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The online field survey for current and former residents of the Homesteader area closes Saturday, August 31.

Anyone who lived in the area at some point between 1983 and 2017 and is currently 18 years of age or older is eligible to participate. The survey is also open to anyone wishing to participate on behalf of someone who lived in the area but has passed away.

If you have any questions, need translation support, or would like to complete the survey over the phone, please email us at health.assessment@gov.ab.ca or call Health Link (811).

Overview

A field epidemiology investigation is underway to examine the potential factors contributing to elevated rates of 3 types of cancer in the Homesteader area of northeast Edmonton.

A preliminary assessment of health outcomes in areas near the former Domtar wood treatment facility in northeast Edmonton has been completed. This was done in response to questions from local residents who wanted to know whether there are increases in health problems for people in the area.

The assessment compared rates of cancer, miscarriages, and birth defects among those who have or had lived in the area for different lengths of time, to rates for Albertans who had never lived there.

The assessment showed there was no difference for most health outcomes between those who live or have previously lived in the area compared to those who have never lived there. However, there was an association found between a longer length of residency and higher rates of 3 types of cancer:

  • breast and endometrial cancers in women
  • lung cancer in men

These results, on their own, do not indicate why there are higher rates for these three types of cancer. Many factors could contribute to an increased risk of cancer, including medical history, certain medication usage and cigarette use.

To study this further, a field epidemiology investigation focused on breast cancer, endometrial cancer and lung cancer is being conducted. The information from this work will be used to determine what actions should be taken by public health officials to reduce the risk of cancer among residents in the area.

Field epidemiology study

A field epidemiology investigation collects and analyzes health information not already available to health officials. It typically involves a survey of residents that cover things like family history, tobacco use, and other issues.

Field epidemiology investigations have been used in Alberta in a variety of situations, including multiple sclerosis and cancer cluster investigations. Doing a field epidemiology investigation in this circumstance is standard public health practice.

Current and former residents have been contacted by the Ministry of Health by mail and email to participate in a voluntary community health survey. Questions focus on risk factors for breast cancer, endometrial cancer and lung cancer.

This community health survey is available through a secure website. Participants also have the option to answer questions in-person or over the phone.

Topic areas and examples of information requested in the questionnaire include:

  • demographic information: sex, date of birth, and history of residency in the area
  • work history: previous jobs, regular contact with certain chemicals
  • medical history: family history of cancer, genetic conditions, pregnancy history
  • health and health-care factors: previous treatment with radiation, tobacco use
  • external environment: physical access to the railway line, physical access to the former Domtar site, time spent outdoors in the neighbourhood, or sleep disturbance from environmental noise

The questionnaire also includes a section where people can provide further information (for example, on outdoor air quality concerns or other health issues).

Health precautions for current and former residents

Until more is known from the epidemiology investigation, women who have lived in this area for 10 or more years should talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits of starting breast cancer screening at the age of 40.

It may also be helpful for residents to tell their doctor or primary health-care provider about the increased rates of these three cancers for those who have lived in the area for 10 or more years. Your doctor can then take this information into account for your individual care plan based on your medical history and situation

For personal health questions or to discuss early breast cancer screening, current and former residents are encouraged to contact their doctor. To find out where you can access a family doctor or to speak to a registered nurse about health-related issues, residents can also call Alberta Health Services:

Next steps

An information package has been mailed to current and former residents with details on how to participate in the online survey. Residents will also be able to request an interview by phone or in-person. The survey will close on August 31, 2019.

After receiving the survey responses, the Ministry of Health will analyze the data to understand more about what factors may have contributed to higher rates of the 3 types of cancer. A final report will be prepared and released to the community.

If you have any questions or feedback about this information, email the health assessment team at health.assessment@gov.ab.ca.

Preliminary health assessment

The preliminary health assessment that prompted the Government of Alberta to undertake a field epidemiology investigation looked specifically at cancer, miscarriages and birth defects. These particular health outcomes were selected because research has associated these with exposure to the chemicals found on the former Domtar site.

The rates of these health outcomes were compared to those who have or had lived in the area for different lengths of time, to rates among Albertans who had never lived there. These rates were also compared with those in 132 other local geographic areas in the province, including 15 Edmonton areas.

For almost all health outcomes investigated, including childhood cancers, there was no difference in rates among those who live or have lived in the area for any length of time compared to those who have never lived there.

However, among people who had lived in the area for 10 or more years, there were:

  • 34 cases of breast cancer in women (16 to 31 cases would have been expected based on rates for the general Alberta population)
  • 14 cases of endometrial cancer in women (3 to 9 cases would have been expected based on rates for the general Alberta population)
  • 22 cases of lung cancer in men (6 to 14 cases would have been expected based on rates for the general Alberta population)

Geographic area impacted

The Ministry of Health selected postal codes from around the site where the contaminants have been found and then identified individuals who had lived in one of the postal codes between 1983 and 2017. Approximately 18,900 people lived in the assessment area for at least one year between 1983 and 2017. Of those, 2,400 lived there for 10 or more years.

The following postal codes were used:

T5A-1L3, T5A-1V4, T5A-1V5
T5A-2X6, T5A-2X9, T5A-2Y2, T5A-2Y4
T5A-3K6
T5A-4A4, T5A-4A5, T5A-4C1, T5A-4C2, T5A-4C3, T5A-4C4, T5A-4C5, T5A-4C6, T5A-4C7, T5A-4C8, T5A-4C9, T5A-4E1, T5A-4E2, T5A-4E4, T5A-4E5, T5A-4E6, T5A-4K4, T5A-4K9, T5A-4L1, T5A-4L4, T5A-4M2, T5A-4M3, T5A-4M4, T5A-4M5
T5A-5B1, T5A-5B8

The following map outlines the boundary of the residential areas included in the initial health outcomes assessment:

Map of Domtar Study