The Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action steering committee has received a five-year update on the Moab Area epidemiological study from the Utah Department of Health. The study, a review of cancer incidence among Moab residents between 1980 and 2014, found elevated rates of lung and bronchial cancer for most of the time since 1980. Lung and bronchial cancer rates fell within state averages during the 2005 to 2009 period, but were elevated during other periods of time.
Men in Moab were particularly at risk: between 2010 and 2014, men were twice to 3.3 times as likely to get lung or bronchial cancer compared to other areas of Utah.
The study notes that smoking is by far the greatest risk factor for lung cancer, followed by respiratory exposure to radon, asbestos, uranium, arsenic, diesel exhaust and other substances. Roughly 22 percent of Moabites smoke, compared to 10.5 percent in the rest of Utah, the study said.
The study recommends that the local health department work with programs such as the Utah Department of Health’s Cancer Control Program and Tobacco Prevention and Control Program to identify screening and health education services for Moab residents.
In fact, several programs to help quit smoking already exist in the area. The Southeastern Utah Health Department offers a free “Freedom from Smoking” class for Carbon, Emery and Grand counties, according to health education director Debbie Marvadikis. They also refer people to WaytoQuit.org, which has a phone line that offers free coaching and free nicotine cessation products like patches and gum.
“[At] the health department in Carbon, Emery and Grand, we can do one-on-one cessation and we work with our WIC (Women, Infants and Children} clients and our pregnant women to help them quit,” Marvadikis said.
There is also a class for youth.
“It’s also a really good social class in that it helps address risk behaviors and it teaches [youth] refusal skills. It’s really hard for kids to say no and keep their friends. It helps them practice those refusal skills and practice ideas rather than just going out and smoking … we’ve met with most of our schools to try to encourage them to, instead of citing the kids for tobacco, to send them to the class, which is a really good fit.”
Marvadikis said that since vaping or e-cigarettes have become more popular, the smoking rate has gone up. The smoking rate includes all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do is to do education on vaping but it’s really hard because right now the FDA hasn’t come out with a permanent statement because they’re still evaluating,” Marvadikis said.
The steering committee requested the epidemiological study in 2012 after a group of concerned citizens approached the committee wondering whether incidents of cancer in Moab were related to the tailings project, said UMTRA Liaison Lee Shenton. The study was first presented in 2013. The study has now been updated to include the past five years.
“Studies of this type cannot definitively link elevated cancer rates to specific risk factors” such as smoking or uranium exposure, a document from the Utah Department of Health states. All they can say is that the type of cancer that was found in Moab is highly correlated with smoking, and the smoking rate in Moab is unusually high.
The full study can be found online at health.utah.gov/enviroepi/appletree/MoabTailings.