Cement firm cancer links refuted by health board

Reporter:

Hayley Collins

FEARS that Hanson Cement factory is causing cancer in the surrounding communities have been refuted by health chiefs.

For more than 12 months health experts have been investigating any potential links between the cement works in Padeswood and cancer rates in the surrounding area.

Despite grave concerns over health risks from residents living in the vicinity of the factory, at a public meeting yesterday health chiefs said they were confident that emissions from Hanson Cement were not causing cancer.

Dr Roland Salmon, Consultant Epidemiologist and Director of the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre for Public Health Wales, said: “I think it’s fair to say that Hanson Cement is not a general cause of cancer in the community.

“We are not seeing a pattern and it is unlikely that further investigation will change that.”

Public Health Wales launched an investigation last year in response to community concerns.

Last December it was found that Hope, Caergwrle and Llanfynydd had a significantly higher number of people diagnosed with cancer than the Welsh average and other communities in Flintshire.

But, after further investigation covering a cancer diagnosis period between 1991 and 2008, the causes of cancer in the three areas were put down to “lifestyle factors” rather than “environmental factors”.

Breast, prostate and bowel cancer were the main cancers in the three villages and these are generally caused by “genetics and lifestyle” rather than environmental exposure.

A total of 672 separate statistical tests were conducted, 22 of which were identified as “statistically significant results” but on average it would be expected 33 statistically significant results would arise by chance.

Dr Salmon added: “The report doesn’t seem to suggest any pattern at all of environmentally caused cancer in the vicinity of the cement works. For the most part the cancers relate much more closely to lifestyle.”

An investigation into air quality looking into the presence of “particulates” in the air surrounding the factory over a 10 year period from 2001 also raised no concerns.

Dr David Russell, from the Health Protection Agency, said: “We can conclude that air quality relating to particulate matter is good, comparing favourably with other parts of the UK. It is comparable with air quality in a typical rural community or small town in the UK.”

Particulates can come from both natural sources such as sea salt and sandstorms to man-made sources such as industrial emissions and traffic pollution.

The report concludes that Hanson Cement is contributing less that 10 per cent of particulates and air quality was found to be improving.

Despite the positive findings, health bosses suspect it will be difficult to convince the sceptics the factory poses no risks.

Dr Salmon added: “I suspect there are going to be some people that we are never going to convince, but we have had a very good look at this and the picture that’s emerging is reassuring.”

The investigation will continue while experts carry out an environmental risk assessment to determine the nature of emissions from the cement works as well as an occupational health investigation to determine if there are any risks to people working at the factory.

Health chiefs say they have put no time limit on the investigation, but a breakdown of how much the work has cost will not be made public until after the investigation is complete.

A spokesman for Hanson Cement said: “While the company recognises that this is not the end of the study, the information released is good news and we hope it offers reassurance to our neighbours, the wider public and our workforce that the activities at Padeswood are safe.

“We will continue to co-operate fully with the organisation until the study is concluded.”

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