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25 November 2003

COMARE statement on Green Audit Occasional Paper 2002/5
Cancer in Burnham on Sea North: Results of the PCAH
(Parents Concerned About Hinkley) Questionnaire

COMARE has finalised its statement on cancer mortality close to the Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station in Somerset. COMARE has concluded that there is no evidence of a general excess risk of cancer in the vicinity of Hinkley Point. The report from the pressure group Green Audit claiming there is an excess cancer risk in this area is seriously flawed. Given the obvious potential for public concern, groups or individuals making statements about public health have a duty to ensure they are accurate before publishing them. COMARE suggests ways in which this can be done.

The Green Audit study reported the results of a household survey of the Burnham North ward, which alleged that there were cancer excesses (breast, kidney, leukaemia and cervix) associated with exposure to man-made radioactivity via the local estuarine sands. However, a study by the South West Cancer Intelligence Service (SWCIS), carried out at the request of the Somerset Coast Primary Care Trust, showed that the Green Audit study only covered a small sample of the cases arising in the ward. Using the complete cancer registration data set for the ward the data showed no cancer excess other than for leukaemia. When this excess of leukaemia cases was studied, the majority of the extra cases proved to be chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), a cancer not considered by any previous investigators and reviewers to be associated with exposure to radiation.

Whilst the Green Audit report was intended to address the concerns of the local community, and did indeed involve them, it is so deeply flawed that it cannot provide any reliable information or conclusions about rates of cancer in Burnham. COMARE believes it is essential that Green Audit withdraws its report so as not to cause further unjustified local concern. The local community's interest in establishing the facts are not well served by studies with such deficiencies and it is essential that future studies should have the highest possible standards of design. COMARE notes that the authors appear neither to have consulted the local NHS Research Ethics Committee nor to have had the study protocol peer reviewed. If these steps had been taken, the study deficiencies would almost certainly have been pointed out to them. Also, COMARE recommends Green Audit should follow normal scientific practice and submit their reports for peer review rather than releasing their reports themselves without such review. All other scientific investigators have to follow these rules.

Furthermore, COMARE comments on Green Audit's frequently expressed, and totally unfounded, allegations concerning cancer registries. The remarks about cancer registries and the release of data are both intemperate and factually incorrect. COMARE wishes to place on record the fact that it has worked for over 17 years with many cancer registries and other organisations holding medical data and rejects in the strongest possible terms the implication that they cannot be trusted.

The statement was originally commissioned by the Department of Health.

COMARE wishes to emphasise that any organisation or individual dealing with epidemiological data has a responsibility to ensure that the data are correct before publication.

Press Enquiries to Professor Bryn Bridges (Telephone No: 01273-877510)

Notes to Editors

COMARE is an independent expert committee with members chosen for their medical and scientific expertise. The Secretariat is provided by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB). The committee's terms of reference are "to assess and advise Government and the Devolved Authorities on the health effects of natural and man-made radiation in the environment and to assess the adequacy of the available data and the need for further research". The committee was set up in 1985 and is chaired by Professor Bryn Bridges, OBE.

Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment
c/o National Radiological Protection Board, Chilton, Didcot, Oxon OX11 0RQ
Tel: 01235-832447 (Scientific)
Tel: 01235-822629 (Administration)
Fax: 01235-832447/822630
Chairman: Professor Bryn Bridges OBE

COMARE Statement on Green Audit Occasional Paper 2002/5
Cancer in Burnham on Sea North: Results of the PCAH (Parents Concerned About Hinkley) Questionnaire


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