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DHSS Press Release

Rita Landgraf, Secretary
Jill Fredel, Director of Communications
302-255-9047, Pager 302-357-7498

Date: December 5, 2011


The first phase of the pilot body burden research study for the Millsboro area has been completed by Delaware's Division of Public Health (DPH) and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), in collaboration with Research Triangle Institute (RTI). Funded by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and DNREC, the study is an important first step in the expanded analysis of air quality and environmental exposure levels in humans and the factors that may contribute to a higher than average rate of cancer and other respiratory illnesses in the area.

DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf said the study is a critical component of an overall strategy to empower Delawareans as they make health decisions. "This body burden study will provide the baseline as we move forward in our continuing fight against cancer and chronic diseases across the state and in the Millsboro area in particular. Gov. Markell, the Delaware Cancer Consortium and I all thank the people of Millsboro who volunteered for this landmark study."

Sampling is being conducted over two phases - Phase I in Oct. 2011 and Phase II in Oct. - Nov. 2012. Thirty-two volunteers, who live in the Millsboro area, participated and agreed to place air pollution monitors inside and outside their homes and to wear personal air monitoring devices.

In addition, the study includes comprehensive outdoor air quality sampling at fixed site monitors in the community. These area-wide samples will be compared to air samples taken directly outside and inside participants' homes. The data will help identify air toxins from local sources, as well as from sources outside of Delaware.

"This study takes a new approach to the way we collect and analyze information about our environment and public health," said DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara. "Our existing air quality monitoring network is very extensive. However, this study uses a significantly different type of air monitoring than we have ever done - evaluating outdoor and indoor air quality in the Millsboro area and comparing the results to exposures of the study volunteers. We will use the resulting science to better assess potential environmental impacts to human health."

The Delaware Cancer Consortium recommended the study as a way to better understand the role that the environment plays in the health of Delawareans. Meg Maley, who chairs the Delaware Cancer Consortium's Environmental Committee, agreed that the groundbreaking study would increase personal awareness for all Delawareans. "It's one thing to understand what we might be exposed to," she said. "It's another thing to learn what is showing up in our bodies."

Landgraf said the hope is that over time the data will help the state understand how the environment affects our risk of getting cancer and chronic diseases and, ultimately, to reduce the risk for Delawareans.

From 2002 to 2006, Delaware's five-year average cancer incidence rate was 507 per 100,000 residents, or about 9.5 percent higher than the national average of 462.9 per 100,000. The state's mortality rate of 194.3 per 100,000 is 4 percent higher than the national average.

RTI, a research firm specializing in the areas of health, education and advanced technology, is compiling the data. DNREC and DHSS will announce preliminary results in spring 2012, with the final report available by March 2013.

Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware's citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.