Nuclink: Journal of Current Radiation and Public
Volume 1, Number 1
September 14, 1998
Published by RPHP
PO Box 60 Unionville, NY 10988
Editor: W.L. McDonnell
WHY CANCER RATES IN THE HAMPTONS ARE SO HIGH
By Jay M. Gould, Director,
Radiation and Public Health Project
Residents of the affluent East End of Long Island,
including the Hamptons---the summertime watering hole of the rich
and famous--were recently shocked when informed by the New York
Cancer Registry that they were now experiencing extremely high
age-adjusted incidence rates for cancer of the female breast and
male prostate. The rates were in fact about 20 percent above
the Suffolk county average.
Why were these rates so high? One very logical explanation is that Long Island
had nearly a half-century of exposure to both toxic pesticides and documented
emissions of strontium-90 from reactors at the Brookhaven National Laboratory
in Suffolk county and from three troubled Millstone reactors located on the Connecticut
shore across the Long Island Sound 11 miles north of the town of Orient on the
eastern tip of Suffolk County.
Back in 1990, the New York State Cancer Registry was pressed by Suffolk county
legislators Michael Tully and Thomas DiNapoli to publish age-adjusted breast
cancer incidence rates for the years 1978-87 for every one of 62 communities
which make up the county. These figures revealed that there was a cancer cluster
just south of the BNL reactors made up by the five adjoining towns of Brookhaven,
Bellport, Shirley, Medford and Yaphank.
The combined cancer rate for these towns was 30 percent higher than the county
average, and could not be dismissed as a chance result. In fact its significance
was heightened by another statistic: Age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rates
in the files of the National Cancer Institute for Suffolk county had registered
an extraordinary increase of 40 percent since 1950, when the BNL reactors began
operating. The corresponding national increase was only one percent.
Residents of these above-mentioned five towns are now suing BNL for one billion
dollars, following an admission in 1995 that groundwater flows from the Lab had
contaminated private water wells in these towns. Subsequent revelations of
high levels of strontium-90 found within the 25 square mile area occupied by
the Lab led to denunciation of the BNL managers by Senator D'Amato. The managers
were dismissed early in 1998, amid widespread fears that Long Island drinking
water may have been contaminated.
In the summer of 1997, Dr. Helen Caldicott and I-- with the help of Suffolk county
legislators George Guldi and Fred Thiele--asked Dr. Mark Babtiste, head of the
New York State Cancer Registry, to update the breast cancer incidence rates for
small areas in the county previously published in 1990, as a necessary first
step in confirming the cancer cluster found near BNL.
Babtiste refused, on the absurd ground that he had no funds for such an undertaking.
We then wrote an op-ed piece asking why the Cancer Registry was so reluctant
to do the right thing. The article was rejected by the Long Island Newsday but
was printed by the Suffolk Life weekly, mailed to every Suffolk county
Legislator Thiele then succeeded in getting a million dollar appropriation from
the New York State Assembly for the update, but which Governor Pataki immediately
eliminated from the New York State budget. At this point, Babtiste said that
local cancer incidence data would soon be released for the years 1988-93.
In the Fall of 1998, the Cancer Registry announced that their analysis of the
updated age-adjusted cancer incidence for all small areas for this six year period
found no cancer cluster near BNL but that the East End, more than 70 miles east
of BNL, was now the only significant cancer cluster in the county.
But again, no data were provided for the various towns in the county to check
this surprising finding.
It is at this point that, with a small grant of $5000 from the STAR board, I
found that there was indeed an alternative source of information on current
cancer rates for each of the more than 100 Zip code areas in Suffolk county.
The New York Health Department administers a dataset of computerized admissions
records for every hospital in New York State called SPARCS, (Statewide Planning
and Research Coordinating System). This dataset enabled me to secure the annual
number of women with a Suffolk county Zip code who were treated for breast cancer
for the years 1990-96.
My analysis of these rates, adjusted for differences in age, for each Zip code
area in the North and South Forks--making up the East End and along the north
shore of the county--did confirm that there was indeed a malignant force affecting
these areas, but that it was clearly directly correlated with distance from the
troubled Millstone reactors on the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound.
Thus for the recent seven year period, the
annual age-adjusted breast cancer hospitalization rate in these 33 areas,
all within 11 to 40 miles of the reactors, was 253 cases per 100,000
women, significantly higher than the corresponding rate of 231 cases
for the remaining areas in the county, which are generally more than
60 miles southwest of the Millstone reactors.
There may remain other cancer clusters elsewhere in the county. For example
the five towns south of the BNL reported a disproportionate and rapidly increasing
number of cases in the past seven years, but may no longer be as bad as the Zip
code area defining the North Fork town of Orient, closest to the Millstone reactors,
with a current breast cancer rate of 314 cases per 100000 women.
