Study shows cancer rates up in Crestwood

March 5, 2010 3:34:29 PM PST
Higher-than-average cancer rates have been found in southwest suburban Crestwood, Ill.A new study was conducted after officials learned residents of the village unknowingly consumed water tainted with dangerous chemicals for two decades.

More than 20 years ago, the EPA warned officials in Crestwood that chemicals used in dry cleaning had been found in the village well.

The EPA shut the well down in 2007.

Crestwood officials are accused of knowingly supplementing the village's water supply with water from that tainted well.

The EPA has said while the well's use defied its orders, the amount of chemical contamination in the well water did not pose a health risk to the public.

But with residents raising the specter of fouled water as a cancer causer, the state Department of Public Health chose to examine.

"What we found was there was an increase in lung cancer for both men and women. There was also an increase in cancers of the kidney," said Dr. Damon Arnold, director, Illinois Dept. of Public Health (I.DPH)

The IDPH compared Crestwood cancer rates over a 12-year period with benchmark numbers from the state's cancer registry. The numbers show that gastrointestinal cancers among men were noticeably up. Kidney cancer among men was up. Esophageal cancers among men and women were up, and the same was true of lung cancer.

"I was secretly crossing my fingers under the table thinking this can't be true; this isn't happening. This is quite numbing. I'm quite disheartened," said Crestwood resident Theresa Flynn.

Flynn believes there is a correlation between the tainted water and cancers in Crestwood.

The IDPH, however, cannot make that conclusion because there are many variables, including occupation, health, family history, that 'cancer cluster' conclusions are most often impossible to make.

"We can make a sort of relative risk assessment of what your chances are that this came from that, but we can't make a causal connection that this caused this," Arnold said.

Still, the number of actual cancers in Crestwood are elevated enough beyond the expected to warrant more in-depth monitoring and long-term study by the state and Centers for Disease Control.

"I have good faith, I think, at this point. I just want more direction coming from Springfield and as far as Washington. I want them to hear. It's a lesson for the whole nation actually," said Flynn.

The cancer study did not reveal an increase in liver cancers, which might reasonably be expected if contaminated water is in question.

Also, while the number of kidney and gastrointestinal cancers were higher than expected among men, they were not among women.

So, if water is suspect, how is gender part of the equation? That is one of many unanswered questions, and many of them will be raised in a public forum planned for next Saturday at 2 p.m. at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

A criminal investigation into the village's handling of the situation is still ongoing.