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Monticello cancer study points to uranium mill

Monticello cancer study points to uranium mill

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Monticello residents suffered from lung and stomach cancers at up to twice the normal rate over three decades, a possible legacy of a uranium mill near the town in southeastern Utah, a state epidemiologist determined.

But John Contreras said his study wasn't designed to prove a link between the cancers and dust and contaminated soil from the old mill and that no known technology can make the connection.

"The study has limitations, and we didn't have controls for genetic or lifestyle factors," Contreras told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Contreras examined 156 diagnosed cases of cancer among Monticello residents from 1973 to 2004. From that sample, he determined that cases of lung cancer occurred twice as frequently as among Utah's population as a whole.

The rate of stomach cancers, he said, was nearly as high.

Contreras said he was 95 percent confident that the excess cases of lung and stomach cancer could not have occurred by chance or coincidence. Previous occupational studies have drawn a link between the two forms of cancer and long-term exposure to uranium, he said.

"That's the best science we have available," he said.

Advocates for cancer survivors were willing to make the leap of connection.

"You do feel vindicated," Barbara Pipkin told The Salt Lake Tribune in a story published Saturday. Her husband, Fritz, a lifelong Monticello resident, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004. "The numbers speak for themselves."

It was obvious Monticello had a cancer problem, said Steve Young, chairman of the Victims of Mill Tailings Exposure, a citizens group fighting for federal funding for cancer screenings and treatment for those who have become ill.

"This is just more proof of what we've been saying all along," he told the newspaper.

The Vanadium Corp. of America operated the mill on Monticello's south side between 1941 and early 1960. It produced uranium-vanadium sludge for the Manhattan Project, which led to development of the atomic bombs dropped over Japan, ending World War II.

After the mill's closing, Monticello residents used mill tailings in the mortar and foundations of their homes.

The federal government cleaned up the mill site and surrounding properties in 2004.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, managed to insert a $67,650 earmark in an omnibus appropriations bill recently for startup funding to launch a screening program for Monticello residents.

Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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