Thursday, 25 April 2019

UK residents still opposed: suspected cancer cluster near mast not found


Sandwells Tower

    Study found 15 local cancer cases could not be  attributed to this Orange mast near Meryhurst Road.


Local residents of a small market town in the UK’s West Midlands have vowed to fight on after an investigation, by the area’s health chief, failed to link a mobile phone mast with nearby cancer cases.


Families in Wednesbury called for the probe amid growing concern about their health after Orange installed a mobile telephone base station near the town’s cricket ground in 1997.  

They were concerned too many residents from one street, Meryhurst Road, had cancer since the installation of the mast at nearby Wood Green Road cricket ground.


Wednesbury is in England's Black Country – called this because of the pollution from heavy industries during the industrial revolution covered the area in black soot. It is part of the Sandwell metropolitan borough in West Midlands, near the source of the River Tame.


Sandwell's director of public health, Dr John Middleton conducted the investigation along with Antony Stewart, Professor in Public Health at Staffordshire University and others. Perspectives in Public Health published their report  online late last month.


The researchers collected information from residents’ medical records and spoke to their treating doctors. They also collected the West Midland’s cancer incidence and mortality data, over the relevant period.


The report found 15 local residents had developed cancer, but this was not a cancer cluster because they were a diverse mix of relatively common cancers.


“Although the age range for residents with cancer in Meryhurst Road appears younger than may be generally expected, the cancer incidence rates in Meryhurst Road are not significantly higher. They are within expected numbers calculated in small populations,” the researchers said.


Of the cancers recorded in Meryhurst Road since 1974, most occurred before the mast installation and cannot be attributed to the phone mast at Wood Green Road cricket ground, the researchers said.


“There is no evidence to implicate the phone mast as a cause of any of the cancers which have occurred,” the researchers concluded.

Despite the finding locals told local newspapers they would continue to oppose the base station.


AMTA Chief Executive Officer, Chris Althaus, explained the public often falsely suspect a cluster when they see several neighbours diagnosed with cancer, because unfortunately cancer is not as rare as people tend to believe. 


“Even though they all share the common name ‘cancer’, they may actually include a diverse group of diseases with different causes,” Mr Althaus said.


“Also, the public’s perception of a cancer cluster is that a common environmental source is the likely cause of the disease, whereas the possibility of cancer clusters occurring by chance alone is quite high.” 


“Each year cancer registries in the United States receive more than a 1000 requests to investigate suspected cancer clusters.  Research has found that most of these requests were based on assumptions from the public and not on any statistical analysis or knowledge,” Mr Althaus said.


In a similar case, the residents of the town of Cranlome in Northern Ireland believed there was an unusually high incidence of cancer around a 150-foot transmission tower that they destroyed in 2002. 


However, the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry investigated the claims and found the town did not have statistically higher rates of cancer than the whole District or Northern Ireland.


The WHO has pointed out that: “Given the widespread presence of base stations in the environment, it is expected that possible cancer clusters will occur near base stations merely by chance.”

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