The REPUBLICAN & Herald, © 2004

June 9, 2004

The outbreak of three, possibly four, cases of a rare cancer in one neighborhood located near a Superfund site is a frightening situation.
Cool heads need to prevail and a full investigation needs to be conducted before conclusions are drawn. However, even a preliminary, cursory examination of the facts renders a grim outlook.

Polycythemia Vera is an uncommon disease that causes the blood to thicken due to an increase in red blood cell production caused by damage to the body’s red blood cell producing tissues – bone marrow. It is very rare. Fewer than one in every 200,000 people contract this illness.

In spite of its rarity, three people who live along Ben Titus Road in Rush Township – Betty and Lester Kester, and their neighbor, William Hinkle, who lives a mere 100 yards away from the Kesters – have all been diagnosed with the condition.

Moreover, a relative of Hinkle who also lives on Ben Titus Road is being treated for a thickening of the blood. Although Polycythemia Vera has not been diagnosed, that outcome is a possibility.

The likelihood of such a rare disease striking three people in the same area is so small that a common cause of all three is a logical deduction. It seems more likely than pure chance.

The disease has been linked to exposure to benzene and organic solvents.

The three victims live near a Superfund site where, in 1978 and 1979, an estimated 7,000 drums and six above-ground tanks contained volatile organic compounds (the DEP is vague, so it isn’t certain if the organic compounds are benzene or something else.)

In addition, there are rumors of hazardous materials being illegally dumped down old mining holes on the Superfund site.

The water supply in the victims’ homes comes from deep wells that draw from 50 to 125 feet beneath the surface.

A possible chain of events would be that organic compounds on the Superfund site contaminated the water-supply and subjected the Kesters, Hinkle and possibly other people, to cancer.

Although this is a logical deduction, it remains to be proven.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reports that it has tested four residential wells in the area and has found nothing to indicate contamination.

Moreover, no illegal dumping has ever been documented.

This leaves open the following possibilities:
o It is all just coincidence – and yes, coincidences do happen.
o There is another, non-Superfund site cause.
o The Superfund site is the cause but further investigation is needed to determine this.

This investigation needs to proceed with all possible speed so the Kesters and Hinkle, and whoever else may develop this terrible disease can receive justice if the illness could have been avoided by proper management of dangerous chemicals.