By Jill C. Whalen
The Standard-Speaker, © 2004

July 12, 2004

The state Department of Health has agreed to do a cancer study to look into several incidents of a rare form of cancer that have been reported along the Ben Titus Road in Rush Township.

Residents in the area are also being asked to fill out studies that have been compiled by the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians.

Many believe that the cancer cases are linked to the site of the former McAdoo Associates, which lies above the hill from the Ben Titus Road.

The area, now a Superfund site, was once used to dispose of thousands of drums of dangerous materials, and residents fear that toxic chemicals have been seeping out of the site and into their wells.

On Monday evening, approximately one dozen residents of the rural area attended the regular meeting of the Groundwater Guardians at the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Nesquehoning.

Three of those in attendance have tested positive for polycythemia vera, a rare bone cancer and acquired bone marrow disorder that causes an overproduction of red blood cells that is usually caused by exposure to benzene and other organic solvents.

The residents, Betty and Lester Kester and William Hinkle, live within 0.4 miles of each other along the stretch of road.

Another resident, who is a neighbor to Hinkle, is showing the beginning stages of the disease, which typically affects only one in every 200,000 individuals.

Groundwater Guardians President Frank Waksmunski explained that recent correspondence from the Department of Health explained that it will undertake a study to monitor current cancer cases as well as document cases of cancer that have occurred in the last decade.

The Department of Health, however, did not say when the study will begin, nor did it say what type of cancer study would be undertaken.

And, the study will not only focus on the Ben Titus Road, but rather an entire ZIP code, since the Department typically conducts studies based on blocks of 1,000 individuals.

“What they’re saying is that there are not enough people up here to do a study that has enough information to be statistically significant,” Waksmunski explained.

Waksmunski said that he fears that by focusing on a larger area, the Ben Titus Road cases will be diluted.

In the meantime, the Guardians are distributing health surveys to residents in the Ginther and Still Creek areas. The questionnaires focus on current and past incidents of cancer or other chronic illness, as well as unusual symptoms, and incidents of contact with hazardous substances. Surveys are to be returned to the Titus Mini Mart, Route 309, as soon as possible so data can be compiled.

“We want to look back to at least 1990,” Waksmunski said. The last Department of Health study in the area was conducted in 1993.

Assisting with the study is Cathy Miorelli, a local resident and nurse, who agreed to compile data for the Guardians. All information, she said, will be kept confidential.

The Carbon County Groundwater Guardians became involved in the matter in August after Betty Kester called to ask whether her well water caused her and her husband’s polycythemia vera. After some investigation, Waksmunski learned of the Hinkle case, as well as the other possible case.

“I said to myself, ‘This seems like an awfully big coincidence – if it’s a coincidence,” Waksmunski recalled.

The group then contacted State Rep. David G. Argall who sent letters to the Department of Health, state Department of Environmental Protection, and the federal Emergency Management Agency, asking for an investigation into the matter.

Soon after, the Department of Health responded by saying that a thorough study of the area was conducted when the McAdoo Associates site was remediated. The study showed that no contaminants were capable of reaching any wells along Ben Titus Road. Instead, the letter explained, all runoff from the site was traveling west and into the Little Schuylkill River. The EPA and DEP issued similar responses.

Not pleased with the response, the Guardians called for a press conference in June of this year at the Quakake Fire Company. There, it was learned that approximately 10 cases of cancer were recently diagnosed along the Ben Titus Road, with a total of 18 cases in the Still Creek area.

The Guardians asked DEP to test wells along the road, but recent results revealed that no harmful chemicals were found on even the lowest levels.

Guardians member Brian Oram, who is employed by Wilkes University in its geo-environmental engineering department, said he studied the tests and believes that they are accurate.

Still, the group also asked for blood and hair samples, illegal dumping studies, and even air quality samples since the McAdoo co-generation facility is also located near the affected residents.

DEP, Waksmunski reported, did not agree to any such tests.It wasn’t until June 11 that Argall received the letter from the Department of Health agreeing to an updated study. Micah Gursky, an aide to Argall, said the Guardians’ persistence likely led to the Department’s decision to do a follow-up study.

Argall, along with Waksmunski and officials from the DEP and Department of Health, will meet at 1 p.m. July 22. The meeting will likely be open to the public, but a location has not been selected.
Waksmunski said that there is a possibility that the cancer cases are not being caused by the former McAdoo Associate site.”Maybe DEP and EPA is right in saying that it’s nothing to do with the Superfund site,” he said and pledged to find out the source of the cancer.