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Last Edited: 8/3/2010

Investigation of the Montecito Leukemia and Lymphoma Cluster
Written: 1990


In April 1989, Montecito citizens concerned about what they believed to be an unusually high number of cancer cases among neighborhood children contacted the Santa Barbara County Health Department for help. The county asked the California Department of Health Services (DHS) to collaborate. The investigation confirmed the citizens’ suspicions: six cases of leukemia and lymphoma were found between 1981 and 1988 among Montecito children 19 years old or younger. This number was almost 5 times the number of cases one would expect to see during an eight-year period in a population the size of Montecito’s.

DHS interviewed parents of five of the children (one family declined to participate), but found nothing in common among the children that might have been a cause of the cancers. 

An environmental assessment was also conducted. The Santa Barbara County Health Department researched historical information that might show contamination of the community. Samples of tap water and soil were taken from the homes and yards of the children and from the local elementary school. The state's Hazardous Materials Laboratory and Sanitation and Radiation Laboratory analyzed the samples for hazardous chemicals, and did not find any level of contamination that might contribute to the cancer cases. Members of the community expressed concern about possible health effects from electromagnetic fields (EMF) from the transformer station near the elementary school, and the power transmission lines that cross over the school. DHS took EMF measurements at the school, and found that the highest levels of EMF measured at this site were similar to magnetic field exposures when a person uses appliances (such as a can opener, electric mixer, home computer, television or an office copying machine). The lowest measurements were found in the kindergarten playground.

In conclusion, DHS has verified the presence of a cluster of leukemia and lymphoma cases in Montecito from 1981-88. After investigating many components of the environment that might have any known association with cancer, DHS found no evidence of exposure that would increase cancer risk in the area.


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