By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief, shessinger@republicanherald.com
The Republican & Herald, © 2006

January 10, 2006

HOMETOWN — Nearly 1½ years ago, state Department of Health officials promised residents of northeastern Schuylkill County more data on cancer cases near a former Kline Township Superfund site.

The department now says it’s preparing to provide that information at an open meeting tentatively set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, in the Hometown Fire Company hall, Route 54.

“It’s something we said we’d do, so we want to go ahead and do it,” said Richard McGarvey, a department spokesman.

Concerns centered around a rural area east of Route 309 along Ben Titus Road near the Tamaqua borough’s 2.7-billion-gallon Still Creek Reservoir. In June 2004, an environmental group reported three cases of a rare blood cancer in the region.

The Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, a nonprofit environmental watchdog group based in Palmerton, claimed at the time that three people, including a married couple, had been diagnosed and a fourth was undergoing evaluation for a rare blood marrow disease known as Polycythemia Vera.

Both the reservoir and the residents are located slightly more than a mile from the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site where, in 1978 and 1979, an estimated 7,000 drums and six above-ground tanks contained volatile organic compounds, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

In 2001, the EPA declassified the McAdoo Associates site from the Superfund list of the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or hazardous waste areas, but many local residents doubt that a cleanup at the site was ever properly completed.

EPA records show the eight-acre site, just off Route 309, and a smaller .5-acre site on Blaine Street in McAdoo once contained everything from polychlorinated biphenyls to benzene and several other potentially harmful materials.

A Web site for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, says polychlorinated biphenyls are associated with acne-like skin conditions in adults, neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children.

According to the site, long-term benzene exposure can affect bone marrow and cause anemia and leukemia. A case in Missouri may also link the solvent to Polycythemia Vera.

Other materials once found in the soil of the McAdoo Associates site include phenol, a manufactured substance that, with skin exposure at high levels, has caused liver damage and hemolytic anemia, according to the Web site.

Exposure to another substance found there, naphthalene, at high levels, can destroy red blood cells and has been linked to cancer in animals. Inhalation of beryllium, yet another substance found at the site, may result in irreversible and sometimes fatal scarring of the lungs.

In September 2004, the state Health Department completed a study of nine ZIP codes in northeastern Schuylkill County and northwestern Carbon County showing no evidence of a link between local cancer cases and environmental contamination.

But amid complaints from the public at a meeting in October 2004 in Quakake that the study had diluted the significance of the region’s cancer rates with its statistical data, state officials agreed to obtain more data and return with a more detailed report.