Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: District, cancer might be linked

What has Patty Grice worried about the Mountain View neighborhood in southern Albuquerque is the high number of people stuck with some kind of sickness.

Grice, president of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association, knows many residents with respiratory problems. Three people in one area family have asthma, she says. She wonders about a number of neighbors who have had or have cancer.

“We have one of the highest rates of air quality permits for the county in our neighborhood,” Grice says. “We’re just trying to figure out if some of the stuff down here is making us sick.”

She says a recent scientific study comparing the rates of cancer in Mountain View to cancer rates in other areas of New Mexico “raised a lot more questions than it really answered.”

That, in part, was the goal of the study, says Chuck Wiggins, director and principal investigator with the New Mexico Tumor Registry. The registry tracks cancer cases around the state.

“This (study) will be our first step in trying to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “This is a blueprint for us. It gives us an idea of where some of the cancers (cancer rates) are a little higher.”

The study shows eight cases of bladder cancer occurring in Mountain View from 1988 to 2002. But given the bladder cancer rates in other parts of New Mexico, only three cases of bladder cancer were expected.

Wiggins said having a higher-than-expected number of cancer cases did not necessarily mean there was a serious problem.

He needs to look at when the cancers occurred, to whom they occurred, environmental conditions and what particular sub-type of cancer it was, he said.

Many cases of cancer occurring simultaneously would indicate something needing further investigation. Many cases of a rare cancer would also raise additional questions.

“You’re looking,” he said, “for something that doesn’t seem to be the same as in a bigger population.”

He said the next study will be completed toward the end of September or beginning of October.

The initial study comparing rates of cancer in Mountain View to rates of cancer around the state was the first of many done as part of a four-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Len Flowers, bureau chief for Environmental Health Epidemiology with the New Mexico Department of Health.

Mountain View was studied first because its community leaders expressed interest in having such a study done, she said.

She said it was also chosen because “a lot of environmental sites” are located in Mountain View.

An environmental site is one that has the potential for hazardous chemical releases, she said.

There are 70 air quality permits for the ZIP code area of 87105, which covers Mountain View and other surrounding land, according to the Albuquerque Environmental Health and Air Quality Office.

That makes it the ZIP code with the third highest number of air quality permits, behind 87107 with 85 permits and 87102 with 101 permits.

“It seems like everything nobody else wants is coming to Mountain View,” said Grice, with the Mountain View Neighborhood Association.

She said the neighborhood has been concerned about environmental health problems for about 20 years.

In 1995, the state investigated contaminated groundwater in the area. There are two Superfund waste cleanup sites in the South Valley, which includes Mountain View.

Isreal Tavarez, environmental engineering manager with the city, noted that zoning plays a major role in what types of businesses locate to an area.

Flowers, with the health department, said more communities will be studied in the future. However, the CDC grant – good for one more year – will not last long enough to study every community in the state, she said.

The grant will be applied for again, she said, but she wasn’t certain it would be won.

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