2004.07.23 – HEALTH DEPARTMENT TO STUDY CANCER CASES

HEALTH DEPARTMENT TO STUDY CANCER CASES
Four people near ex-Superfund site have rare form of disease.
By Chris Parker
The Morning Call Inc., Copyright 2004
Reprinted With Permission

July 23, 2004

The state Health Department will study the four cases of a rare bone marrow cancer in people who live on Ben Titus Road in Rush Township, near a former Superfund site.

The agency also will compare cancer rates in the area with updated state and national figures to try to discover why so many Ben Titus Road residents are getting sick.

The studies should begin shortly, said Joel H. Hersh, director of the department’s bureau of epidemiology.

In addition to working with the doctors of the four people who say they have been diagnosed with the bone marrow disease, polycythemia vera, ”We’ll do a statistical analysis of all cancers in the areas and compare it to the rest of Pennsylvania, see how everything falls out,” Hersh said.

He spoke at a meeting Thursday of residents, local officials and representatives from the state Departments of Health and Environmental Protection.

The meeting was arranged by state Rep. David G. Argall, R-Schuylkill, to let residents share concerns with the state agencies as they prepare to examine the situation.

Argall did not attend the meeting, facilitated by his aide, Micah Gursky.

Carbon County Groundwater Guardians founder Frank Waksmunski, who sounded the alarm about what he believes is a cancer cluster, led the discussion.

Residents of the Rush Township community say they are worried toxic chemicals leaching from the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site in neighboring Kline Township are causing a high rate of cancer, including polycythemia vera, which typically strikes one in every 200,000 people.

The rare cancer thickens blood and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and a form of leukemia.

The community is about two miles from the 8-acre site where McAdoo Associates operated from 1975 until a state permit was revoked in 1979.

The site, used as a metal reclamation and incineration facility, had 7,000 drums and six above-ground tanks, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA found the soil there contaminated with heavy metals and volatile organic compounds.

In 1983, EPA placed the site on its Superfund cleanup list, and two years later it was identified as the state’s worst site and 26th-worst in the nation.

EPA said the geology of the area shunted leached polluted water west to the Little Schuylkill River.

A 1993 study of cancer death rates by the government concluded the Superfund site did not cause a rise in the disease.

DEP disputed a connection between the site and the cancers, saying the people on Ben Titus Road get their water from a different source, the Still Creek Reservoir, than the one near the Superfund site, and tests have shown no contamination.

”It’s not coming from the McAdoo Associates site,” said Robert Lewis, manager of DEP’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program.

”I don’t believe that,” said Joseph Krushinsky of Still Creek in Rush Township.

Krushinsky, who said he’s had cancer for years, said he’s convinced toxic chemicals are finding their way into the community’s drinking water.

He said he watched New York and New Jersey tanker trucks roll into the site before the cleanup to dump waste into an unused coal mine.

”It scares me to my heels,” Krushinsky said.

The Superfund site was not properly evaluated or cleaned, and the matter was ”covered up” by officials and chemical companies, Krushinsky said.

He was among the people who pushed to have the site cleaned and said nothing was done until he gave the state two boxes of documents containing information about what was dumped, when and by whom.

Hersh said his department will study the situation but warned that it might not result in definitive answers.

It’s difficult to prove a link between a substance and a particular type of cancer, he said.

”You’d like for us to find the smoking gun,” Hersh said, ”but lots of times we don’t know.”

He said the aging population in the area must be factored in.

”The longer you live, the more chance you have of developing stuff,” he said.

Jerry Knowles of Tamaqua asked about cancer rates.

According to Brian Wright, a Health Department statistical analyst, Schuylkill’s cancer death rate for 1999 through 2002 is slightly higher than the state average.

Carbon County’s rate was significantly higher for 2000-02, Wright said.

The state rate in 2000-02 was 202.8 per 100,000 people; Schuylkill County’s was 212.1, and Carbon County’s rate was 234.5, Wright said.

Gursky quizzed Hersh about why the agency wouldn’t focus on Ben Titus Road.

”When there is a Superfund site right up the hill, doesn’t it make sense to look at that area?” Gursky said.

Hersh said the agency would see if there was a connection but said a study would have to look at a wider area to get a more accurate picture.

Waksmunski asked DEP to test air, emissions from local cogeneration plants and for radioactive materials in water.

Tamaqua Area School District nurse Cathy Miorelli gave Hersh 15 surveys residents filled out, listing health problems and chemical exposure.

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