Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Increased Incidence of Cancer and Asthma in Houses Built on a Former Dump Area. (Articles)

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Increased Incidence of Cancer and Asthma in Houses Built on a Former Dump Area. (Articles)

Article excerpt

Twelve blockhouses were built in Helsinki in the 1970s on a former dump area containing industrial and household waste. We investigated whether the exposure to landfill caused cancer or other chronic diseases in the inhabitants of these houses. From the Population Register, we identified 2,000 persons who had ever lived in houses built on the dump area and a similar reference cohort from similar houses elsewhere in Helsinki. We identified their cancer cases from the Cancer Registry, and the other chronic diseases eligible for free medication from the Finnish Social Insurance Institution. At the end of 1998, 88 cases of cancer had been diagnosed, whereas the expected number based on the incidence rates among all inhabitants of Helsinki was 76.1. The excess cases were entirely attributable to males and to follow-up [greater than or equal to] 5 years after moving into the dump area [standardized incidence ratio (SIR) in this category, 1.61; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.11-2.24], and they were distributed evenly over primary sites. The relative risk increased slightly with the number of years lived in the area. The relative risk of cancer between the dump area and reference houses was 1.50 (1.08-2.09), similar in both sexes. Of the other chronic diseases, the SIRs for asthma (1.63; CI, 1.27-2.07) and chronic pancreatitis (19.3; CI, 2.34-69.7) were significantly increased. The possibility of a causal association between dump exposure and incidence of cancer and asthma cannot be fully excluded. The Helsinki City Council decided to demolish the houses in the dump area, and most houses have already been destroyed. Key words: cancer, chronic diseases, cohort study, dump toxins, record linkage. Environ Health Perspect 109:1121-1125 (2001). [Online 22 October 2001]

The Myllypuro blockhouse residential area was built in the 1970s in Helsinki, the capital city of Finland. The area had earlier been mostly forest, but 4.5 hectares had been used as a dump between 1954 and 1962. In 1975-1976, 12 blockhouses and a day care center were built on the former dump site. All these houses were rental properties owned by the City of Helsinki, except one private house. Over 2,000 inhabitants had been living in these houses.

Both household and industrial waste--e.g., from a gas manufacturing plant and a margarine factory--had been dumped in the area. Before the houses were built, the waste area was covered with only a layer of soil, which was one to several meters thick. In November 1998 a depression appeared in the yard of one of the blockhouses. When some soil was removed to find the cause of depression, waste with clear colors and a bad odor was discovered. The waste was subsequently identified as cyanides originating from the former gas manufacturing plant. This finding led to an extensive investigation of the area's soil, ground water, and indoor air samples. Clinical and epidemiologic studies were also performed to find possible adverse health effects among residents.

In this study, we aimed to assess the risk of cancer and chronic diseases among persons who lived in houses built on the dump area and to evaluate whether exposure to dump toxins could have increased these risks.

Materials and Methods

Cohort. We identified all persons who had been living in houses built on the landfill site (dump area) from the Population Register of Finland. From the same source we identified a comparison cohort of persons living in similar rented flats (reference houses) nearby but clearly outside the landfill site. We obtained full residential histories of these persons as well as data on possible emigration or death for every cohort member. Since 1 January 1967, all residents of Finland have a unique personal identification number that is used in all main registers in Finland.

Cancer. This cohort was followed up for cancer through the files of the population-based countrywide Finnish Cancer Registry, which has been operating since 1952, using the personal identification number as key. …

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