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Hanford workers’ cancer rates higher

Sun., Sept. 6, 2009

Former construction employees more likely to get mesothelioma

RICHLAND – Former construction workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation have an increased risk of certain cancers, according to a new study.

The study showed that Hanford workers were 11 times more likely to develop mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs strongly tied to asbestos exposure, than the general population. They were three times more likely to develop multiple myeloma, a cancer found in white blood cells.

The study, published in the September issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, drew on data collected in the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program for Hanford and three other Department of Energy sites.

The other sites were Savannah River, S.C., Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Amchitka, Alaska.

The study reviewed 8,976 workers who had participated in the building trades screening program at the four sites and had an initial screening interview between 1998 and 2004. Those interviews were compared to the National Death Index, which had information only through 2004 when the study began.

About 31 percent of the people in the study – 2,779 workers – had done construction work at Hanford, and 94 of the 266 Hanford workers who had died had died of cancer.

That is 14 more cancer deaths than would be expected in the general U.S. population, said Knut Ringen, of Stoneturn Consultants in Seattle, one of the authors of the study.

Hanford workers also had an elevated risk of multiple myeloma, which could be linked to workplace radiation exposure, he said.

Ringen said the exposures that may have caused the workers’ cancers likely occurred 20 to 30 years ago, and worker safety and health protection have improved since then.


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