New research has found a link between living near a geothermal plant and higher incidences of several types of cancer. Geothermal energy representatives have dismissed the research as inaccurate.
This research, only recently made public, shows that people living close to a geothermal plant “have higher incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and kidney cancers than others. These populations are exposed to chronic low-level ground gas emissions and various pollutants from geothermal water.” The research further concludes that “as the dose-response relationships were positive between incidence of cancers and duration of residence, it is now more urgent than before to investigate the chemical and physical content of the geothermal water and of the ambient air of the areas to detect recognized or new carcinogens.”
Despite earlier research also indicating this link, RÚV reports that, in an announcement issued by Icelandic Energy and Utilities, geophysicist Ólafur G. Flóvenz and professor and chief physician in oncology at the University of Iceland Helgi Sigurðsson have questioned the veracity of the research.
They contend that there were inconsistencies in the choice of geothermal areas the study researched, arguing that there are other possible explanations for a higher incidence of cancer at these locations. They add that if contact with geothermal water increased the likelihood of cancer, Iceland would have higher incidences of cancer than neighbouring countries, which they say is not the case.
As radioactive pollutants can be found in geothermal water, and the emission of harmful gases necessitates having to recycle and re-filter geothermal water and its by-products, a causal link may still exist.
As it is now, there is a general consensus that more research needs to be done to paint a more accurate picture of what, if any, health concerns are linked to geothermal plants.