By Donald R. Serfass
The Times News, © 2004
July 23, 2004

COMMUNITY NEWS — Tamaqua, Panther Valley

‘We need immediate action’

Still Creek residents ask the DOH to investigate rare cancers

Frustrated, a cancer patient from Ben Titus Road told state officials Thursday that something needs to be done now because cancer is being diagnosed all over the place.

“We need immediate action, not studies that will take 10 years,” said Joseph Krushinsky, one of 20 who turned out at the Tamaqua Community Center to try to get to the bottom of the issue.

Three or possibly four residents of Ben Titus Road have been diagnosed with polycythemia vera, a rare bone marrow disease. It normally strikes only one in every 200,000 people.

“Within four-tenths of a mile you have four cancers confirmed,” warned Frank Waksmunski, a retired research chemist from Towamensing Township. Waksmunski is president of the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, a group dedicated to educating residents on how to care for their well water.

But the cancers aren’t limited to Schuylkill County or one specific area, according to reports. They continue along Quakake Road, which is the Carbon County extension of Ben Titus Road.

Those on hand said other kinds of cancers are surfacing at an alarming rate.

Dr. Peter Baddick and Tamaqua Area School District Nurse Cathy Miorelli have been collecting data from residents in the affected area.

Many believe the source of the problem is the McAdoo Associates Superfund site located just north of the rural neighborhood.

But Robert Lewis of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said “it is not coming from the McAdoo Associates site.” Lewis argued that the water table at the Superfund site is separate and unrelated to the water table serving Ben Titus Road, which, he claimed, obtains its water from the Still Creek Reservoir.

But Krushinsky, a 37-year resident at that location, disagreed. He went on to present compelling testimony about the environmental disaster that just might be the cause of today’s problems.

Krushinsky was a member of the citizens group that battled the illegal activity after drums of toxic material were dumped at the mining site in the 1970s.

“Nobody can tell me that we’re not being harmed,” he said. “I’ve lost four neighbors. I really feel that the cause of 85 percent of the problems in the valley are the result of the McAdoo Associates waste site. It scares me to my heels.”

Krushinsky maintained that there was a “tremendous cover-up” at the time, a theory supported by many long-time area residents.

Former chemistry teacher Irene Genther, Nesquehoning, supported Krushinsky’s remarks and told state officials about the unpredictability of weather patterns and water flow.

Genther reminded attendees that the situation at McAdoo Associates was so serious that an evacution plan had to be formulated.

Micah Gursky and Jerry Knowles, representing State Rep. David Argall, pressed state officials for an examination of the situation along the 4.5-mile stretch.

However, Joel Hersh of the state Department of Health (DOH) said studies should be done in a wider area, including Tamaqua and McAdoo zip codes, to avoid “predefining your cluster.”

Hersh also painted a bleak picture as to what the studies might actually accomplish. He said unanswered science and exposure questions would preclude arriving at a conclusion as to what exposures have caused which cancers.

Tamaqua resident Joe Murphy told attendees that cancers are prevalent in an area from the Beacon Diner/Hometown intersection northward to the Titus Mini Mart. Murphy said they include: kidney cancer, stomach cancer, Graves Disease, lung cancer, multiple sclerosis and others.

Murphy also said bioaccumulation is a major concern, something the state should look into.

Hersh said that state has studied it only in occupational settings up until this point.

State Rep. David Argall had asked the state to look into the Ben Titus Road situation following a public meeting in early June.

After hearing the comments yesterday, Hersh said the DOH would do health screenings. In addition, the DEP agreed to Waksmunski’s suggestion to check for radioactivity and air quality, including effects from the co-gen plant and Air Products and Chemicals.

Waksmunski said he would supply information to the DEP about the illegal dumping activities that took place at McAdoo Associates.