No cancer cause pinpointed in Oroville cluster

Health officials do not find ‘common factor’

Orovillians hoping to know why so many folks in their community died of pancreatic cancer in 2004 and 2005 got no satisfaction last week, when the state Department of Public Health released a report saying its extensive study of the unusual cluster had “found no common factor among the cases that could possibly account for an excess of pancreatic cancers.”

The chief suspect had been the abandoned Koppers wood treatment plant, a former Superfund site because of the large amounts of the carcinogenic wood preservative pentachlorophenol and other toxins spilled there over several decades. Some of the chemicals were found in local drinking water wells.

But only one of the 33 deceased people studied had worked at the plant, and he was also the only one who might have consumed contaminated well water. Other factors—diabetes, family history, obesity, smoking and occupational exposures to chemicals—could have been just as significant, the report concluded.