We started with the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health's February information about several potential Natick regions of cancer concern, defined only to the Census Tract level which is too general to track down any potential common cause. MDPH is not allowed to release its data (based on the Massachusetts Cancer Registry's cancer-incidence database) to us or even to Natick's Health Director. During the summer, additional concerns were raised over the Cancer Registry's completeness in recent years. For these reasons, we have pursued two alternate sources of data: the Town Records, and the State's computerized Mortality Database (which extends from 1969 through 1995, whereas the unavailable incidence database only extends from 1982 through 1992).
The use of this data, plus the volunteered mapping services of Earth Tech, have begun to yield useful information. We must emphasize how early in the analysis we are. However, our early findings show that the Wethersfield pancreatic cancer cluster is very likely to have been a transitory event occurring only during the period from 1982 through 1986. Since then, Wethersfield’s pancreatic cancer mortality rates have not been elevated over expected levels. This would seem to agree well with the smaller data set presented by MDPH in early May (our concern over which was the very small sample size).
Recent examination of the data also seems to indicate that Natick and some surrounding communities experienced an elevated rate of cancer mortality in the mid-1970s. At this point, neither this event nor our Wethersfield pancreatic cancer cluster are well understood, but we are still working to identify the causes in order to prevent recurrences.
Our concerns over the incompleteness of the Cancer Registry (incidence) and the mortality databases remain. Several Task Force members believe they know of victims who were missed in these official counts. However, our initial desire to conduct a town-wide survey has been put aside for two reasons. First, our mapping project may remove the need for such an effort. Second, without at least one other comparable town also undergoing an identical survey, we would not have a control for direct comparison and to that degree would diminish the value of the results. We can still consider the survey (either town wide or limited to a few neighborhoods) if we do find sufficient need.
Natick's water supply, like many others in Massachusetts which depend on groundwater, is susceptible to contamination from industrial and other pollutants. Various agencies gather data and take action in this regard, and there is currently no data available to prove any link between cancer rates and past contaminants in our water supply. Starting about 1988, both the Evergreen and Springvale well fields did begin to show evidence of contamination from the volatile organic compounds, PCE and TCE. Initially, water from the questionable wells was mixed with that from uncontaminated wells but, as the levels of PCE and TCE rose, and as EPA reduced the allowable levels of these suspected carcinogens from 15 ppb to 5 ppb, Evergreen 1 was taken off line from 1992 until the new water treatment system's air-stripping component was activated in February 1997.
Late in October 1997, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry presented its further literature-search analysis on whether those years of drinking-water exposure might have caused significant health problems for Natick residents. Its conclusion: Worst-case scenarios would not have resulted in serious exposures. While these projections are based on short-term, heavy, single-contaminant dosages to mice et al, which may not correlate well with longer, lower, multiple-contaminant dosages to humans, ATSDR states that these questions should be more than balanced by its "conservative" assumptions. Of course, this conclusion does not explain what did cause the past rises in cancer incidence.
Every indication we have is that the drinking water currently supplied to Natick residents is within Federal standards. Even the current Federal standards, however, are generally considered incomplete and underfunded. The new treatment plant is effectively removing all known hazardous contaminants before they get to Natick's water users. There are hazardous contaminants which Natick's drinking water plant would be unable to address. If these contaminants were to appear in Natick's drinking water supply in the future, then the capabilities of the water treatment facility would have to be expanded appropriately.
The source of contamination of one of two adjacent Evergreen wells is not yet known, and underscores the lack of detailed groundwater mapping, and its importance for understanding prior problems and preventing any future dangers. We are attempting to acquire a detailed, town-wide groundwater model, perhaps from the U.S. Geological Survey in association with the on-going groundwater clean-up at U.S. Army Natick Laboratories.
