Local News

Chatham: Bynum cancer problem resolved years ago

Posted March 30, 2011 11:54 a.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2011 6:24 p.m. EDT

— Testimony presented Tuesday to the U.S. Senate about a cluster of cancer cases in Bynum reflects a problem that was resolved years ago, Chatham County Health Director Holly Coleman said Wednesday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council presented research to a Senate committee identifying 42 sites nationwide where the group wants the government to investigate the potential effects of toxic chemicals on human health, including Bynum and the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base.

The research cites a 1990 study that found above-average cancer rates in the Bynum area from 1980 to 1985. The report links the higher cancer rates to residents who drank untreated water from the Haw River from 1947 to 1976.

Residents were advised to stop drinking river water, and Pittsboro made treated water available to Bynum residents around the same time, Coleman said.

The NRDC report did not provide any health data after 1985 from Bynum or Chatham County.

Luke Barrow moved to Bynum ten years ago, but he said Thursday that he was warned before then about the town's past.

"Old-timers in other parts of the county said. 'Don't live there. There's bad water. You'll get sick,'" Barrow said. "I did a little research and found that really wasn't the case."

The cancer incidence rate in Chatham County for the most recent five-year period reported was 375.3 per 100,000 population, compared with the state rate of 495.2 per 100,000 population, Coleman said.

“Cancer rates in that area of the county may have been an issue in 1980-85 as a result of the water source problem in the mid-century, but we have no data to support a higher rate of cancer in the county or in Bynum at this time,” she said in a statement.

Elaine Chioso, executive director for the Haw River Assembly, said the group's study on pollutants in the Haw River years ago is what sparked the report cited in Congress.

"It was something terrible that happened, and it's in the past," Chioso said Thursday. "I'd say there is great reluctance to talk about it now."

Coleman said the county health department hasn't received any reports or concerns about cancer from the Bynum community.

Congress is considering legislation to improve how suspected clusters of diseases are investigated and documented.

Chioso said she hopes revisiting Bynum's painful past will keep what happened there from becoming another town's future.

"There should just be a system that says, 'Come look and help us,'" she said.