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State health officials won't expand Bethpage cancer study

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

The state Department of Health has rejected a request from Nassau County to expand a study the agency conducted in a Bethpage neighborhood looking at cancer rates and exposures to toxins.

County Executive Edward Mangano is pressing the matter and drafting a request for reconsideration.

"I am appealing the Department of Health's decision and will speak with our State Senate delegation in the coming week," Mangano said in a statement released Thursday.

The state looked at a 19-block area bordered by Stewart Avenue on the east, 11th Street on the west, and north to south from Sycamore to Maple avenues. Two blocks between Ninth and 11th streets from Thomas to Maple also were included. The state also separately evaluated a one-block area from 10th to 11th streets between Maple and Sycamore.

In the larger area, the state found the number and types of cases were what you would typically find. In the smaller area, the age people were diagnosed was younger than typically seen but the number of cases were what would be expected.

At a meeting in February about the report, Mangano, a Bethpage resident, said he thought the study area was too limited.

But the agency said looking at a larger area would dilute results and the findings did not support further investigation. "The study that the department conducted was scientifically appropriate and as informative as existing data will allow," Dr. Barbara Wallace, director of the Division of Chronic Disease Prevention, wrote to Mangano at the end of March.

Mangano and Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) asked the state in 2009 to study cancer in Bethpage neighborhoods near former aviation manufacturing sites run by the Navy and Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., now Northrop Grumman. The request came after the Navy reported it had found possibly cancer-causing chemicals in air inside and beneath homes near a former storage area.

After hearing the study results, Bethpage residents Jeanne O'Connor and Deanna Verbouwens launched a website, a Facebook page called the Bethpage Cancer Project, and a door-to-door campaign in March to collect information about cancer and autoimmune diseases in the hamlet.

"We know that New York State only did a very limited study," O'Connor said. "We felt it was very inconclusive."

A questionnaire asks people for such information as age, where they live, if they went to Bethpage High School, whether they have cancer, the time of a diagnosis and if the disease spread to others parts of the body.

So far, they have reached out to about half of the hamlet and received 250 reports of cancer diagnosis, said O'Connor, 42, a lifelong Bethpage resident. "I've heard the rumblings growing up my entire life," O'Connor said. "I thought it would be interesting to see what's out there."

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