As you can see, our Task Force has attacked the most urgent initial priorities and can assure that major risks are not evident at this time. We are only at the early stages of true risk analysis. In order to minimize second-order risks now and in the future, we are continuing our work, analyzing our new maps, and searching for risk factors. These results and our discussions with MDPH will determine how we allocate the recently-acquired $50,000 State grant. Our near-term goals include the completion of our own database (incorporating MDPH mortality data plus Natick Town Clerk's Office data and Natick Health Department data), acquisition of localized models of groundwater and air flows, alignment of known or suspected hazards with our continuing mapping effort and, hopefully, a joint project with the Natick Historical Society to map historically-significant, environmentally-impacting land uses in the Town such as former tanneries and factories -- which still can affect future risks.
Our Task Force has acted responsibly to protect citizens
while we build an initially-fuzzy picture of patterns of disease in Natick.
Your Board and Town Counsel have assisted us in designing a Sensitive-Data
Agreement to bind volunteers to use certain portions of our data (names
and locations) only for the purposes of the NCSTF. We hold special public
meetings when new information comes available, we share our findings and
we make information available via the World-Wide Web. Our meeting minutes,
background information and many useful links are at:
Our local view must be interpreted against the general background: Cancer is many diseases, the causes of which are still poorly understood. There is no lack of professional theories; rather, there is a lack of consensus. We do know that most cancers are on the rise in the USA and in many other developed countries. Treatment is somewhat improved, but incidences continue to rise. Starting in the 1950s and probably linked to the release of many man-made chemicals into our environment, cancer has become the major disease killer for the United States 36-64 age group, and no longer is rare as a killer of children. 20 to 25 percent of all our deaths now are caused by cancer. Rachel Carson was alarmed to find that, in 1950, a cancer diagnosis would occur for 25 percent of Americans; now it will occur for 40 percent of American women and 50 percent of American men. According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of these cancers are environmentally caused. Natick and all communities will continue to suffer until solutions are found.
We of the Task Force thank our many advisors, liaisons
and volunteers for their past and continuing help. We thank you, our Selectmen,
for your patience as we continue the difficult and time-consuming search
for reliable local information.
The Natick Cancer Study Task Force is charged by the Natick Selectmen:
Vice Chairperson: Carol Scannell (leave message at 508/654-5042)
Associate Chairperson: Tom Branham (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Town Coordinator: Roger Wade, Director of Public Health
Natick Board of Health, Room G10, Natick Town Hall, 13 East Central Street, Natick, MA 01760)
Other Members: Jay Ball, Mary Brown, Beth Donnelly (Columbia Metrowest Medical Center, Framingham), Robert Goldkamp, Jill Miller, Catherine Rizzo, Mary Ellen Siudut.
Ex-Members: Beth Alcock, Ken and Jody Collins, Sandra Crossman, Sue Fioretti, Hal and Marty Garvey, David and Maureen Graham, Helen Johnson, Eugenia Kennedy, Bonnie McCormick, Ellen McKeon-Levine, Jim and Ann Morse, Helen Osborne, Carol Rossi.
Some of our much-appreciated Advisors, Liaisons and Volunteers:
Mel Albert, Theresa Barry (Mass. Dept. of Public Health), John and Meg
Bradford, Bob Campbell (Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection), Donna
Casey, Sandra Crossman, Kevin Doherty (Knoll Environmental), Robin Fink,
John Jao, M.D. (Columbia Metrowest Medical Center, Framingham), Mass. Sen.
Cheryl Jacques, Marco Kaltofen (Boston Chemical Data, and Citizen Co-Chair
of US Army Natick Laboratories' Restoration Advisory Board), John Krikorian,
M.D. (Columbia Metrowest Medical Center, Framingham), Mass. Sen. David
Magnani, US Congressman Ed Markey, Bonnie McCormick, Mike Norris (US Geological
Survey), Ruth Ruiter, Peter Silbermann (Earth Tech), Susanne Simon (US
ATSDR), Martha Steele (MDPH), Mass. Rep. Doug Stoddart, Don Tata (for Natick
DPW), Charlie Thrasher, Joan VanTassel, Brenda Watkinson, Dick Whelan (Kennedy
Middle School Weather Station), Charlene Zion (MDPH).