Drinking water contamination and the incidence of leukemia: an ecologic study

Am J Public Health. 1990 Oct;80(10):1209-12. doi: 10.2105/ajph.80.10.1209.


An ecologic study was performed to examine the relation between the incidence of leukemias and the occurrence of volatile organic chemical (VOC) contamination of drinking water supplies within a study area comprised of subpopulations differentially exposed to drinking water VOCs (trichloroethylene and related solvents). Populations served by community water supplies were classified into exposure categories according to VOC contamination status based on 1984-85 sampling data. Leukemia incidence data (1979-84) were collected from a population-based cancer registry. For females, the standardized incidence ratio was elevated only in towns in the highest of three exposure categories. No association was observed in males in any of the exposure categories. A Poisson regression analysis of the data, using finer exposure strata, indicated an increase in risk among females with increasing level of contamination which appeared to be distributed evenly across all age strata. The rate ratio for females at the highest exposure stratum for total non-THM VOCs compared to the least exposed stratum was 1.68. The observed association appears to suggest that drinking water contaminated with VOCs may increase the incidence of leukemia among exposed females, but caution is advised in the interpretation of these results because of the uncertainties inherent in ecologic studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Epidemiological Monitoring
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated / analysis
  • Leukemia / chemically induced*
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New Jersey
  • Sex Factors
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / adverse effects*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Supply


  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated