By Chris Parker
The Morning Call Inc., Copyright 2004
Reprinted With Permission

June 3, 2004

Residents of a tiny Rush Township community near a former Superfund site where three people have been diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease will use political muscle to push government agencies to investigate whether pollution is to blame.

The people of Quakake, about two miles from the former McAdoo Associates metal reclamation and incineration facility, also will form an environmental watchdog group modeled after a Carbon County organization that brought the high incidence of the disease to light in the community.

They also want a medical survey done to determine how many people have cancer or other possibly environmentally triggered diseases, and an investigation into the possible illegal dumping of toxic waste in the area.

About three dozen people gathered Wednesday at the Quakake Volunteer Fire Company to discuss whether the disease, called polycythemia vera, and other cancers they say plague their community, are caused by pollution leached from the McAdoo Associates Superfund site or other nearby industries.

They also urged state Rep. David G. Argall, R-Schuylkill, to continue to keep the pressure on agencies including the state departments of Environmental Protection and Health, and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, to investigate whether pollution has a role in the incidence of the disease in the neighborhood.

Argall said he’ll insist the agency study the situation.

”We’re going to keep at it – that’s all we can do,” he said.

The meeting was called by Frank Waksmunski, founder of the Groundwater Guardians, a Carbon County environmental advocacy group.

Waksmunski was contacted by Quakake resident Betty Kester, who says she and her husband, Lester, have been diagnosed with polycythemia vera.

The disease thickens blood, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and a form of leukemia.

Waksmunski said the disease strikes about one out of every 200,000 people. But it has struck three people – and he said a fourth person in the area has symptoms of the disease – along a four-tenths-of-a-mile stretch of Ben Titus Road in Quakake. The community is downhill from the Superfund site.

It’s not known what causes polycythemia vera, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Betty Kester, 75, who said she was diagnosed with the disease in 2001 after experiencing extreme fatigue and stomach pain, is resigned to the possibility of blood clots, strokes or heart attacks.

”I’m thinking of the children,” she said. ”We’re old, we’re ready to die. But the children that are coming up. Ö I’d like something done for them, if possible.”

Argall has written to the agencies to prompt them to look into the situation. On Tuesday, he read aloud a response from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which said ”no strong evidence Ö supports an association with environmental exposure, although an excess risk has been suggested in embalmers and funeral directors as well as in persons exposed to benzenes, petroleum refineries and radiation.”

The nearby Superfund site is on 8 acres in Kline Township where McAdoo Associates operated its metal reclamation and incineration facility from 1975 until a state permit was revoked in 1979.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the soil there contaminated with heavy metals and low levels of various volatile organic compounds.

The contaminated soil was removed and the site was capped by 1992. The agency reports there was no need for further action. EPA said the geology of the area shunted any leached polluted water west to the Little Schuylkill River.

The government has done health studies that tracked cancer deaths, but they were done within several years of the Superfund cleanup – far too early to chart cancers, which often develop very slowly, Waksmunski said.

The state Department of Health studied the area in 1993 and determined there was no migration of pollutants from the site.

Waksmunski scoffed at that assessment.

”Once water goes underground, you really just don’t know where it goes,” he said.

DEP has sampled wells at four homes along Ben Titus Road, including one belonging to Betty and Lester Kester.

Betty Kester said Wednesday the agency has told her her water is fine.

Upon hearing the report, Waksmunski reminded the audience that ”we are doing an investigation” and that at this point, he has ”more questions than answers.”

He cited several surveys people have filled out reporting they or family members have cancer.

”A bunch of these are on Ben Titus Road,” Waksmunski said. ”We need an investigation.”

Argall asked Quakake residents who have health problems or who know of illegal toxic dumping in the area to call him at 570-668-1240.

”We need to know if these are warning signs of a serious health concern or something else,” he said.

Peter Baddick, a West Penn Township physician, said he has been gathering information on the cancer rates in Schuylkill County and has found they increased dramatically from 2000 to 2003.

Baddick offered to lead the proposed environmental group in Quakake.

”I think Rush Township is a toxic time bomb,” he said.