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IL Department of Public Health Says “It Is Possible” That Contaminated Drinking Water In Crestwood Caused Cancer Increase

On March 5th, the Illinois Department of Public Health released a study entitled “Incidence of Cancer in the Village of Crestwood, (Cook County) Illinois 1994-2006.”

In response to concerns about cancer incidence in Crestwood related to the contamination of the area’s drinking water system with probable or known cancer-causing chemicals, a cancer assessment was initiated by the Illinois State Cancer Registry, Illinois Department of Public Health.  “The assessment identified several cancers as significantly elevated in Crestwood: lung cancer in males and females (standardized incidence ratio, SIR=1.34 in males; SIR=1.35 in females), kidney cancer in males (SIR=1.92), and most gastrointestinal (GI) cancers in males: oral cavity and pharynx (SIR=1.73), esophagus (SIR=2.00) and colon-rectum (SIR=1.40).  GI cancers, as a combined group that includes oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, stomach and colorectal cancers, were also significantly elevated among males when assessed collectively (SIR=1.48).”

The Department of Health concludes: “It is possible that the historical presence of PCE and its degradation products in the Crestwood water contributed to the increase of these cancers.  Due to methodological and data limitations, however, the assessment could not establish with certainty this relationship, nor rule out such a possibility.  Future monitoring of the area’s cancer incidence is needed to evaluate possible changes in cancer incidence following the discontinuation of the contaminated drinking water.  Without regard to causation, increasing education and intervention programs in the area to promote cancer screening, particularly colorectal cancer screening, is recommended.”

According to a Chicago Tribune article, a contaminated well was shut off by an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency order in 2007.  An EPA test performed in 2007 found that the well’s water was contaminated with twice the legal limit of vinyl chloride, a chemical linked with cancer that is considered dangerous at any level of exposure.  The EPA also discovered that Crestwood had been piping the water, untreated, to residents despite claiming that their tap water came exclusively from Lake Michigan.

The Crestwood water problem has apparently spawned a lawsuit by the Illinois Attorney General as well as a class action civil lawsuit.

Stay tuned to the Illinois Environmental Law Blog for more news and developments.

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