UB: No environmental cause for cancer cluster on Buffalo-Cheektowaga border

Feb 5, 2020

New York State Health Department data show cancer cases on part of Buffalo's East Side and western Cheektowaga are out of line with averages. Tuesday night was time for a discussion of possible environmental causes in an an area with former industrial sites and hazardous waste areas.

The Buffalo-Cheektowaga border area is one of unusually high cancer rates found in a few parts of New York. State officials have said four of the six kinds of cancer are smoking related and some are food-related. 

On Tuesday evening, University at Buffalo Research Assistant Professor Tammy Milillo said some PCBs have been found outside of the old American Axle plant on East Delavan.

The State Department of Health's Environmental Facilities and Cancer Map shows environmental facilities and the cases of cancer that have been diagnosed between 2011 and 2015.
Credit NYS Department of Health

"Eight of 10 of the residences, which means that there is some prevalent beyond the fence," Milillo said. "We have had meetings with the DEC to discuss these findings. I know that there were others in the community that were possibly concerned about getting the soil tested."

Those 10 samples aren't many. Testing more of them for the 126 chemicals used in that small test would get rapidly expensive. Of the eight-properties where PCBs were found, the levels were well below safety limits.

"I get calls all the time about people who feel we have a cancer cluster in our neighborhood," said UB Chemistry Professor Joseph Gardella, "and I look at that neighborhood and I don't see anything that could be the environmental source of exposure, whatsover. So a lot of times telling people, 'Look, there's no known environmental data to worry about.'"

UB researchers have prepared extensive maps of every known environmentally problematic properties in Erie, Niagara and Cattaraugus counties.

This is the area where unusually high numbers of cancer have been found.
Credit Avery Schneider / Google Maps / WBFO News