One chemical can be crossed off the list of primary causes of a childhood cancer cluster that turned up in an Ocean County community's drinking water in the 1990's.

(Photo by Rosetta Key, Townsquare Media)
(Photo by Rosetta Key, Townsquare Media)

The National Institute's of Health's (NIH) 10-year-study of the volatile organic chemical styrene-acrylonitrile trimer, referred to as SAN Trimer, on rats shows that it's not a carcinogen.

During a crowded public meeting Wednesday night at the Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library, NIH experts described the comprehensive National Toxicology Program (NTP) study on rats, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Researchers gave pregnant rats and their off spring high doses of SAN Trimer over their life span and studied its effects compared to rats that were not exposed to the chemical.

NTP study Principal Investigator Dr. Mamta Behle said the SAN Trimer had no effect on rat survival and, in fact, rats exposed to SAN Trimer survived a little longer. The chemical also had no effect on pregnancy and there were no significant increases in cancer in male or female rats.

"However, what we did find was that it caused an increase in both the incident and the severity of our peripheral nerves, namely the spinal nerve roots and the sciatic nerves in male and female rats," said NTP study Senior Pathologist Dr. Susan Elmore.

SAN Trimer is a byproduct of polymer production, one of the many chemicals dumped on the Reich Farms property in Toms River by Union Carbide in the 1970's, which has undergone extensive cleanup and monitoring.

However, the study's critics said a look at one chemical does not give an accurate picture of all the chemicals,  local families were digesting.

So, why was SAN Trimer selected for the study?

EPA Remedial Project Manager John Gorin said the chemical was selected for review by a work group investigating the cause of the childhood cancer cluster.

"If you go back about 18 years when they started looking at the higher incidents of cancer here, they went and looked at the water. And one group of unknown chemicals were seen consistently at pretty high levels in the water. And that group of chemicals we termed SAN Trimer."

Residents, who live near the Reich Farms Superfund site, wanted to know if their water is safe for their families to drink. To that, Gorin said the water from the Reich Farm site is no longer a problem.

"I mean no one is being exposed to that. The water's being treated and it's not even being used as drinking water. The water is being treated, tested to make sure it's no contaminated with anything and then discharged to the ground."

However, members of the EPA's Provisional Peer Reviewed Toxicity Value (PPRTV) for SAN Trimer acknowledged that childhood cancer rates have been reduced back to background levels following the closure of the wells and remediating of the Reich Farms property.

The EPA said they are using the findings to develop new clean up levels for ground water and soil at the Reich Farms site.

According to its written statement:

"The EPA had set its goal for Reich Farms as "no detectable levels" of the chemical. The Agency now has more definitive numbers based on potential risk to people's health. Based on the scientific information, the EPA intends to establish the new cleanup goals for soil at 185 parts per million and for groundwater at 60 parts per billion."

Get the details of the study on the EPA website.