Love Canal Study Plan and Progress

Updates on Committee Activities

When we met with the Committee in September 2003, we reported that DOH is committed to completing the follow-up health study. The Committee and community consultants have agreed to continue serving in their critical advisory roles.

The use of teleconferencing and videoconferencing was suggested as a way to continue Committee involvement. People who attended the September meeting were invited to participate in a December 2003 teleconference to discuss the cancer study and a serum report. Participants were included in the pre-conference mailings and in the conference call. A second teleconference was held in June 2004 to discuss the serum result letters and fact sheet.

The use of teleconferences opens the door for residents who can't attend meetings to participate. Those who live far away and are interested in the technical discussion can dial in to a toll-free number from their home phone. Meetings likely will be no more than one or two hours.

At the September 2003 meeting, DOH also discussed the cancer study and the mortality study with the Committee. Both studies are close to completion. The Committee provided advice on reporting mortality results to our funding agency, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). We reviewed possible options for choosing another comparison group for the cancer incidence study. The Committee helped to select an alternate group. The new data comparison was reported and discussed in the December 2003 conference call. (See article entitled, "Additional Comparison Group for Cancer Analysis" for more information.)

We reported the conclusion of an independent review of the serum freeze-thaw study to the Committee. The reviewers sent their report to us the day before the September meeting, so follow-up discussions were held during the December conference call. The reviewers helped to identify strengths and weaknesses associated with the serum analysis project, including a possible impact from thawing of the archived serum samples.

We discussed ways to continue keeping the community and the Committee involved until the study results are reported. We advised the Committee and community members that we expect to report to ATSDR in 2004 on the mortality and cancer studies, and that we are preparing to send participants their individual serum analysis results. The remaining two parts of the study (reproductive and review of the sera results) will be reported when complete.

The Committee, and our community consultants in particular, offered their insight about reporting the blood serum results to the individual participants and to the rest of the study group.

About the Reproductive Health Study

Some of the preliminary reproductive data are summarized below. The preliminary data have not yet been reviewed by Committee members or interpreted using a scientific peer-review process. ATSDR, our funding agency, requires that the study findings and interpretation undergo a scientific peer review before the study and its results can be considered completed. We urge you to stay involved and informed about the next steps. That will help us in finalizing the study.

The reproductive study focused on several types of outcomes among babies born to Love Canal mothers. We located first generation children; these are children whose mothers moved into the community any time before the child was born. We matched 980 mothers with 1,799 births using available databases (NYS Health Department's Vital Records and Congenital Malformations Registry) for the period 1960 to 1996.

Data collection and reporting methods changed periodically over the years. For example, the Bureau of Vital Records changed the way it reported birth weight and gestational age in 1968. In addition, the Congenital Malformations Registry's first complete year of data was not until 1983. We were able to obtain about 75 percent of Love Canal birth records between 1960 and 1982 and review them for birth defect reports. We have not reviewed records of non-Love Canal births for that same period to identify birth defects, so we don't have similar data for another community.

Next Steps

Every epidemiological study has limitations. If an effect could not be found, it could mean there was none or it might indicate that we could not identify one. In addition, observing an effect does not prove a relationship existed between any potential exposure and the health effect.

We will present the data to our committee of experts at the September meeting so that they can provide us with their ideas and suggestions. We will also ask the community advisors for their advice about appropriate outreach efforts and for other ways to continue to stay in touch with the Love Canal community.

Please contact us with any comments you may have about the study. If you have health-related concerns, we encourage you to see your health care provider. Your local health department has information about available health services in your community. In addition, NYSDOH staff are available to answer your questions or consult with your provider if needed.

Some Preliminary Reproductive Health Study Data
Birth Data (Years) Love Canal Niagara County Upstate New York
Average Birth Weight
(pounds, ounces; 1968-1996)
7 lb, 7 oz 7 lb, 6 oz 7 lb, 7 oz
Percent female babies
(1960-1996)
51% 49% 49%
Percent male babies
(1960-1996)
49% 51% 51%
Percent low birth weight babies
(1960-1996)1
5% 6% 6%
Percent premature babies
(1968-1996)2
8% 9% 8%
Percent babies small for term of
pregnancy (1968-1996)3
9% 10% 9%
Percent babies born with birth defects
(1983-1996)4
3% 2% 2%

  1. Low birth weight babies weigh less than 5 lb, 8 oz.
  2. Premature births are defined as pregnancies less than 37 weeks long.
  3. Babies are considered small for term of pregnancy if their weight falls within the lower 10% of all babies born with the same number of weeks' gestation.
  4. Birth defects are select major structural malformations reported to the New York State Congenital Malformations Registry.

The New York State Congenital Malformation Registry was one data source used as part of the Reproductive Health Study. More information on the Congenital Malformations Registry is available in the brochure entitled Striving for Healthy Births.

How to Contact Us
Center for Environmental Health
Study contact: Charlene Spampinato
Phone: 518-402-7530 or 1 (800) 458-1158
Fax: (518) 402-7539
E-mail: ceheduc@health.state.ny.us
Mail: Flanigan Square, 547 River Street Rm. 316, Troy, NY 12180-2216

Additional Comparison Group for Cancer Analysis

Previously, cancer incidence rates for residents of the Love Canal community were compared to rates for upstate New York and Niagara County. The state rates are more stable because of large numbers, and don't change due to local reporting variations. The county comparison group is more likely to be similar to the Love Canal group for factors that affect cancer except for potential environmental exposure. We felt that using both state and county rates for comparison allowed us to interpret findings more completely than using either group by itself.

One of the community consultants to the Expert Advisory Committee suggested that a third comparison group be chosen for the cancer analysis. The resident questioned how Love Canal residents' cancer rates compared to residents in a county with less industrial activity and fewer hazardous waste sites. At the September 2003 meeting, we presented information about several counties that have a low density of sites. Not unexpectedly, these counties have lower population and a different employment mix than Niagara County. The consultant and DOH researchers selected six rural counties to use as an additional comparison group for the cancer study. The results were presented and discussed at the December conference call. Love Canal cancer rates were slightly lower than the rates in the alternate comparison group.

Study Funding

Funding for the health study was scheduled to expire at the end of March 2004. In May, ATSDR extended the study period until the end of September 2004, and authorized the use of unspent funds allocated for the study. We are continuing to work on the study while we explore additional funding opportunities.

Love Canal Expert Advisory Committee Meeting

<Everyone is welcome to attend all or part of these open meetings.

The Quality Inn, 240 Rainbow Boulevard, Niagara Falls, NY.

<Monday, September 13.

<Tuesday, September 14.