By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief
The Republican & Herald, Tamaqua, © 2005

July, 21, 2005 State health officials have insisted there is no evidence of a link between health problems in a rural portion of Rush Township and contaminants at a previous Superfund site nearby.

They may be wrong.

A case in Missouri may be on its way to demonstrating a connection between at least one of those health problems, a rare blood disease called Polycythemia Vera, and exposure to benzene, one of the contaminants found at the former McAdoo Associates site.

“We do know that benzene does impact the blood,” said Denise Jordan-Izaquirre, senior regional representative for the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Region 7.

Jordan-Izaquirre’s office has conducted numerous health studies in the area of the former Sugar Creek Petroleum Refinery, in Sugar Creek, Missouri.

The plant closed in the late 1980s, but state environmental and health officials now say a variety of petroleum products including benzene were released into soil and water there during the refinery’s years of operation.

“We know that it impacts certain organs that form different blood and blood products. So there’s probably reason to believe there’s a connection,” added Jordan-Izaquirre.

Health concerns in Sugar Creek, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City that borders the refinery land, mirror those in Rush Township and include at least one case of Polycythemia Vera.

A law firm representing a victim of that disease near the former refinery has contacted local environmentalists to discover more about investigations into similar illness on Ben Titus Road in the township near the former McAdoo Associates site.

“At any rate, the first trial is on behalf of a lady with Polycythemia Vera who transitioned into a leukemia and died,” wrote Kansas City Attorney Lon Walters in an e-mail to former Carbon County Groundwater Guardians president Frank Waksmunski in June.

Last year a report from the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, a non-profit environmental group, claimed three and possibly four cases of the rare cancer had been diagnosed near the former McAdoo Associates.

In the e-mail, forwarded by Waksmunski, Walters requested further information obtained from the group on Polycythemia Vera and other local health problems in the area.

“We represent over 20 people at this site with various leukemias and lymphomas,” Walters added in the e-mail but declined to return a phone call to his office to discuss those cases further.

Although Jordan-Izaquirre said her agency took ambient air samples both inside and outside local homes in Sugar Creek where health issues including brain cancer had been reported, no levels dangerous to human health were detected.

“That does not negate the possibility that they might have been exposed to levels of concern in the past when the refinery was in operation,” she said.

A statistical study last year of nine zip codes in northeastern Schuylkill County and northwestern Carbon County similarly showed no tie between local cancer incidence and environmental contamination, the Pennsylvania Health Department has claimed.

Tests of the nearby Still Creek Reservoir, which supplies water for the borough of Tamaqua and other local residents, also turned up nothing, according to the Tamaqua Area Water Authority.

Local environmentalists have disputed the results of both studies.

In June 2004, a report by the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians claimed three people, including a married couple, had been diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera and a fourth was undergoing evaluation for a potentially similar condition.

Concerned local medical officials say a door-to-door survey found more then 50 incidences of cancer in close proximity to the former Superfund site.

The EPA declassified McAdoo Associates from the Superfund list of the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or hazardous waste sites in 2001.

But EPA records show the 8-acre site just off Route 309 and a smaller half-acre site on Blaine Street in McAdoo were once polluted with at least 30 contaminants, some with serious health effects, including benzene.

Between 1975 and 1976 McAdoo Associates used both properties for a business that reclaimed metals from waste sludge. An estimated 6,790 drums of hazardous waste were removed from the property between 1981 and 1982, according to EPA records.

In 1990, contaminated soils at the site were excavated and disposed of at an EPA permitted facility.

The site was “capped” in 1991 with a combination of soil and geotextile liners and revegetated.