Two years ago, UM researchers suggested arsenic might play a part in the states elevated rates of pancreatic cancer. During their investigation into why Florida rates are higher than the national average, the researchers discovered 16 pancreatic cancer clusters across the state.
One was located in the West Grove, near the site of the old city incinerator. In a study published this year, the researchers noted that pancreatic clusters tended to be near arsenic-tainted wells. While arsenic is not known to cause pancreatic cancer, they theorized that just as arsenic and smoking might act together to trigger bladder cancer, the same might occur with pancreatic cancer. While they did not conclude the two were linked, they suggested further investigation. So far, they have not been able to secure funding.
The study was conducted before discovery of the contamination at the former incinerator site and at the two parks. It did not address potential effects from soil exposure.
One of the studys authors, Jennifer Hu, a UM epidemiology professor and associate director of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, declined to comment on the findings.
Clapp said in his 30 years of research, hed never heard of a link.
I dont think its a settled question, he said.
Because they tend to put objects in their mouth, eat dirt and spend more time outdoors, children are considered more at risk for arsenic poisoning.
But just testing for metals in children or adults is not useful without first establishing a baseline. So the CDC regularly conducts its National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to measure chemicals in the population. In its most recent report, it found that the levels of lead found in children had dropped dramatically from highs in the 1970s, when more than 88 percent of U.S. children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. By 2004, that rate had dropped to 1.4 percent after bans on leaded gas and paint.
Arsenic, meanwhile, is also found in very small percentages. But determining where it comes from can be difficult. And because the investigation in Coconut Grove is still ongoing, its hard to reach any conclusions about health effects, said Vorhees, the Boston University health investigator.
The concentrations of arsenic found arent concentrations you want kids exposed to. Thats not the same thing as saying, Oh no, theyre going to have some terrible health effects, she explained. Those metals dont go through skin efficiently they could be covered in dirt and its not likely a concern. But if they accidentally get it in their mouth, thats what we worry about.