The REPUBLICAN & Herald: Opinion, © 2004

September 30, 2004

Shooting the messenger might be emotionally satisfying, but it does not change the validity of the message presented.

Unfortunately, that adage often carries no weight with people who passionately advocate one side of an issue if that side is shown to be unsupported by evidence.

Such is often the case in Schuylkill County, where attempts to debate issues logically and scientifically often are met by shouting, histrionics and emotional appeals instead of serious thought.

That is particularly true with respect to environmental issues, where the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) sentiment drowns out every other consideration.

This has arisen again with respect to the state’s study of the purported cancer cluster in Rush Township. Those who have yelled the loudest for the study are now attacking it because it did not provide the answer they wanted to hear – which is the wrong way to approach any issue.

Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) officials, who studied cancer rates in eastern Schuylkill and western Carbon counties, concluded that the types and rates of cancers found provided no evidence of a link between them and environmental contamination.

The study was done at the request of many local citizens after three, and possibly four, cases of polycythemia vera, a rare cancer, were found among people living along Ben Titus Road in Ginther, Rush Township. However, its findings did not support those citizens, who believe the cancer cases are linked to the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site.

There is no denying that the site was dangerous – it has contained polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, benzene, phenol, napthalene and other harmful materials.

However, about 6,700 drums of the hazardous materials have been removed from the site and the federal Environmental Protection Agency capped it in 1991. That has not stopped the allegations from the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, the group that maintains the cancer cases could be related to groundwater contamination.

Attacks already have been made on the report, with the general allegation of not liking the way it was done.

However, since the group asked DOH to do the study, it implicitly vouched for DOH’s ability to do it. If it did not think DOH could perform the study, it had no justification in asking it to do it.

It is hypocritical for the group to attack DOH for doing what it requested merely because it didn’t provide the “right” answer.

That undoubtedly is the crux of the matter – DOH started with a question and looked for the correct answer, while the group started with an answer and wanted support for it.

The group has the responsibility to disprove the study – not with questions, not with emotions, but with scientific facts from unbiased sources that show the cancer is linked to the site.

Too many issues in Schuylkill County are decided on emotions. The public as a whole is not served by a debate on this, or any other issue, that is based on anything other than facts.