An abnormally high incidence of malignant melanoma has been found in children around the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, according to California health officials.
A 30-year government-sponsored cancer watch around the lab found eight cases of the deadly skin cancer among children born in the area and 12 cases among young residents born elsewhere, "a significantly elevated incidence" of the rare disease.
That was far beyond the normal incidence of 1.2 cases that would have been expected among a similar population of children and youngsters born in all other East Bay communities during the same period.
It was 2.4 times higher than the 4.9 cases that would have been expected among children who moved to the area after birth.
The state study covered the years 1960 to 1991. It was one of several done around the United States by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in areas surrounding major nuclear research facilities.
The Livermore weapons lab handles small quantities of plutonium and other radioactive materials.
It is the second cancer scare in the region. From 1966 to 1978, health officials found 14 cases of malignant melanoma among laboratory workers. Except for two chemists who worked directly with radioactive chemicals, independent experts investigating the cluster found no clear cause.
The latest cluster is surrounded with the same sense of mystery. The cancer specialists on the study could not say what the cause might be.
It is known that malignant melanoma can be caused by heavy exposure to strong sunlight and possibly by X-rays or other forms of radiation. The disease is one of the rarest but most deadly types of cancer. It occurs most often among adults with light skin.
The study did not find a higher incidence of leukemia or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.