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Study to find if cancer cluster exists

Health officials in Missouri's St. Louis County plan to examine a potential cancer cluster in the area around Coldwater Creek, a waterway contaminated decades ago with nuclear waste.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a survey organized by residents and released in early 2014 shows 1,242 cancers among 3,300 people who lived near the creek, which runs from St. Ann to the Missouri River.

The survey was begun after residents noticed a spike in diseases among people from the area who graduated from McCluer North High School in Florissant in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Waste from atomic bomb production in downtown St. Louis was dumped in the creek in the 1940s, including uranium, thorium and radium.Cleanup of the creek and other nuclear waste sites is overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers, and that work is nearly complete.

Plans call for St. Louis County to hire three researchers to study chronic disease and cancer rates.

"We need to be able to validate the information, to figure out if it is real and scientifically based, and whether we can get them more information and support," health department director Dr. Dolores Gunn said.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services conducted a 2013 study that found no higher risk of cancer for people living in ZIP codes surrounding the creek, though the authors acknowledged limitations on the value because the data included only residents living in the area from 1996 to 2004.

"The Coldwater Creek contamination really had occurred decades before," Gunn said. "The people who grew up there have migrated to other communities."

The researchers on the new project will try to locate the people and take detailed health histories. Plans also call for them to study cancer registries, medical records and death certificates, Gunn said.
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