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Cancer study has East Side residents up in arms

Thomas O'Neil-White

Feelings of anger and abandonment rang out across the auditorium of the Buffalo Museum of Science Tuesday evening, as representatives the New York State Department of Health held a public meeting to discuss their report on cancer levels across the state.

The study found elevated levels of cancer in the neighborhoods bordering East Buffalo and West Cheektowaga.

Deputy Commissioner of Public Health Brad Hutton said four of the cancers found in the study are a byproduct of smoking cigarettes.

“What we found here in the local community is that nearly 30% of adults smoke regularly,” he said, “compared with around 14%-15% statewide.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced two initiatives related to cancer prevention. One is providing $675,000 in funding over three years for a prevention grant program. The other is a workgroup chaired by Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Erie County Department of Health to enact strategies to address tobacco use in the area.

Credit Thomas O'Neil-White
State Deputy Commissioner of Public Health Brad Hutton

Local residents weren’t buying it, saying the state was essentially blaming them for getting cancer. Many of them, including Delevan-Grider resident Virginia Golden, said the state is ignoring a much larger issue to absolve themselves of blame.

“Our home soil is contaminated with PCB toxin,” she said, “and we don’t know where it’s coming from.” 

Golden suspects the soil contamination could be related to the old General Motors plant at 1001 East Delevan Ave.

“UB scientists, chemists, went two inches down,” she said. “We want them to go from two to 12 inches down and test the soil and find out where this PCB is coming in.”

Many members of the audience chastised Hutton, and by extension Cuomo, for putting money - in this case, $650,000 - toward more studies, instead of direct action to combat long-standing issues like the lack of supermarkets on the East Side of Buffalo.

The general feeling among East Side residents was that the state report is re-victimizing them for being poor and living where they live.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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