Originally created 03/10/99

Research: SRS workers healthier



Savannah River Site workers are less likely to die from cancer than members of the general population, according to the early results of an ongoing study.

But the researcher conducting the study cautioned SRS workers Tuesday that the study's results are very early and could change by its completion.

"The results are really just preliminary," Daniel Wartenberg told SRS workers during a presentation broadcast live across the site. "They are early results. We would hope over the next few months to complete the study and give you the whole story."

Dr. Wartenberg, an epidemiologist for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, is conducting the study on behalf of the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation.

The consortium, funded by the U.S. Energy Department and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, conducts health studies for several Energy Department sites.

Dr. Wartenberg's study found that SRS workers are healthier than the general population, have a lower cancer rate and a smaller risk of dying from cancer.

"People here are much less likely to die of cancer than the general U.S. population," he said. "The numbers are statistically significant, and they're substantial."

The study should be complete in a few months, Dr. Wartenberg said. The study expands upon previous work by epidemiologist Donna Cragle of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, he said. Although Dr. Cragle's latest work studied white male workers through 1986, the new study tracks black and white workers of each gender through 1989, Dr. Wartenberg said.

Although Dr. Cragle's study found a higher incidence of leukemia among some white male SRS workers during the 1960s, Dr. Wartenberg's study determined that the rates since have declined back to normal, he said.

He said he still intended to look further into leukemia deaths of SRS workers to determine whether any link exists between the deaths and exposures of victims to the radioactive gas tritium.

Dr. Wartenberg, who also spoke about the study Tuesday night at a committee meeting of the SRS Citizens Advisory Board, cautioned workers about drawing too many conclusions from the study's results.

"Epidemiology is a very insensitive tool," he said. "We use it sometimes to find things, but basically, it's pretty bad. It's a little hard to say, but not many people know that and they often have expectations that they're going to learn a whole lot more from the studies than we do."

Brandon Haddock covers energy issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.