2006.01.24 – MAYOR URGES STUDY

By Shawn A. Hessinger, Tamaqua Bureau Chief
The REPUBLICAN & Herald, © 2006

January 24, 2006

TAMAQUA – Newly elected Democratic Mayor Christian P. Morrison is calling on two Republican state legislators for help.

In letters issued with a statement from his office, Morrison called upon Rep. David G. Argall, R-124, and Sen. James J. Rhoades, R-29, to help fund a study of the borough water supply in the wake of concern over local health issues.

“In the interest of health and safety of borough residents, I am requesting state assistance in obtaining funding for comprehensive testing of the Still Creek Reservoir,” Morrison wrote in the letter to Argall.

Argall and a spokesman for Rhoades said funding is being sought after a public meeting last week to discuss results of a recent statistical study by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

However, both Argall and Rhoades’ chief of staff, Clyde C. “Champ” Holman, also said they had not received the letters yet and questioned the new mayor’s motives in issuing the release.

“Don’t you think it’s ironic that he sent an announcement to the news media before the recipient even received it?” Argall asked.

Morrison serves as chairman of the campaign of William J. Mackey, West Penn Township, co-chairman of the Democratic 124th Legislative District Committee, who on Saturday announced he will run against Argall.

However, Argall said he was working, as promised at a public meeting last Wednesday at the Hometown Fire Company, to obtain study funding.

“Wednesday night I offered to work with Sen. Rhoades’ office to secure funding for testing of the Still Creek Reservoir,” Argall said.

As a first step, Argall said he hoped to sit down with local environmentalists and members of the Tamaqua Area Water Authority to decide on a comprehensive testing procedure and how much it might cost.

Holman said Rhoades would also seek funding on the federal level and would approach U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, both Pennsylvania Republicans, and U.S. Rep. T. Timothy Holden, D-17, to pay for a more extensive study.

“He’s open-minded enough to ask what can we do,” Holman said of Rhoades. He added that Rhoades would also examine various discretionary funds on the state level to determine whether money for a study is available.

However, Holman also said that the current announcement would not be the first in which Morrison had grandstanded on environmental issues for political purposes.

Holman said Morrison also stood and demanded answers during a previous statistical study presentation in Quakake in October 2004 while running against Argall for the 124th Legislative District seat.

Holman also said a key issue would be what level of testing might be necessary to satisfy local residents about the cancer incidence in northeastern Schuylkill County.

Water authority Chairman Brian Connely said the group would probably seek the advice of West Penn Township patent attorney and environmental activist Dante J. Picciano about the kind of study needed at the reservoir.

Picciano, who holds a doctorate in genetics, served as former scientific director for Biogenics Corp., Houston, Texas, and supervised a study on the now-famous Love Canal community, where a chemical company dumped 21,800 tons of pesticides and other potentially hazardous materials in steel drums near Niagara, N.Y., in one of the most famous environmental contamination cases in U.S. history.

“We’ll be looking at this thing from every possible angle,” said Connely.

However, Argall also said he hoped to hear from West Penn Township physician Dr. Peter J. Baddick, who became an outspoken critic of a 2004 testing of the borough’s 2.7 billion-gallon reservoir, saying the number of samples collected was insufficient to draw a conclusion about the safety of the borough’s water supply.

Local residents became alarmed in June 2004 after 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 former Superfund site, where, in 1978 and 1979, an estimated 7,000 drums and six above-ground tanks contained volatile organic compounds, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

At last week’s public meeting, state Health Department officials concluded that rates of the disease in Schuylkill County were not significantly higher than the statewide average, angering local residents and environmentalists who say comparing the cancer incidence to nationwide statistics tells a different story.

During the meeting, Baddick also presented photos of a fish from the reservoir he said exhibits tumors indicative of environmental contamination. He said drums of contaminants were poured into mine shafts at the McAdoo site from where underground mine workings could have allowed them to enter local groundwater or the reservoir itself.