A recent study has determined that cancer death rates are higher in Putnam County than state and national levels, but lower for all other causes, suggesting that one or more factors that raise cancer risk may be affecting county residents.
In the decade from 1992 to 2001, age-adjusted cancer mortality in Putnam County was 10% and 11% above New York State and U.S. levels, according to a study by the Radiation and Public Health Project, using statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/). However, for all other causes combined, the county death rate was 12% below the state and nation. Out of 1667 cancer deaths in the white population during this time, 330-360 can be considered “excess” deaths.
There are no obvious demographic or socioeconomic risk factors for cancer in Putnam County. It has a highly educated population with an above-average income. With low rates of unemployment and poverty, Putnam County residents are likely to have better preventive health practices and better access to health services than New York or U.S. residents.
One potential cause of the unusually high cancer death rates is radiation produced from the Indian Point nuclear power plant in nearby Buchanan. Since 1962, three reactors (two of which are still operating) have continually emitted radioactive chemicals into local air and water.
A recent study known as the “Tooth Fairy Project,” published in The Science of the Total Environment, examined radioactive Strontium-90 concentrations in baby teeth near U.S. nuclear plants. Of the six nuclear plants studied, the tri-county area near Indian Point (Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester) has the highest average Sr-90 level, along with the area near Limerick in southeastern Pennsylvania. Moreover, the 37 teeth contributed to the study from Putnam County have the second highest Sr-90 average, trailing only Westchester, of all counties in the New York metropolitan area.
These findings indicate a need for further study to investigate any cause and effect relationship between high levels of Sr-90 and high levels of cancer mortality in Putnam County. While Indian Point’s regular and routine emissions are below regulatory concern, new research strongly suggests the current standards are out of date and inadequate.
Judy Allen, Project Coordinator
Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition
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