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Study Links Proximity to Texas Refineries with Cancer

A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has determined Texans who live close to oil refineries have a significantly increased risk of developing cancer.  

The research was conducted by a team from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston consisting of scientists, physicians, and students. Information from the Texas Cancer Registry and Census between 2001 and 2014 was used to determine cancer rates among people living within 30 miles of 28 active oil refineries in the state. 

What the Study Found About Cancer Rates Near Texas Refineries 

The study found an obvious link between refineries and cancer cases of all types. It determined that, out of the 800,000 cancer cases during the studied period, 34 percent of them occurred with people living near oil refineries. The closer a person lived to a refinery, the more likely they were to have an advanced cancer diagnosis. Those who lived within 10 miles of a refinery were more at risk than those who lived between 21 and 30 miles from one. 

Stephen Wiliams, chief of urology and a professor at UTMB, co-authored the study. He hopes that the research will encourage owners of Texas oil refineries to work toward understanding the source of illness among their workers. 

“There have been studies that have been done, particularly by the individual oil refineries themselves with their own employees, and there are data to suggest increased cancer among those particular individuals when they compare to the general population,” Williams said to the Houston Chronicle. “But these have either been done not recently, and then [it] also begs the question of whether or not they would allow investigators such as ourselves to look into this a little bit further.” 

What Refineries Are Linked to Cancer in Texas? 

While the study doesn’t specifically name what refineries had increased cases of cancer near them, it provides a heat map that shows where cases were concentrated between 2001 and 2014. It shows that specific types of cancers are clustered around areas with a significant number of oil wells.  

Cancers most common in refinery areas included: 

  • Lymphoma 
  • Bladder cancer 
  • Breast cancer 
  • Lung cancer 
  • Prostate cancer 
  • Colon cancer 

Specifically, these cancers were prevalent in the southeast areas of Texas, including Houston and other energy hubs in the region. Now, the researchers are hoping to explore these statistical findings further with more research.  

The team also noted that there are socioeconomic factors that are involved with the report’s findings. Those who lived within 10 miles of a refinery between 2001 and 2014 were more likely to live below the poverty line. This means that individuals at the highest risk for developing cancer are also more likely to receive an advanced diagnosis because of inhibited access to medical care.  

“[The study] is hypothesis-generating,” Williams commented. “It stimulates further research questions. And it really, I believe, provokes further individual-level assessments, where whether we're looking at the epidemiologic or the individual level, looking at specific toxicology fieldwork, or the soil or environment in these areas itself.” 


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