From the April 10, 1998 edition of the Bulletin

Refinements to Roster, Protocols Delay Worker Cancer Assessment

The assessment that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has initiated with the New York State Cancer Registry to look at the incidence of cancer among BNL employees, past and present, is on target for completion by the end of the summer.

Cliff Strader, an epidemiologist in DOE’s Office of Epidemiologic Studies (OES), came to BNL last January 29, to participate in employee briefings about the assessment. In devising the protocols for the assessment, OES staffers conferred with Laboratory and DOE personnel at Brookhaven. Strader also worked with BNL’s Human Resources (HR) Division to create a computerized database of all of BNL’s current and former employees, who number over 21,200.

Although the original plan was to forward the roster to the Cancer Registry shortly after the meetings and to have results of the assessment early this summer, Strader now expects to send the roster to the Cancer Registry in May.

He explained that three factors have contributed to the delay. First, at the January meetings, some employees expressed concern about their names’ being included on the roster. So, the submittal was delayed at least two weeks to give employees who wished to have their names removed from the roster time to follow through.

One employee did not want to participate, Strader said, and that individual’s record will be removed from the roster before it is sent to the Cancer Registry.

During this period, Strader also began a quality review of the roster, which was the second contributing factor to the delay. “I found a number of possible typos and logic errors, that needed to be double-checked,” he said. For example, Strader noticed what seemed like an unusually high number of employees born in the 1800s. He included that as one of the queries that he has sent to HR, but it turned out that no error had been made: When BNL started up in 1947, many of the new hires were in their 50s and60s, and so would have been born at the end of the previous century. Some of Strader’s other concerns, however, require more work on HR’s part. But Strader says the double-checking is important because, “before we send the roster to the Registry, we want it to be as free from errors as we can make it.”

The third factor contributing to the delay arose from concerns about the assessment’s protocol that were raised by two outside organizations. On March 4, DOE’s on-site Brookhaven Group received a letter from Standing for Truth About Radiation (STAR) asking for an independent review of the protocol. DOE agreed to delay the beginning of the assessment until March 31, to permit the review.

By March 31, DOE had received two sets of comments, one from STAR and one from the Community Alliance for Laboratory Accountability (CALA), an umbrella group of 28 local organizations, including STAR, which was formed in January.

“Their reviews of the protocol seem to reflect the desire for a full study,” Strader said, “and this protocol was clearly not designed to be a full analytical study. That’s because, while DOE can choose to conduct limited, short-term rate assessments on its own, major epidemiologic studies of the DOE work force are selected and conducted independently by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH] to ensure the independence of the studies and their results.”

To this end, he explained, DOE has a memorandum of understanding with CDC and funds CDC to conduct full epidemiologic studies of exposures and health outcomes at DOE sites.

Thus, Strader said, “a study such as the one recommended by STAR and CALA would be performed by our counterparts at NIOSH or by a grantee or contractor selected by them as part of its overall health research program at DOE sites conducted under the memorandum of understanding. Should NIOSH undertake a full study, DOE will cooperate fully to facilitate the research and provide any assistance it can to ensure that workers, the community and other stakeholders are provided with the study results in a timely manner.”

As to the recommendations made by CALA and STAR, Strader acknowledged, “Some of their recommendations are feasible for the cancer rate assessment so we are incorporating them into the protocol.” For example, the protocol is being revised to have the Cancer Registry look at the relationship between cancer rates and duration of employment; compare cancer rates at BNL separately with Suffolk and Nassau Counties, rather than combining both counties for the comparison; and explicitly incorporate additional cancer types for analysis 

As to that last point, Strader said, “Some confusion may have arisen because we presented a recommended minimum list of cancers that have been identified as strongly associated with radiation exposure, but we fully expect the analysis to examine all cancer types if there are enough cases to permit analysis. That determination will have to be made by Cancer Registry staff based on their direct experience with identifying cases from their computerized database.”

This past Wednesday, April 8, Dean Helms, Executive Manager of the Brookhaven Group, met with the full membership of CALA and STAR, to fill them in on how their concerns are being addressed.

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