We have estimated that from 1990 to 1996, 40 percent of the 330 women in Orient
over the age of 15 may have been hospitalized for all types of cancer. And
for all areas with significantly elevated rates, the excess is wholly concentrated
among younger women under the age of 65.
Dr. Ed Nadel, biostatistician of the Suffolk County Health Commission, has reviewed
my methodology, and reported that his analysis of the breast cancer incidence
rates of the East End zip code areas for the years 1989-1993 produced similar
results with far fewer cases.
However, Dr. Nadel could not release the incidence data for each area without
the permission of the New York State Cancer Registry.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele (Rep) has since petitioned Dr. Mark Babtiste
to release these figures, pointing out that each year the Connecticut
Cancer Registry routinely publishes age-adjusted cancer rates for each
town in Connecticut. These figures show that the highest female cancer
rates in the state are concentrated in the 12 towns within 15 miles of
the Millstone reactors.
Eventually, the full truth of the situation will be known, because it is
becoming increasingly possible to acquire the data necessary for an accurate
Up until now State departments
of Health and federal agencies have had a monopoly control over access
to sensitive local vital statistics, whose publication could presumably
upset property values.
But online access to privatized databases like SPARCS, which are used for marketing
purposes by the hospitals, have effectively broken that monopoly, not only in
New York but in all states.
For example, the Atlanta Center for Disease Control has an annual report on hospital
admissions. This report indicates that the Suffolk county age-adjusted breast
cancer hospitalization rate for the years 1990-96 is 17 percent above the national
As another example, this website (www.radiation.org)
now offers access to increasing numbers of epidemiological and clinical
demonstrations of the connections between low-level radiation and cancer.
We will also increasingly link to various official databases of vital
statistics necessary to expose these connections.
Should you know of particular databases available
on-line, please let us know by email.
The Internet coupled with advances in information
technology have made it possible to reveal the true health effects of nuclear
fission products to citizens everywhere
in the world seeking the truth about radiation. This information has previously
been withheld from the public since the birth of the
An Interview with
How did you get involved in examining the cancer situation in The
As a former member of the EPA Science Advisory Board in the Carter
administration, and now a resident of East Hampton, I was a logical
choice. A new East End non-profit organization called STAR (Standing
for the Truth About Radiation) asked me to seek an explanation for
the high cancer rates.
Can you tell us a little more about STAR?
STAR was organized by local citizens worried about contamination
from Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). The Board of STAR includes
such notables as Alec Baldwin, Dr. Helen Caldicott and Jan Schlictmann,
the protagonist of the best selling A Civil Action. STAR is
headed by David Friedson, CEO of a $600 million dollar NY Stock Exchange
Let's hope they are able to discover the extent of the contamination
that has taken place as a result of BNL. Could you describe a little
further how you got involved in this study?
I was asked to do this because my previous experience at the EPA
made me privy to the fact that while public health officials are
required by law to publish cancer rates at the county level, they
are extremely reluctant to reveal cancer rates for small areas within
the county, because of the political sensitivity of such data.
Could you say more about your time with the EPA?
During my service on the EPA Science Advisory Board, the EPA--founded
by President Nixon in 1970 as part of his war on cancer--had published
colored county cancer mortality rate maps. These maps revealed that
counties in New Jersey and Louisiana with high concentrations of
petrochemical plants had significantly elevated male cancer mortality
I had developed a database of petrochemical manufacturing plants that contained
each plant's five digit Zip code, which enabled EPA to discover which local
areas below the county level generated the largest volumes of chemical wastes.
But at that time use of such information by a federal agency was violently
opposed by large petrochemical companies as an invasion of their privacy.
With the election of President Reagan in 1980, EPA lost interest in exploring
localized links of cancer to toxic wastes, and I resigned in that year.
After retiring in 1983, I established a non-profit research agency to seek
an explanation for the following epidemiological puzzle I had encountered while
at EPA. Male cancer rates were high in Louisiana for obvious occupational reasons,
but female cancer rates there were among the lowest in the nation and remain
low still today. Many years later, I found the explanation, along with the
reason for the high breast cancer rates in Long Island.
Could you tell our readers in a few words what that explanation is?
Yes. This is an important point. I discovered an important truth
about the health effects of nuclear fallout first articulated so
eloquently by Rachel Carson in the opening page of the second chapter
of Silent Spring: In this now universal contamination
of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little recognized
partners of radiation in changing the very nature of life.
Could you explain a little more about how this partnership works?
Strontium-90, released through nuclear explosions and reactors into
the air, comes to earth in rain or drifts down as fallout, lodges in
soil, enters into the grass or corn or wheat grown there, and in time
takes up its abode in the bones of a human being: There to remain until
Q. In conclusion, is there anything else you would like
to tell our readers?
A. The point I would like to leave our readers with
is simply that the Long Island breast cancer epidemic offers a good example
of the validity of Rachel Carson's prediction of the deadly capability of strontium-90
to interact with DDT and other industrial chemicals.
you for taking the time for this interview. We look forward to your