High cancer rate not down to Sellafield claims new report
Louth’s high rates of cancer cannot be blamed on Sellafield according to a new report by the National Cancer Registry Ireland.The study, which was carried out in response to Dail questions submitted by local TDs, found that while the county had higher than expected incidence of cancer this couldn’t be attributed to Sellafield.
Louth’s high rates of cancer cannot be blamed on Sellafield according to a new report by the National Cancer Registry Ireland.
The study, which was carried out in response to Dail questions submitted by local TDs, found that while the county had higher than expected incidence of cancer this couldn’t be attributed to Sellafield.
Rather, the report pointed the finger at the high rates of smoking and social deprivation, particularly in Dundalk and Drogheda.
The investigation looked at incidence of cancer between 1994 and 2000 and found that the number of new cancers was 7 per cent higher than would have been expected from national rates, averaging 34 extra cases a year.
The cancers found in significantly higher numbers were related to the skin, lung, and stomach and, to a lesser extent, of the oesophagus and leukaemia. The only known shared related risk factor for these cancers is smoking and Louth has the highest prevalence of smoking after Dublin.
There was nothing in the study to suggest that Sellafield is to blame for the high levels of cancer in the county.
“We were asked to look at cancer incidence in Louth in general and didn’t come across any evidence which suggests an increased risk which could be attributed to Sellafield,” says Dr Harry Comber, Director of the National Cancer Registry.
He dismissed concerns which had been expressed in the Cooley area that Sellafield was having a detrimental affect on the health of people living in the peninsula.
“There were in fact lower incidence of cancers in Cooley which is true of rural areas in general.”
There was no evidence of an increase in the types of cancers associated with radiation, such as thyroid cancer or leukaemia in children, in north Louth.
And he said there was no evidence in cities such as Manchester or Liverpool which were much closer to Sellafield which would point to the controversial nuclear reprocessing plant causing cancers.
Acute leukaemias that can be caused by exposure to radiation, chemicals or infection, were slightly less frequent in Louth at 29 per cent, compared to 34 per cent in Ireland as a whole.
Instead, the report highlighted the clear relationship between smoking and social deprivation in large urban areas and the high incidence of lung and stomach cancers.
“There is no known relationship anywhere between lung cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer and the sort of ionising radiation that comes from Sellafield,” says Dr Comber. “It didn’t seem to us that this was plausible as an explanation at all.”
He pointed out that there was a cigarette manufacturer based in Dundalk and that Louth had the second highest rate of smoking after Dublin.
Half of the women with lung cancer in Drogheda and 42 per cent of those in Louth, were aged under 65 per cent, compared with 27 per cent nationally.
Drogheda was also found to have “an exceptionally high incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer”. In the absense of any apparent reason for this, the report concludes this may be due to a higher detection rate.
Drogheda TD and Fine Gael spokesman on the Environment, Cllr Fergus O’Dowd accepted the findings in relation to Sellafield.
“It may well be that people are smoking too much. But that doesn’t mean Sellafield isn’t doing us harm long-term or the potential of an accident there isn’t considerable.”
Omeath-based Arthur Morgan of Sinn Fein, however, rejected the report’s findings and has called for further investigations to be carried out.
Deputy Morgan said “the results of this study are similar to one carried out recently for Cooley Environmental Health Group (CEHG). They show that the really high-risk area of Co Louth is now clearly Drogheda.”
However, he said he found the comments attributed to Dr Harry Comber of the INCR worrying.
“Firstly, whatever justification has he for claiming that the type of cancers found are not Sellafield-related, there is absolutely no basis for him dismissing areas such as Drogheda as unrelated to Sellafield.
“Until recently, north Louth (and Dundalk and the Cooley peninsula in particular) were undoubtedly the high-risk areas of Louth. But any study of epidemiology would easily allow for such a short shift from north Louth to Drogheda. A distance of some thirty miles would be regarded as quite modest, particularly given that Drogheda is only a marginally further distance from Sellafield than Dundalk.
“The important point here is that much more needs to be investigated in to this whole area. For example, what could possibly be causing this massive cancer rate in Drogheda? If it is not Sellafield, that would be good. But what is the answer? At cancer rates of 39% above national rates for women and 36% above national rates for men in the Drogheda area, answers are required very urgently.”