More than 20 years after the state launched an investigation into a suspected childhood cancer cluster in Wilmington, the Department of Public Health on Wednesday released a study suggesting a link between a formerly contaminated water supply and elevated rates of childhood cancer in the town in the 1990s.
Concerned residents and the Wilmington Board of Health contacted the DPH in 1999 about the suspected cluster in the town's south and west sections, leading to a study focused on exposure to n-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) from a chemical manufacturing facility, which is no longer operating, at 51 Eames Street. That 53-acre property, now known as the Olin Chemical Superfund Site, is the subject of a $48 million Environmental Protection Agency cleanup plan. A secondary analysis involved exposure to trichloroethylene in the water supply.
The study's results "show an association between childhood cancer and prenatal exposure to NDMA, or NDMA and TCE in Wilmington from 1990 to 2000," the DPH said. The department said there is no evidence of increased odds of cancer for children exposed to NDMA or TCE during childhood.
The study found 22 Wilmington children were diagnosed with cancer between 1990 and 2000, including eight cases of leukemia and three of lymphoma. Wilmington's public drinking water is no longer contaminated with NDMA or TCE and poses no known public health risks, according to the DPH — contaminated wells were closed in 2003, and an NDMA-contaminated underground aquifer is no longer used to supply water to the town.
The DPH said it will continue to monitor childhood cancer rates in Wilmington, which returned to expected levels of about one case per year starting in 2001.