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Cytogenetic Patterns in Persons Living near Love Canal - - New York

Residents and former residents of the area surrounding Love Canal, a former dump site for chemical wastes of Niagara Falls, New York, were recently studied for cytogenetic changes. Frequencies of chromosomal aberrations and/or sister chromatid exchange (SCE) were measured in peripheral blood specimens obtained between December 1981 and February 1982 from 46 persons. Blind analyses were performed with 44 matched control specimens from persons living in another part of Niagara Falls. Two sets of Love Canal participants were included. The first group consisted of 29 persons who, in 1978, lived in seven of 12 homes, directly adjoining the canal, in which air, water, and soil testing showed elevated levels of chemicals spreading from the canal. The second group included 17 persons in whom cytogenetic analyses had been performed in 1980 as part of a pilot investigation supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1).

In neither group did frequencies of SCE or chromosomal aberrations (such as gaps, breaks, fragments, or supernumerary acentrics) differ significantly from control levels (Table 1). Karyotypes were normal in all specimens. In assessing chromosome damage, several factors of interest--sex, cigarette smoking, history of playing on the canal site, and history of attending an elementary school that adjoined the site--were examined as possible causes of cytogenetic variation. History of current cigarette smoking was significantly associated with increased SCE frequency, a result observed independently in studies elsewhere (2). Other factors, alone or in combination, were not associated with any significant increase in chromosome damage. Reported by M Bender, Brookhaven National Laboratory, R Preston, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Center for Environmental Health, Office of the Director, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: In May 1980, results of an earlier cytogenetic study led to concern that chromosome damage might be increased among residents of the Love Canal area. Results of the present study do not support this conclusion and indicate instead that chromosome alteration frequencies are the same in Love Canal residents as in residents elsewhere in Niagara Falls. Interpretation of these findings are limited by 1) considerable passage of time since 1978 when homes adjoining the canal were evacuated and corrective drainage work began at the site, and 2) lack of objective measurements for canal-related chemical exposures in individual residents. Although cytogenetic changes in peripheral blood lymphocytes are known to persist for years after exposure to ionizing radiation, similar persistence after chemical exposures may not necessarily occur (3).

Cytogenetic studies may prove useful in the future in assessing subclinical toxic damage in situations where tests can be done at the time of exposure or soon after, and where individual exposure can be reliably measured. Present experience, however, suggests that, while cytogenetic measurements of this sort may provide good correlations with doses of radiation or toxin, their predictive value for future individual health is quite uncertain (3).


  1. Picciano D. Pilot cytogenetic study of the residents living near Love Canal, a hazardous waste site. Mammalian Chromosome Newsletter 1980;21:86-93.

  2. Carrano AV, Moore DH. The rationale and methodology of quantifying sister chromatid exchange in humans. In: Heddle JA, ed. Mutagenicity: new horizons in genetic toxicology. New York: Academic Press, 1982:267-304.

  3. Bloom AD, ed. Guidelines for studies of human populations exposed to mutagenic and reproductive hazards. New York: March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, 1981.

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