2004.06.05 – RARE ILLNESS SCARES: Superfund site nearby

RARE ILLNESS SCARES: Superfund site nearby
By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief
The REPUBLICAN & Herald, © 2004

June 5, 2004

GINTHER – A report from a Carbon County environmental group claims three and possibly four cases of a rare cancer have been diagnosed near a former Superfund site in Rush Township.

Meanwhile, state Rep. David G. Argall, R-124, is prodding state and federal agencies for a full explanation of the possible causes.

A report compiled by the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, a non-profit environmental watchdog group based in Palmerton, says three people, including a married couple, have been diagnosed and a fourth is undergoing evaluation for a rare blood marrow disease.

“In a situation with a rare cancer and all of a sudden three people get it within less then a mile of each other, that kind of data would concern anyone,” Argall said Friday.

Argall said he had sent letters to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health demanding answers.

Though Argall was approached in March by the environmental group, the information was not made public until Wednesday when a special press conference was held at the Quakake Fire Co. to raise community awareness of the issue.

All three individuals and possibly a fourth have contracted Polycythemia Vera, a rare disease characterized by thickening of the blood due to excess production of red blood cells.

Incidence of the disease is roughly one case in 200,000 persons and may be even rarer, said Dr. Peter J. Baddick, West Penn Township, a local physician and environmental activist.

Baddick said incidence of deaths related to leukemia, another more virulent cancer related to bone marrow regulation of blood production, is also high. He is currently compiling information to attempt to develop a correlation between related health problems and local contaminated sites.

Polycythemia Vera has been linked to exposure to benzene and organic solvents including tetrachloroethylene and Stoddard solvent.

All three individuals live within close proximity to the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site where, between 1978 and 1979, an estimated 7,000 drums and six above-ground tanks contained volatile organic compounds, according to an EPA website.

The Carbon County Groundwater Guardians were contacted by Betty Kester in August 2003 to determine whether she and her husband Lester’s contractions of the disease might be related to contamination of their drinking water.

The Kesters’ water supply comes from a 50-foot deep well that is 20 years old, according to the report.

A neighbor, William Hinkle, who lives within 100 yards of the Kester’s and has a 125-foot deep well, has also contracted the disease.

Another member of Hinkle’s extended family, his wife’s nephew’s wife, Amy Werner, is also being treated for “thick” blood according to the report and was placed on Coumadin. She also lives on Ben Titus Road near the McAdoo site.

Contacted Friday, DEP spokesman Mark R.Carmon said the state agency had investigated the concerns including water tests of four local wells and had found nothing.

He said that during and after the EPA cleanup of the McAdoo Associates site there had been claims of clandestine dumping of hazardous materials down bore holes once related to anthracite mining activity on the site dating back to the 1800’s.

But Carmon said no illegal dumping had ever been documented.

“At this point, I don’t know where we go from here,” Carmon said.

But Susan Gallagher, McAdoo, a volunteer with the Groundwater Guardians, said her organization is currently seeking documentation that illegal dumping did take place at the site.

“The group wants another health study,” Gallagher said.