Massachusetts finds source of 1990s childhood cancer cluster

A cluster of childhood cancer in Wilmington, Mass., in the 1990s has been linked to a contaminated water supply there, according to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the state said March 24.

In Wilmington, two cases of childhood cancer were diagnosed between 1982 and 1989. Between 1990 and 2000, 22 Wilmington children were diagnosed with cancer, namely leukemia or lymphoma. 

The elevated childhood cancer incidence was likely tied to carcinogenic compounds in the public water supply at the time, and maternal exposure to the contaminants likely led to the development of cancer in their children later on, the state said. 

The analysis focused on exposure to a carcinogenic contaminant called nitrosodimethylamine, or NDMA, that was coming from a now shuttered chemical manufacturing plant. 

Olin Chemical Corp. purchased the site in 1980, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now manages the site and has proposed a plan to start clean-up. 

Childhood cancer rates returned to expected levels in 2001, the state's health department said, adding that Wilmington's drinking water is no longer contaminated but that it will continue to monitor the town's cancer incidence in children. 

To view the full analysis, click here.


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