Local residents say something strange is happening in Rush Township near the Schuylkill-Carbon County border.

By Donald R. Serfass
The Times News, © 2004
June 3, 2004

Bone cancer and other illnesses are popping up at an alarming rate along Ben Titus Road.

The residential area is situated downhill from McAdoo Associates, a former mining area where illegal dumping of hazardous waste has created a toxic Superfund site.

“Everyone knows that when we’re exposed to something, it may take years for cancer to show itself,” said Frank Waksmunski, president, Carbon County Groundwater Guardians.

The group set up a press conference Wednesay evening at Quakake Fire Co. Hall to alert residents of Rush Township, McAdoo Borough and Kline Township to what may be a serious health concern.

Dr. Peter Baddick, a local native, was on hand to provide an overview. Baddick has been compiling medical data according to municipality, a method, he said, that he has not been able to find at state or federal agencies. Baddick said the health problem could be serious.

“There were 10 cases of fatal leukemia within a few miles of Walt’s Drive In at the corner,” he said. “Rush Township is a toxic time bomb. You may have one of the highest cancer rates on the planet.”

Also, blood tests indicate that several local patients suffer from polycythemia vera, a rare and acquired bone marrow cancer. According to medical experts, the illness can be otherwise found in those exposed to benzene, or perhaps morticians exposed to embalming fluid, but not normally found in the general population.

Much concern was expressed over the state and federal government’s inability to protect local residents.

Baddick also said that he was told by a State Department of Health official that Schuylkill “is a sacrificial county.”

Waksmunski has been compiling statistics on cancer deaths and current cancer cases in the area near the Superfund site. Attendees at the news conference found the results he presented alarming.

“I have a list with 36 names on it and there are new cancers coming in. It seems to me that we need an investigation,” Waksmunski said.

Some of the 50 residents on hand spoke up.

Tom Kline told attendees that his well water has been tested and found to contain arsenic, aluminum and other worrisome characteristics.

Another resident said he fears that his family’s illnesses are just beginning to manifest themselves.

“I’ve been at Ben Titus Road for 10 years. I’m a newcomer,” said Rick Johnson. “We’ve been having (health) problems in our family.”

Johnson said the Commonwealth needs to conduct an investigation “before I’m a statistic, or my wife or daughter.”

Bob Adams, a 37-year resident of Ben Titus Road, advised attendees that a simple $100 analysis of well water is not sufficient to uncover potential contaminants.

“That analysis does not go to the depth needed,” Adams suggested.

Former Carbon County Commissioner Tom Gerhard said the problems are regional and that the state Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency are ineffective.

“Carbon County and this part of Schuylkill County is surrounded by an industrial cesspool…if you expect any help from DEP or EPA, you’re dreaming,” said Gerhard, referring to DEP as the Department of Environmental Pollution. “They’re not here to protect you.”

Baddick reminded attendees that the problems are not limited to the McAdoo Associates site.

“The fluff pile is still there (in Hometown). It’s PCB-laden and it washes into the Little Schuylkill River where people fish.”

A woman seated in the back row told the crowd that Air Products & Chemicals needs to be investigated as well. She said there are “noxious fumes” emanating from the plant, especially around 3 or 4 a.m.

State Rep. David Argall was on hand and updated attendees on action taken by his office, including notifications issued to the Dept. of Health.

“The state agreed to check some residential wells. We’re waiting to hear a response,” he said.

In addition, Argall will contact the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and will invite the appropriate government officials to address local residents at a future gathering at Quakake Fire Co.

The high incidence of cancer and the high death rates trouble Waksmunski. He fears something might be drastically wrong. Such statistics should be declining, not increasing, he said.

“Medicine is getting better. People live long today with cancer.”

Argall urged affected residents to step forward.

“If you have additional info, if you know of people, we need to know. Is this is an early warning sign of a serious health concern or is it something else? We’ll continue to pursue the specialists until we get the answers,” said Argall.

In the meantime, Waksmunski, of Palmerton, advised attendees to band together and form a coalition to address concerns. Residents took the first steps on Wednesday and will seek input and advice from Dr. Baddick, who is taking the lead, along with Argall and Dr. Dante Picciano and others.

Ben Titus Road is located within a few miles from three Superfund sites – McAdoo Associates, Eastern Diversified Metals and Tonolli Mfg. The three locations were contaminated despite regulations and oversight by the state Dept. of Environmental Protection.

Adjacent to Ben Titus Road is Still Creek Reservoir, a surface water supply that serves residents of Tamaqua and nearby areas. While the Tamaqua water is filtered, some fear that basic filtering is not adequate to uncover the many different potential toxins that may be contained in water from the Superfund area feeding into the reservoir.

It was noted that there were 70,000 new cases of cancer in Pennsylvania in 2003, an increase higher than the national average.