A Framework for Finding Possible Historic Pollutant Sources: Vance County, NC as a Case Study
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Breast cancer is an important health issue in the United States, as the most common cancer and the second leading cause of death among women. Since genetic and lifestyle factors account for only approximately 25-47% of breast cancer cases, environmental pollutants likely explain a significant portion of breast cancer incidence. The Nicholas School of the Environment and the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Duke University are collaborating on a project looking at environmental causes of possible breast cancer clusters in six counties in North Carolina: Caswell, Durham, Granville, Orange, Person, and Vance. There is a need for identification of possible pollutant sources in the counties, along with construction of a systematic way to find relevant facilities. This paper briefly examines the connection between the environment and breast cancer and aims to construct an organized framework for finding possible pollutant sources with the resources available in national and state databases. Vance County is selected as a case study due to preliminary research indicating its unusually high rate of breast cancer in young women (25-34 years old), and the highest discrepancy between black and white women in fiscal year survival rates. The adaptive process of creating the framework was performed simultaneously with the research for the case study, using peer-reviewed literature, internet research, and meetings with state environmental managers. The resulting framework consists of five stages designed as an iterative flowchart. Using Vance County as a case study, the successes and difficulties presented in the process are evaluated. National and state databases were used to collect facility and pollutant information that might be connected to the breast cancer cluster. The disorganization and lack of information located online hindered the search for historic pollutant sources in Vance. It was difficult to find facility information connected with emitted pollutants. Recommendations on improving the process include the importance of establishing clear goals and limitations, the lack of information found in national and state databases, and a need for overall improved database management. Future research may include field sampling and spatial analysis using geographic information systems (GIS).
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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