Why is a health study being conducted in Ashland?
Recent information has been reported that children who lived and grew up in the town of Ashland and reported playing on the Nyanza site have developed similar types of rare cancers as young adults. The current study was initiated due to the report of five young men from the same graduating class that have developed various types of sarcoma (rare types of cancers).

What is the Nyanza site and what types of contaminants were present?
The Nyanza site is the location of the former Nyanza Chemical Company, which operated a dye manufacturing facility in Ashland from 1965 until 1978. The Nyanza Company was one of several former dye manufacturing companies located on Megunko Road that operated from 1917 to 1978. More than 100 different types of dyes and dye by-products were produced at the site. Some of the hazardous substances used at the site include acids, bases, semi-volatile organic compounds, and metals. In 1983, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed the Nyanza site on the National Priorities List because of local soil and groundwater contamination from improper waste disposal.
 

Who was exposed to Nyanza site contamination and how did exposure occur?
The populations with the greatest potential for past exposure to hazardous substances used at Nyanza were on-site workers, nearby residents and workers, children who played at the site, and individuals who ate fish from nearby streams. Children had opportunities for exposure to contaminants at the Nyanza site, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s before cleanup began. In the past, human exposure occurred due to the following:

  • Breathing in the air emissions coming from the site,
  • Skin contact, accidental ingestion, or inhalation of site contaminants
  • Ingestion of contaminated fish, surface water and sediments from local waterways

Are there any current exposures to Nyanza contaminants that could affect my health?
Mercury contamination has been found at elevated levels in fish from the Sudbury River. MDPH issued a health advisory for the Sudbury River in 1986. This advisory recommends that individuals, particularly pregnant woman, do not eat fish caught in the Sudbury River. This health advisory is still in effect today.
 

Have any other studies been conducted on the Nyanza site?
Yes. In 1994, the MDPH in cooperation with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted a health assessment for the Nyanza site. The purpose of the public health assessment was to determine the possibility of adverse health impacts from past, current, and future exposures to contaminants from the site. Information about environmental exposures, contaminant toxicology, community health concerns and cancer incidence data were evaluated.

What were the conclusions of the 1994 study?
Review of cancer incidence data indicated that the types of cancer associated with the chemicals used during dye manufacturing (bladder and kidney cancer), were consistent with the types of cancer observed to be more common in certain areas of Ashland. As a result, the MDPH conducted a follow-up investigation, which included an evaluation of more recent cancer incidence data. An expert panel reviewed this information, and upon completion, one panel concluded that the available evidence did not demonstrate that environmental contamination was responsible for the reported number of kidney and bladder cancer cases in Ashland.

It was also determined that because of probable past exposure, follow-up actions at the Nyanza site were indicated. Specifically, the PHA recommended that community health education be conducted and that an epidemiological study be conducted to evaluate increased adverse health outcomes to residents of Ashland.

Why is the MDPH conducting a health study today?
Recent information has been reported that children and young adults who grew up in the town of Ashland and reported playing on the Nyanza site during the 1960s and 1970s have developed similar types of rare cancers as young adults. The current study was initiated due to the report of five young men from the same graduating class that have developed various types of sarcoma.

Does the Nyanza site pose a public health hazard today?
No. The Nyanza site is currently not a public health hazard. The area north of the Nyanza site has been thoroughly investigated by the EPA. The EPA has also initiated an aggressive cleanup plan to eliminate contamination from streams and wetlands that are leaching mercury into the Sudbury River. People are however, at risk from past exposures.

 


This information is provided by the Community Assessment Program within the Department of Public Health.