Indiana University

Skip to:

  1. Search
  2. Breadcrumb Navigation
  3. Content
  4. Browse by Topic
  5. Services & Resources
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Multimedia News

Last modified: Friday, March 3, 2006

Indiana industrial areas have increased cancer risk

March 3, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Researchers in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University have found an increase in reported cases of certain types of cancer in regions of Indiana where organic air pollutants are more common.

The researchers report in February's Environmental Research that cancers of the skin, brain and nervous system, and thyroid and endocrine system occur at a higher rate in the vicinity of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

"We know very little about how one specific type of air pollutant common in heavily industrialized states like Indiana -- VOCs -- might be linked to the full range of cancer types," said Michael Boeglin, who co-authored the study with Denise Wessels and SPEA Associate Professor Diane Henshel.

Researchers used regression analysis to compare cancer data from Indiana's State Department of Health with VOC emissions data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory. Their study identifies the cancers that occur more frequently in areas with higher VOC concentrations.

VOCs are commonly found in paint, solvents, cleaning products and gasoline, and are commonly used in manufacturing. They evaporate easily, and their concentrations indoors can be up to 10 times higher than those outdoors, according to EPA. To limit exposure, Boeglin suggests making sure areas with these products in them are well-ventilated and using the products for short periods of time. Familiar examples of VOCs are benzene, which is a known carcinogen, and chloroform.

"Landscape-scale analyses, as used in this study design, are being used to identify potential population-level health impacts from widely dispersed environmental chemicals," Henshel said.

The study is correlative, so it does not prove that exposure to VOCs causes various types of cancer. Correlative studies are helpful, however, because they help scientists figure out where to search for such a causation.

"Researchers in the environmental field should continue our work by designing epidemiological studies that improve upon our limitations to better understand the link between VOCs and cancer," Boeglin said.

Boeglin was at IU at the time of the study. He is now an environmental protection specialist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 7, in Kansas City, Kan.

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, located on eight campuses, is committed to teaching, research and service in areas such as public and nonprofit management, public policy, environmental science, criminal justice, arts administration and health administration. The school maintains continuing relationships with a large number of public agencies at all levels of government; public and private hospitals and health organizations; and nonprofit organizations and corporations in the private sector. SPEA has earned national distinction for innovative educational programs that combine administrative, social, economic, financial and environmental disciplines.

To speak with Boeglin or Henshel, please contact Jenny Cohen, SPEA, at 812-855-6802 or