Researchers Ask Why Bladder Cancer Rates are Higher Here

Researchers Ask Why Bladder Cancer Rates are Higher Here

Featured Image provided by the UCSF Department of Urology.

Rockford Register Star

June 4, 1989

Researchers Ask Why Bladder Cancer Higher Here

Residents of Northern Illinois appear to be more susceptible to bladder cancer than other people in the nation, and researchers with the Illinois Cancer Council want to know why.

Possible reasons are:

  • Industrial solvents contaminating water supplies.
  • An aging population in Rockford. Bladder cancer is most prevalent in populations over 65.
  • Employee expsure to industrial solvents at work.

Katherine Mallin, an epidemiologist for the Illinois Cancer Council in Chicago, and researchers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford are trying to discover which of those, if any, is responsible for the high than average rate of bladder cancer.

“We don’t want people to be alarmed and to think they have an epidemic of bladder cancer.” cautioned Mallin, principal investigator for the project. “It isn’t that much higher,” she said. “But just because it isn’t high doesn’t mean you don’t want to investigate. There are different patterns of data that are important to explore and times when additional studies should be done.”

In Illinois, about 27 of every 100,000 men got bladder cancer in the years 1985-87, the latest years compiled by the Illinois Department of Public Health. In Winnebago County, about 32 of every 100,000 men got bladder cancer. In Boone County the rate was 34.7 per 100,000 and, in Ogle County was 29.9.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the national incident rate in 1985 was 16.5 per 100,000 (28.5 in males and 7.8 in females.) A report compiled from data gathered between 1970 and 1979 showed only slight increases, Mallin said, and the occurrence of the disorder has dropped regionally since the 1950’s.

Joel Cowen, president of Human Services Consultants, a Rockford medical consulting firm, said he could see no cause for alrm concerning bladder cancer locally. “But it would be interesting to see if elements in the environment are contributing to the cause.”, he said. The study includes interviews with about 300 bladder cancer victims or their families. The major contributors to bladder cancer are believed to be smoking and exposure to compounds called aromatic amines, Mallin said.

The compounds, which include benzidine and 2-napthylamine, are often used as industrial solvents. “Aeromatic amines used in industry are known to be associated with bladder cancer.” Mallin said, “But some of them are not used anymore and there are other supsected risk factors.” Mallin did not know if contamination of Rockford groundwater with industrial solvents was a factor. EPA tests have shown elevated levels of industrial solvents in some Rockford groundwater and the city has closed two wells bacause of it.

“I don’t know that the water is involved.” Mallin said. “We’re looking at a lot of different factors. I don’t know what the risk factors are in Winnebago County; that’s why we’re doing the study.”

Bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer in males and the tenth most common in females. It will cause an estimated 10,200 deaths in 1989, according to the National Cancer Institute. The study which begain in January, should be completed by the end of the summer, Mallin said. “We are nterviewing now and hope to finish interviews in July, then do an analysis.” said Mallin. “Basically, in general, we’re looking at risk factors.” According to Jim Walker of the Illinois Department of Public Health, 11 Winnebago County residents died from bladder cancer in 1987, while 466 deaths from the disease were recorded in Illinois that year.


UPDATE – 6/15/2017

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health website; from 1986-2014:

56,171 incidents of Bladder Cancer in Males statewide

20,267 incidents of Bladder Cancer in Females statewide

Cases of reported Bladder Cancer – National Cancer Institute (from the article); from 2010-2014:

(1) Cook County (Chicago): 1,043 

(2) Dupage County (Wheaton): 221 

(3) Lake County (Waukegan): 160

(4) Kane County (Geneva) : 105

(5) Winnebago County (Rockford): 73

(6) McHenry County (Woodstock): 66

(7) Dekalb County (Sycamore): 21

(8) Whiteside County (Morrison): 20

(9) Ogle County (Oregon): 14

(10) Boone County (Belvidere): 12

(11) Lee County (Dixon) : 10

(12) Stephenson County (Freeport): 10

(13) Carroll County (Mt. Carroll): 7

(14) Jo Davies County (Galena): 6

That’s a total of 239 cases just in our immediate area between Winnebago and Jo Davies Counties in 4 years. Please note that the top 4 Counties are in the greater Chicagoland area. These counties have a much higher population than our area in the Rock River Valley. We have included all of the counties in Northern Illinois to show the comparison of cases per capita.


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Rockford’s Superfund Site

Rockford’s Superfund Site

Rockford’s Super Fund Site

Between 1981 and 1988, water and soil samples were taken by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency when they Began receiving complaints about odor, taste and color to local private and municipal water wells. The results of those tests Caused the IEPA to label this 7.5 square mile area a Superfund Site.

What is a Superfund Site?

A Superfund Site is by definition: “any land in the US That has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a Risk to human health and/or the environment. These sites are placed on the National Priorities List for cleanup.” In an effort to make sure that residents had access to safe drinking water, the US EPA provided those homes with bottled water Until the 547 homes could be hooked up to municipal water services. The IEPA then began the process of studying and formulating a plan for cleanup of three sites in particular in 1991.

Compliance Reviews

The IEPA must review this superfund site every five years in order to be in compliance with cleanup protocols. As for now, they are simply monitoring those homes that are still in need of hooking them up to municipal systems. During 2014, EPA Contractors drilled 48 deep borings along side streets. Soil vapor samples were collected to find out if they pose a possible Risk to residents. The results will be accumulated and put into a technical paper to discuss these issues.

When will it be over?

In 2013 the EPA completed its review of the areas where cleanup had been completed but hazardous waste remains managed on site. These reviews are done to ensure the cleanup continues to protect the public and environment. However, it is important to again note, that not ALL of this area has been addressed. While there are few if any residents who are still using private wells, there are still hazardous waste materials in and around residences. The next review is scheduled for some time in 2018 and no plan has yet been released that cumulatively cleans up this residential area in Southeast Rockford. It has been 36 years since the problem was first reported and as of today, there is still no formal plan of action to clean up this site.


Educate yourself by reading through the rest of our articles.