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High Incidence Seen in Most Polluted Areas

Cancer casts its darkest shadow across Delaware's most heavily industrialized and traffic-choked neighborhoods.

While state officials cautioned against speculation about potential causes, each of the clusters identified in the state report to be released today was found in an area with clear environmental burdens, from industrial and farm pollution to jammed and smog-laced interstate highways to heavy reliance on shallow, private groundwater supplies that are vulnerable to contamination.

"I do not think the health department has been moving in the fastest way, but I'm glad to see this report come out," said John J. Austin Jr., a Rehoboth Beach area resident who led demands for an investigation into a Millsboro area cancer cluster last year.

Ann Tucker, a Hamilton Park resident who is part of a group now in court over industrial contamination escaping from industrial sites near the Port of Wilmington, suspects pollution may be causing some of the cancers.

"I'm sure that pollution has something to do with it," Tucker said. "It's been a problem in our community for a long time. "I have a child care, and the state came out and put cement over part of my yard. They're saying now that it's not that bad, but we still have questions."

Others called for caution.

"The tendency among all Americans to point a finger at smokestacks is oftentimes just wrong," said John A. Hughes, secretary of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "It's part of a larger picture, and the larger picture always includes lifestyle and home exposures."

DNREC and the Division of Public Health are exploring prospects for a study of Delaware residents' exposure to harmful compounds from a wide range of sources, Hughes said. He cautioned that the work, to be pursued through the state's Cancer Consortium, could be expensive and was unlikely to be approved this year.

"We want to make sure we're solving a cancer problem, not conducting an environmental crusade," Hughes said.

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