Cancer Mortality in a Chinese Population Exposed to Hexavalent Chromium in Drinking Water

Beaumont, James J.*; Sedman, Richard M.*; Reynolds, Stephen D.†; Sherman, Claire D.*; Li, Ling-Hong*; Howd, Robert A.*; Sandy, Martha S.*; Zeise, Lauren*; Alexeeff, George V.*

doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e31815cea4c
Original Article: Toxic Metals

Background: In 1987, investigators in Liaoning Province, China, reported that mortality rates for all cancer, stomach cancer, and lung cancer in 1970–1978 were higher in villages with hexavalent chromium (Cr+6)-contaminated drinking water than in the general population. The investigators reported rates, but did not report statistical measures of association or precision.

Methods: Using reports and other communications from investigators at the local Jinzhou Health and Anti-Epidemic Station, we obtained data on Cr+6 contamination of groundwater and cancer mortality in 9 study regions near a ferrochromium factory. We estimated: (1) person-years at risk in the study regions, based on census and population growth rate data, (2) mortality counts, based on estimated person-years at risk and previously reported mortality rates, and (3) rate ratios and 95% confidence intervals.

Results: The all-cancer mortality rate in the combined 5 study regions with Cr+6-contaminated water was negligibly elevated in comparison with the rate in the 4 combined study regions without contaminated water (rate ratio = 1.13; 95% confidence interval = 0.86–1.46), but was somewhat more elevated in comparison with the whole province (1.23; 0.97–1.53). Stomach cancer mortality in the regions with contaminated water was more substantially elevated in comparison with the regions without contaminated water (1.82; 1.11–2.91) and the whole province (1.69; 1.12–2.44). Lung cancer mortality was slightly elevated in comparison with the unexposed study regions (1.15; 0.62–2.07), and more strongly elevated in comparison with the whole province (1.78; 1.03–2.87). Mortality from other cancers combined was not elevated in comparison with either the unexposed study regions (0.86; 0.53–1.36) or the whole province (0.92; 0.58–1.38).

Conclusions: While these data are limited, they are consistent with increased stomach cancer risk in a population exposed to Cr+6 in drinking water.

Author Information

From the *California Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Sacramento and Oakland, California; and †California Department of Conservation, California Geological Survey, Sacramento, California.

Submitted 9 February 2007; accepted 25 July 2007.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Conservation, or the State of California.

Editors’ note: Related articles appear on pages 1 and 24.

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Correspondence: James Beaumont, California Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, PO Box 4010, Sacramento CA 95812-4010. E-mail:

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.