Wednesday, March 26, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Death rates higher in Pier
Women living near steel plant susceptible to lung cancer - study

By Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau

Sydney - Whitney Pier women have logged the highest death rates from lung and heart diseases in the Sydney area, says a new study by Health Canada.

Pierre Band and Michel Camus, both from Quebec, released findings Tuesday of a mortality study ordered by the Joint Action Group, which shows deaths among women from respiratory disease, and deaths of both sexes from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease were statistically greater in Whitney Pier than in the rest of Sydney.

The study looked at where the dead lived, based on their last known postal code, in relation to the stacks that released toxic dust plumes from the government-run coke ovens and Sydney Steel plant from 1961 to 1988. The two industrial sites operated for more than a century with no pollution controls.

"It's a red flag," Mr. Camus said at a media briefing near suppertime Tuesday.

Among women of Whitney Pier, the rate of death from lung cancer associated with airborne pollution was almost double that of women living south of Sydney, near Sydney River.

There were 31 per cent more deaths from cardiovascular disease among women in Whitney Pier than women in the rest of Sydney, where the rate was one in 100,000, or about the national average. Respiratory disease claimed 54 per cent more Whitney Pier women than the national rate of one per 100,000.

In all, there were 310 more deaths than would have been expected, say the scientists.

"The significant increase in lung cancer mortality among women in Whitney Pier suggests the possibility of an environmental exposure as a risk," Mr. Band said.

"The significant increase in diseases of the cardiovascular and of the respiratory systems strengthen that suggestion."

But the rest of Sydney didn't escape.

Higher than normal death rates were also recorded for every part of the former city of Sydney, from the historical business district in the north end to its southern residential areas along Cottage Road.

The number of Sydney men who died of heart disease and lung cancer was 22 per cent higher than the national average.

A Health Canada official told the news briefing that anybody in Sydney who lived through the heyday of pollution should seek advice from a physician.

Mr. Camus and Mr. Band suggested an additional study would show whether the death rates have been getting closer to the norm since the industrial sites closed.

Sydney Steel shut down in 2000, while the coke ovens stopped production in 1988, three years after Health Canada scientists warned the province that Sydney would see more residents die if it continued to operate without pollution controls.

"Because the (coke ovens) plant shut down more than 15 years ago - (they were) the main source of air pollution - you should theoretically see a decline now," Mr. Camus said.

Air emissions studies from 1970 indicate 521 tonnes of dust fell on every square kilometre of Sydney in the month of January alone.

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