Health experts: Hard to pinpoint cause of cancer in Albion schools

February 01, 2019 05:10 AM

ALBION, N.Y. (WHEC) -- On Thursday, concerned Albion teachers had a special presentation on cancer from an expert out of Cornell University and the New York State Health Department. 

It's part of an investigation to figure out why 22 teachers in the district had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

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The cases span 20 years, with nine in the last five years and all of the teachers work in elementary school.

On Thursday night, the experts explained why the problem may never be solved. 

Nellie Brown, the director of Workplace Health & Safety Programs at Cornell University, confirmed there are higher rates of breast cancer among teachers but not just in Albion - it's happening everywhere.

"All over the world we have over 25 studies done both in the U.S. and internationally about breast cancer elevation and teachers, and we don't know why," said Brown.

According to Brown, the everyday person is exposed to dozens of cancer-causing chemicals in everything from shampoos and hairspray to even carbonless copy paper.

The exposure happens from the air we breathe, the food we eat, things we drink and whatever we come into contact with.

"They're used in finishes on paper and clothing," explained Brown. "Benzene, for example, is in gasoline and is everywhere in the environment, measured all over the place."

"You could spend tens of thousands of dollars testing for everything under the sun and not necessarily come up with an answer," added Jim Bowers, an epidemiologist with the New York State Health Department.

Bowers says this is the fifth school he's visited so far in 2019 on the issue of cancer.

A cancer cluster is defined as a greater than expected number of cancer cases among a group of people in a specific place or time period.

According to the National Cancer Institute, out of 576 cancer cluster investigations conducted over 20 years, only three could be linked to a possible exposure and in just one case, there was a clear cause identified.

Despite the slim chance, two-time breast cancer survivor and former Albion teacher Betty Sue Miller doesn't think her case is linked to the school but still feels the district should do testing regardless.

The superintendent of Albion says they will have another meeting to discuss the information provided Thursday night and then it will be up to the school board to decide what actions are next. 


Beth Cefalu

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