A case-control study of childhood leukemia in Woburn, Massachusetts: the relationship between leukemia incidence and exposure to public drinking water

Sci Total Environ. 2002 Dec 2;300(1-3):23-35. doi: 10.1016/s0048-9697(02)00169-9.


A 1981 Massachusetts Department of Public Health study confirmed a childhood leukemia cluster in Woburn, Massachusetts. Our follow-up investigation attempts to identify factors potentially responsible for the cluster. Woburn has a 130-year industrial history that resulted in significant local deposition of tannery and chemical manufacturing waste. In 1979, two of the city's eight municipal drinking water wells were closed when tests identified contamination with solvents including trichloroethylene. By 1986, 21 childhood leukemia cases had been observed (5.52 expected during the seventeen year period) and the case-control investigation discussed herein was begun. Nineteen cases and 37 matched controls comprised the study population. A water distribution model provided contaminated public water exposure estimates for subject residences. Results identified a non-significant association between potential for exposure to contaminated water during maternal pregnancy and leukemia diagnosis, (odds ratio = 8.33, 95% CI 0.73-94.67). However, a significant dose-response relationship (P < 0.05) was identified for this exposure period. In contrast, the child's potential for exposure from birth to diagnosis showed no association with leukemia risk. Wide confidence intervals suggest cautious interpretation of association magnitudes. Since 1986, expected incidence has been observed in Woburn including 8 consecutive years with no new childhood leukemia diagnoses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chemical Industry
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Industrial Waste
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Leukemia / epidemiology*
  • Leukemia / etiology*
  • Male
  • Massachusetts / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Solvents / adverse effects
  • Trichloroethylene / adverse effects
  • Water Supply*


  • Industrial Waste
  • Solvents
  • Trichloroethylene