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

July 22, 2004

Officials from the state Department of Health said they plan on studying rare cancer cases that have been reported along Ben Titus Road in Rush Township.

During a meeting held Thursday afternoon at the Tamaqua Community Center, Department of Health officials explained that they are working on determining what areas will be the focus of the study.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will conduct more tests on wells in the area and will look into performing air quality tests.

Approximately two dozen individuals attended the meeting, many of them from the Department of Health and the DEP.

In addition to individuals concerned about the rare form of cancer popping up along Ben Titus Road, officials from the office of state Rep. David G. Argall, R-124, and Frank Waksmunski of the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians attended the meeting.

The meeting was arranged by Argall upon the request of Waksmunski, who serves are president of the Groundwater Guardians.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health announced in a letter to Argall that it would conduct a cancer study to look into several incidents of polycythemia vera that have been reported along the rural road.

The disease is a rare bone cancer and acquired bone marrow disorder that causes an overproduction of red blood cells.

The disease typically affects one in every 200,000 individuals, but three cases have been confirmed within a 0.4 mile stretch of the road.

Another resident is showing the beginning stages of the disease.

And, according to Cathy Miorelli, who has gone door-to-door to conduct a cancer study in the area, a man who moved out of the Quakake area in 1985 has also been diagnosed with the disease while two others are showing symptoms of the disease.

While extensive studies have not yet been completed on the disease, it has been linked to exposure to benzene and other organic solvents.

Many fear the cancers may be linked to the former site of McAdoo Associates, which lies above the hill from Ben Titus Road.

The former business, now a Superfund site, was an incineration facility and chemical dump.

The site was remediated in the late 1980s, when crews removed on-site stored materials and topped the area with a soil cap.

Previous studies performed by the Department of Health, DEP, and federal Emergency Management Agency showed that no contaminants were capable of reaching any wells along Ben Titus Road since any runoff was traveling west towards the Little Schuylkill River.

In addition, a 1993 EPA study revealed no higher incidents of cancer because of the Superfund site.

Bob Lewis of the DEP reported that recent tests of wells showed no harmful chemicals were present, and explained the groundwater in the area is from the Still Creek Reservoir and not the Superfund site.

Joe Krushinsky Sr., Ben Titus Road, did not believe the results, and said water will travel the path of least resistance.

Krushinsky brought with him records from McAdoo Associates showing that 6,000 drums of dangerous materials, including cyanide, chromium, and methane were disposed of on-site until its close in 1979. In addition, he said, he witnessed tanker trucks dumping materials into an on-site mine shaft.

“I really feel that the cause of the problems are the result of the McAdoo waste site,” Krushinsky, who said he also has cancer, explained.

While well water tested safe, he surmised that toxic substances might have found their way into wells in previous years.

“How about all the years we’ve lived there without testing the wells?” he asked. “We need to get some true investigation. I can’t sit there anymore and hear of all the neighbors who are dying around me.”

Joel Hersh, director of the Department of Health’s Bureau of Epidemiology, said that the Department plans to speak to doctors who are treating the individuals with polycythemia vera.

The Department will also devise a screening area to identify what it calls “hot spots,” or areas where there are high concentrations of cancer.

From there, Department officials will study possible causes.

Hersh said it is rare that scientific studies confirming cancer links can be applied to tests.

“People want to know why these things (cancers) happen, and there are many times we don’t know why,” he said. “It’s unusual if we can figure out a smoking gun.”

“Then get as close of an answer as you can,” said Micah Gursky, staff assistant to Argall.

Hersh asked for help in identifying what areas will be studies. The Department is looking at studying portions of Rush Township, Tamaqua and McAdoo instead of just the homes along Ben Titus Road.

“The smaller you get in a geographic area, the more difficult it is to draw conclusions from,” he said.

Waksmunski, as well as Gursky, feared including more areas in the study would serve to dilute the study’s findings.

Since tests so far have shown the cancers are not linked to the McAdoo Associates site, Waksmunski asked DEP to conduct tests for radiation in well water. Radiation is another cause of the cancer, he said.

He also asked DEP to investigate reports of illegal dumping in the area and to place air quality monitors on the road.

In surveys compiled by the Groundwater Guardians and filled out by area residents, Waksmunski said he received reports of odors in the air and ash on vehicles.

The Northeastern Power Cogeneration plant in McAdoo also lies within two miles of Ben Titus Road.

The Groundwater Guardians have been conducting a door-to-door study of people living along Ben Titus Road. Questions focus on incidents of cancer or other chronic illnesses, and contact with hazardous substances.

The results will be turned over to the Department of Health.