TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) - For years, many have believed the air in the Town of Tonawanda is making people sick. Now a long-awaited health study on cancer rates is backing up those claims.
The new report from the State Department of Health doesn't point to a cause, but it shows a higher percentage of people in Tonawanda have certain cancers and birth defects than the rest of the state.
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In 2009, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation released results from an air quality study in the Town of Tonawanda. In the neighborhoods surrounding the industrial park, it found elevated levels of benzene and formaldehyde - two known cancer-causing chemicals.
And now a new study by the State Department of Health finds more people in those neighborhoods have certain types of cancer.
"It shows some areas I'd really be concerned about," says Bill Scheider, who teaches environmental health at the University at Buffalo.
He says the first finding that stood out to him was the number of cases of bladder cancer.
"Bladder cancer, even though smoking is a risk factor, occupational exposures and environmental exposures can be very important for bladder cancer," Scheider says.
The study found cases of bladder cancer in that same area were 24 percent higher for men and 81 percent higher for woman compared to the rest of New York State, excluding New York City.
Environmentalists have long pointed at the factories, including Tonawanda Coke, as the source of the elevated carcinogens. Scheider says one form of cancer caused by benzene is leukemia. This is why he found it alarming women living in the Sheridan Park neighborhood had 93 percent more leukemia cases than the rest of the state.
Many types of cancer take years to develop, but Scheider says the report indicates new residents of the area could be affected as well. It found 30 percent more birth defects than the rest of New York State.
"People who just moved into the area, if they're planning on having a baby, exposure could be a problem," Scheider says.
Scheider says the findings are a reason for concern, but not for panic.
"I don't think people have to panic and say, 'I'm moving out of here.' I would call it cautious alarm. And continue the process of community organization," Scheider says.
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