By Richard W. Funk
The Times News, © 2006

January 28, 2006

It will undoubtedly go down in history as the “Miracle of Still Creek,” an event like no other since the parting of the Red Sea.

For it was there, in the valley of the shadow of Spring Mountain, that the laws of nature were suspended, and liquid defied gravity by not seeking its lowest level.

And because of this, everything is just fine and dandy along Ben Titus Road and residents there can feel secure in the knowledge that the area does not have a higher cancer rate than other places in the state.

If people are expected to buy that, maybe they’ll also believe that harbor dredge, flyash and cement kiln dust are safe, beneficial materials that will cause no harm whatsoever to the environment or people.

Frustrated area residents who recently attended a Pennsylvania Department of Health informational meeting in Hometown received exactly the information many expected – that cancer rates in parts of Luzerne, Schuylkill and Carbon counties are in line with other places in the state. In fact, the health department’s Dr. Gene Weinberg said that a 3-year analysis showed nothing that points to a major health problem in the area.

Gee, that is good news, but I, along with a lot of other people, don’t believe a word of it and feel the public has been hoodwinked once again.

It takes only common sense, and not a PHD, to figure out that something is drastically wrong on Ben Titus Road, where at least four cases of a super rare bone cancer, polycythemia vera, have been reported in the past several years. These are in addition to other cancer cases that have turned up along the road in an area of less than two miles.

Two of the cases involve husband and wife, who developed a form of leukemia. A doctor was quoted as saying it’s a “one in a million chance” that both could contract the illness. However, it only makes sense that the odds would increase when one lives down slope from a notorious toxic waste dump.

When the issue of polycythemia vera first arose, it was reported by the medical community that the disease strikes an average of one in every 200,000 people and some say it could be as high as one in two million. The disease is considered to be “acquired” and experts agree that it is not normally found in the general population, but in those exposed to benzene or morticians who work with embalming fluid.

Weinberg, however, said the disease is found statistically in one of every 50,000 people. This number is a far cry from the minimum 200,000 that is accepted by almost all who work in the field.

Even if Weinberg’s estimate of one in 50,000 were correct, that would mean that with the four cases reported there, Still Creek should have a population of 200,000.

It takes only simple arithmetic to figure that out.

Of course, the department of health has no clue as to what is causing the problem. It certainly couldn’t be coming from the former McAdoo Associates, a Superfund site that was cleaned up under the expert supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After all, one report said that any sub-surface contamination wouldn’t run downhill to Ben Titus Road and the Still Creek Reservoir, but rather it would go west.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that no toxic chemicals migrated downhill from the site, once called the worst in Pennsylvania and the 28th most severely contaminated place in the nation.

Although I’m not a native of this area, I remember traveling here in the 1970s and it was impossible to miss the stench while going up the Mile Hill. Those who lived in this region during that time don’t have to be told what it smelled like.

Funny thing is, I recall the odor getting pretty nasty about halfway up the hill, meaning that whatever toxic liquids were dumped there were running downhill after all.

So much for miracles.

The cleanup of McAdoo Associates has been a problem right from the start and the EPA did not address the potential that toxic materials were dumped into mine shafts. Rather, it concentrated on removing thousands of drums from the surface and capping the site. An EPA report indicated that there was information that tanker trucks pulled up to mine openings to dump their loads of toxic materials. Somewhere along the way, I heard that years ago train cars were brought in to do the same thing.

The agency is quick to point out that the allegations have not been substantiated, but it’s a safe bet the story isn’t being made up. If, by chance, the former railroad man who related this story to me in the late 1980s at the old Laneco, in Hometown, is reading this, please contact me through the TIMES NEWS. Be certain, I’ll protect your identity.

One of the biggest questions should be why the department of health would ignore the potential that McAdoo Associates is the main cause of health problems in the area. Instead of looking into that obvious potential, they point to smoking and diet as factors in the cancer cases.

It appears that the department has also chosen to ignore diseased fish from the Still Creek Reservoir, which supplies Tamaqua with drinking water, filtered. Some reported seeing “deformed” fish in the reservoir. There has also been a persistent rumor than hunters avoid that area of the Spring Mountain because of diseased and even mutated animals.

But no solid animal evidence has ever been brought to light, so we’ll put that in the urban legend category. The fish, however, are a different story and have been documented by a local doctor. Several pet owners in the area have also reported tumors on their animals.

The long and short of it is there is a problem in Still Creek. And, it appears that the department of health and other government agencies are sailing through the issue on the good ship denial.

They may be afraid that those living there will look for a buy-out.

But, what price can be put on peoples’ lives?

Whatever it would cost, consider it the buy of the century and a cheap fix for what is probably Pennsylvania’s very own Love Canal.