. This first report from USATSDR leans heavily on the MDPH report which preceded it by weeks; further work is promised.

Health Consultation: Assessment of Cancer Incidence in Wayland, Massachusetts (1982-1992), Mass. Dept. of Public Health, June 1997. Its look at the contaminated Dow Chemical site, just across our northeast border, is of interest to Natick. backhome



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