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Open Access Research article

Cancer mortality in a Chinese population surrounding a multi-metal sulphide mine in Guangdong province: an ecologic study

Mao Wang1, Hong Song1*, Wei-Qing Chen2, Ciyong Lu2, Qianshen Hu1, Zefang Ren2, Yan Yang1, Yanjun Xu3, Aiming Zhong4 and Wenhua Ling5*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China

2 Department of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China

3 The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of Guangdong province, Guangzhou 510300, China

4 The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of Wengyuan County, Shaoguan 512600, China

5 Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510080, China

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:319  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-319

Published: 16 May 2011

Abstract

Background

The Dabaoshan mine in the southeast of Guangdong Province, China, is at high risk of multi-metal pollutant discharge into a local river (Hengshihe) and the surrounding area. Following approximately 30 years of exposure to these metals, little is known regarding the subsequent health effects and risks for the local residents. In our present study, we have estimated the relationships between long-term environmental exposure to multiple heavy metals and the risk of cancer mortality in a Chinese population in the vicinity of Dabaoshan.

Methods

An ecologic study was performed. Between 2000-2007, a total population of 194,131 lived in the nine agricultural villages that surround the Hengshihe area. Heavy metals concentrations were determined in local environmental samples (water and crops) and whole blood taken from 1152 local residents of both a high-exposure area (HEA) and a low-exposure area (LEA). We calculated the rate ratio and standardized mortality ratios based on age- and gender-specific cancer mortality rates for the different reference populations (based on district, county and province). Simple, multiple linear and ridge regression models were used to evaluate the associations between exposure to multiple heavy metals and cancer mortality in the nine villages, after adjustment for age and sex.

Results

The geometric mean blood levels of cadmium and lead were measured at 24.10 μg/L and 38.91 μg/dL for subjects (n = 563) in the HEA and 1.87 μg/L and 4.46 μg/dL for subjects (n = 589) from the LEA, respectively (P < 0.001). The rate of mortality from all cancers in the HEA was substantially elevated in comparison with the corresponding mortality rate in the LEA for men (rate ratio = 2.13; 95% confidence intervals = 1.63 - 2.77) and women (2.83; 1.91 - 4.19); rates were also significantly elevated compared with the rate when compared to the entire Wengyuan County area, or the provincial reference population. In addition, mortality rates were significantly increased for stomach, lung and esophageal cancer in the HEA in comparison with the corresponding rates in the LEA, in Wengyuan County and the provincial reference population for men, women and both combined. Further analysis showed that there were significantly positive correlations between exposure to cadmium and lead and the risk of all-cancers and stomach cancer mortality among women and both sexes, whilst zinc exposure showed no association with the risk of site-specific cancer mortality in the nine villages evaluated.

Conclusions

The findings of this study reveal probable associations between long-term environmental exposure to both cadmium and lead and an increased risk of mortality from all cancer, as well as from stomach, esophageal and lung-cancers.