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Utah Wrapping Up Cancer Study Implicating HAFB

Apr 10, 2005 | AP

The state Office of Epidemiology is finishing a study of the incidence of cancer among residents of towns surrounding Hill Air Force Base.

At least 12 plumes of contaminated groundwater can be traced back to the base and could be contributing to elevated rates of cancer. The study is looking at cancer rates from 1973 to 2001 in Roy, Riverdale, South Weber, Clearfield, Layton, Sunset and Clinton.

The study is the second done on the issue of whether contamination from Hill Air Force Base has affected cancer rates in surrounding communities. In 2003, the same office did a study on 1973-1999 cancer rates in Sunset and Clinton, but the results were inconclusive.

The latest survey could be ready for public review by the end of April, said Steve McDonald, a spokesman for the State Health Department.

The study is looking at 42 different forms of cancer, said Sam LeFevre, an environmental epidemiologist for the state's Department of Health.

Traces of trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, carbon tetrachloride and perchlorate have been found in the groundwater moving from Hill Air Force Base.

Trichloroethylene is classified as a probable carcinogen. It was a degreaser commonly used on base in the 1960s and 1970s. Tetrachloroethylene is a chemical associated with dry cleaning. It has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory rats but hasn't been linked to cancer in humans.

Air Force officials say they've stopped the spread of contaminated plumes using a 660-foot trench that holds a mixture of sand and iron filings, which helps break down trichloroethylene.

"It's a shrinking plume," said Mike Roginskie, an Air Force project engineer.

Even with the new barrier, environmental engineer Steve Hicken said it will take decades to clean up the toxic waste.

The 2003 study showed elevated rates of cancer during several periods, but said there was no evidence suggesting it was related to the groundwater contamination.

That study found elevated rates of gallbladder cancer from 1988-92 and cumulatively for the 16-year period. It also showed higher rates of testicular cancer from 1988-92 and high rates of kidney and renal pelvis cancer from 1973-77 and 1998-99.

"In addition, this investigation found no evidence suggesting that cancer (of any type) was significantly increasing in the communities of Sunset and Clinton during the periods evaluated as compared to the remainder of Utah. The cause of the significantly elevated cancers could not be determined by this investigation," the 2003 study said in its findings.

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