By: Jen Skerritt
A toxic metal found in Flin Flon’s soil has been linked to lung and bladder cancer, a Toronto physician and pollution expert said.
Dr. Kapil Khatter, a physician with Toronto-based non-profit Environmental Defence that studies the link between pollution and human health, said recent studies have identified cadmium as a lung carcinogen and that exposure to high levels of cadmium is associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer.
Cadmium is one of six “chemicals of concern” spewed out by the Flin Flon smelter and is under review as part of an ongoing health risk assessment in the northern mining town.
Khatter said according to a report released by university researchers in Massachusetts last October, lung cancer has been linked to metals such as cadmium, along with air pollution. One study found people with high levels of cadmium in their blood had six times the risk of bladder cancer.
Provincial Liberal leader Jon Gerrard obtained documents last week that revealed Flin Flon had higher incidences of lung, bladder, and kidney cancer than the rest of Manitoba.
Khatter said the data should be a sign for the community to reduce the level of pollution as much as possible.
“Coincidentally or not coincidentally, that would stand out for me as something to look at specifically,” Khatter said.
“Regardless of what the results are we have to look at how to reduce (metals like) cadmium.”
Manitoba Conservation’s initial 2007 soil study of Flin Flon found levels of cadmium at each of the 93 sites in Flin Flon tested for contamination. An interim report into the latest health risk assessment in Flin Flon in April revealed that some levels of cadmium found in Flin Flon soil exceeded human health protection guidelines by as much as five times.
But health officials in the Flin Flon area aren’t convinced the cancer cluster is anything to worry about.
“We haven’t yet seen data that suggests that we need to be alarmed,” said Dr. Marcia Anderson, medical officer for the Nor-Man Regional Health Authority.
Anderson said Flin Flon has a small population and one or two extra cases a year could make the incidence of cancer appear higher than it actually is.
Anderson said the current health risk assessment is looking at diseases like cancer, respiratory conditions and cardiovascular disease in Flin Flon and will compare it to rates for the region, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
By early 2009 officials will have a better idea of whether further study on a particular disease is warranted, Anderson said.
Donna Turner, an epidemiologist with CancerCare Manitoba, said after rates of bladder, lung and kidney cancer are analyzed and adjusted for age, the difference between Flin Flon and the rest of Manitoba is not significant.
According to statistics from Manitoba’s Cancer Registry between 1996 and 2005, the incidence of bladder cancer in Flin Flon is 15.89 cases per 100,000 — just slightly higher than 11.16 cases per 100,000 for the province as a whole.
The incidence of kidney cancer in Flin Flon is 14.65 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 11.68 for Manitoba. The incidence of lung cancer in Flin Flon is 70.46 cases per 100,000 — higher than the 60.28 per 100,000 for Manitoba.
While Turner cautioned that the numbers shouldn’t cause alarm, she said it’s still something important to watch.
“I think people shouldn’t be hugely panicked by the numbers,” Turner said. “But It’s something we’d want to keep our eye on certainly, at CancerCare.”