Study: Cancer rates near Grumman site not higher than normal

The Grumman plant is seen from Thomas Avenue

The Grumman plant is seen from Thomas Avenue in Bethpage, where tests suggest that potentially toxic gases from pollution at the former plant and naval weapons depot have penetrated the basements of at least four homes next to the site. (March 13, 2009) (Credit: Jennifer Smith)

A study of cancer rates in a section of Bethpage near the former Navy and Northrop Grumman manufacturing facilities did not reveal more cases than would normally be expected, according to a state Department of Health report expected to be released Thursday.

The study examined a 19-block area and a one-block area near where groundwater and soil contamination has been found. In the larger area, the most frequent types of cancer found -- such as lung, breast and prostate -- are among the most frequently found in adults.

In a one-block area, however, researchers said people diagnosed with cancer were younger than what is typical, but given the small population, "these results do not provide a clear indication of an unusual pattern of cancers," the report said.


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Toxic groundwater plumes and soil contamination from the manufacturing facilities have been found in the area. Remediation and testing is ongoing.

County Executive Edward Mangano, then a county legislator, requested a cancer survey in March 2009 after the Navy reported it had found levels of possible carcinogens in the air inside and beneath homes in Bethpage near a former drum storage site operated by the Navy.

Mangano was briefed on the results but said Wednesday that he hadn't seen the full report. "I find it alarming that a trend exists among people getting cancer at a young age," Mangano said in a statement. "I am relieved the state findings are 'medically insignificant,' however, I remain concerned and urge the state to further study areas in which chemical vapors were found in people's homes."

Department of Health spokesman Peter Constantakes declined to comment on the report because it had not been officially released. The department plans to host at least one public meeting about the report in Bethpage sometime next month to answer questions, he said.

The study looked at cancer rates between 1976 and 2009 in the area bordered by Stewart Avenue on the east, 11th Street on the west and north to south from Sycamore to Maple avenues. The two blocks between Ninth and 11th streets from Thomas to Maple were also included.

The one-block area studied separately, from 10th to 11th streets between Maple and Sycamore avenues was where Navy testing in 2009 discovered trichloroethene, TCE, and tetrachloroethene, PCE, as well as 1,1,1-trichoroethan, TCA. It's close to a former Navy drum storage site.

TCE and PCE are classified as possible carcinogens.

Frances Trotter, who lives near the community park but not in the cancer study area, was relieved at the findings. Last year she had pleaded with state officials to clean up contamination in the area. "This does ease me," she said. "It does."

The study area appears to be smaller than one initially cited by Mangano, which includes from Sycamore to Railroad avenues and from Stewart Avenue to 12th Street.

Mangano did not comment on the size of the study area.

"I don't know why they did such a limited study, but I guess the less you look, the less you find, which seems to be the state's methodology," said Anthony Sabino, a former attorney for Bethpage Water District, which for years has treated water to remove plume contaminants. Sabino retired at the end of last year but has spent more than two decades examining the plume and its impacts on water supplies.

Cancer investigations are difficult to undertake. The causes of many cancers are unknown. Age, race, diet and exposures also are factors. And it can take years from exposure to diagnosis.

A large number of cancer incidences, not necessarily a cluster, "will happen randomly all over the country from time to time," said Roger Grimson, a biostatistician who worked on mapping Long Island cancer cases before retiring as an associate professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University.

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