2006.01.24 – MORE WATER TESTING SOUGHT

Tamaqua mayor, others question state study of Rush reservoir.

By Sarah Fulton, Special to The Morning Call
The Morning Call Inc., Copyright 2006

January 24, 2006

The mayor of Tamaqua is seeking support to conduct more tests of borough drinking water from the Still Creek Reservoir in Rush Township despite recent state health study results that say the rate of a rare bone cancer in the area is not unusually high.

Tamaqua Mayor Christian P. Morrison is requesting financial assistance from state legislators to help do a more comprehensive study of the area and more tests of the borough’s water supply.

Morrison is one of a group of area residents who takes issue with the results of a recent state Department of Health study. Results released last week found that the rare cancer polycythemia vera, which thickens the blood, is no more prevalent in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties than anywhere else in the state.

Concerned residents, environmentalists and physicians had asked the state for a study on whether contamination leaching from several nearby industrial sites, including the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site in Kline Township, was causing cancer in area residents, particularly those from Rush Township.

Tamaqua officials paid close attention to the outcome of the study because the borough’s drinking water supply, Still Creek Reservoir, is in Rush Township, not far from the Superfund site.

Morrison said Monday the study should have included data from states across the country, and not just Pennsylvania, which he says is one of the most toxic states in the nation.

”We wanted national averages, we didn’t get them,” Morrison said. ”It just kind of seems like they [state officials] came, they thumbed their nose at us and said, ‘You people have the same problem as everywhere else.”’

The study examined general cancer data going back nine years and polycythemia vera data collected since the first report of it in 2001.

Residents say the study should have examined cancer rates for the past 20 years.

The study reviewed the incidence of cancer cases from 1996 to 2002 and found 24,867 new cancer cases – including 45 of polycythemia vera – were diagnosed among area residents in that time. Polycythemia vera occurs in one in every 50,000 people, state Health Department epidemiologist Gene B. Weinberg has said.

The cancer study was launched in spring 2004 at the behest of Republican state Rep. David G. Argall, whose 124th District includes Schuylkill County, because his constituents were concerned that hazardous chemicals they believed had leached from the former McAdoo Associates Superfund site are causing cancer in the Ben Titus Road area of Rush Township.

The four most common types of cancer diagnosed in the region were prostate, breast, colorectal and lung. State health official said the cancers probably are attributed to genetics and poor diet.

Morrison said he is also concerned with results from tests of water samples taken from Still Creek Reservoir in January 2005. The study was prompted by area residents who had claimed there were deformed fish in the water.

The water samples indicated lead levels five times higher than those considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. However, the water was untreated and borough officials have said the treated water always passes federal standards.

”It just seemed to me there were some vague areas in those tests and we should’ve gone back and done some more,” Morrison said. ”We need to make sure we get some state funding to get more testing on our water supply to ensure the safety and welfare of our community.”

Sarah Fulton is a freelance writer.

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