February 6, 2006

Houston starts study of local pollution, cancer

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The city of Houston is underwriting
"the first step" of a study toward determining whether cancer
is linked to pollution from Texas petrochemical plants, health
officials and a researcher said on Monday.

The study, based on data already collected by Texas state
agencies on cancer cases and pollution, cannot prove if the
pollution caused the cancers.

"This is really the first step," said Ann Coker, associate
professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of
Public Health in Houston, who is doing the study. "We don't
know if there is a relationship."

Coker said Houston cancer cases reported to the Texas
Cancer Survey will be examined along with pollution data taken
by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality looking at
substances shown to cause cancer in workers.

The study is scheduled to be completed this summer and will
compare the Houston data with information from Dallas, which is
of comparable size but has different industries. The city is
also financing a similar study on asthma cases in Houston.

More extensive and detailed research would be required to
prove a definitive link between the pollution and cancer, said
Raouf Arafat, assistant director of the office of surveillance
and public health preparedness in the Houston Department of
Health and Human Services.

"We're trying to see if we have to say, 'let's do some more
research,"' Arafat said.

Few studies of the impact of petrochemical industry
pollution and public health have been done in the United
States. However, extensive research has been carried out on the
effect of petrochemicals on industry workers.