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Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Apr;111(4):663-8.

Childhood cancer incidence rates and hazardous air pollutants in California: an exploratory analysis.

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  • 1California Department of Health Services, Environmental Health Investigations Branch, Oakland, California 94612, USA.


Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) are compounds shown to cause cancer or other adverse health effects. We analyzed population-based childhood cancer incidence rates in California (USA) from 1988 to 1994, by HAP exposure scores, for all California census tracts. For each census tract, we calculated exposure scores by combining cancer potency factors with outdoor HAP concentrations modeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We evaluated the relationship between childhood cancer rates and exposure scores for 25 potentially carcinogenic HAPs emitted from mobile, area, and point sources and from all sources combined. Our study period saw 7,143 newly diagnosed cancer cases in California; of these, 6,989 (97.8%) could be assigned to census tracts and included in our analysis. Using Poisson regression, we estimated rate ratios (RRs) adjusted for age, race/ethnicity, and sex. We found little evidence for elevated cancer RRs for all sites or for gliomas among children living in high-ranking combined-source exposure areas. We found elevated RRs and a significant trend with increasing exposure level for childhood leukemia in tracts ranked highest for exposure to the combined group of 25 HAPs (RR = 1.21; 95% confidence interval, 1.03, 1.42) and in tracts ranked highest for point-source HAP exposure (RR = 1.32; 95% confidence interval, 1.11, 1.57). Our findings suggest an association between increased childhood leukemia rates and high HAP exposure, but studies involving more comprehensive exposure assessment and individual-level exposure data will be important for elucidating this relationship.

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