By Donald R. Serfass, dserfass@tnonline.com
The Times News, © 2006

February 4, 2006

Cancer cases in Pennsylvania seem to turning up in epidemic numbers.

Even more alarming is that some of the cancers, rare cancers, are not so rare around here.

For example, Polycythemia Vera has hit people along Still Creek’s Ben Titus Road. It’s a disorder that causes thickening of the blood. It’s normally found among one in every 100,000 or 200,000. But in our area, there are at least five cases on one road alone.

Medical researchers feel that exposure to a chemical called benzene is a cause.

Of course, something else has been popping up in our area, too – Superfund sites. There have been at least three official ones designated and who knows how many yet to be discovered and named.

One of the most worrisome is McAdoo Associates, located just north, and uphill, of Ben Titus Road. Nobody knows how many hundreds or thousands of barrels of toxic chemicals and industrical wastes were dumped there over the years – and which ones contained benzene.

But at last month’s public forum conducted by the Department of Health, a DOH representative suggested that the high incidence of cancer in our region might be attributed to lifestyle or behavioral causes. Yeah, right.

Actually, he might be partly correct. It’s caused by behavior all right, the behavior of state agencies. If state agencies had done their jobs, maybe we wouldn’t be talking about cancer.

All of our local Superfund sites were created through permits issued from state regulatory agencies. One was called the Department of Environmental Resources, now the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Of course, no matter what they call it, it’s a misnomer. One only need look at McAdoo Associates, or Eastern Diversified Metals PCB fluff pile, to see that DEP doesn’t protect the environment. Just the opposite, they allow Superfund sites to be created.

And one only need look at the cancer epidemic in Pennsylvania to see that DEP has failed to protect residents, too. So what do they protect?

Well, they appear to protect industry. Over the years, these state agencies allowed businesses to contaminate and get away with it. Land has been poisoned. Maybe the water, too.

And now, hundreds of distraught local residents are trying to work within the system to get help. This means, ironically, that they’re turning to these same agencies for answers. It amounts to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

No wonder, then, that help is so elusive.

Instead of hearing the truth, the public is receiving bureaucratic responses. Of course, many folks say the system is set up to function that way, to protect polluters. Here’s how it works:

Big business (in this case, industries that pollute) donate funds to political campaigns. Naturally, industry lobbyists and PAC monies hold sway over many of our politicians. In turn, our elected officials appoint their friends and comrades to the state’s influential government jobs. Those officials, in turn, protect the businesses that support this process.

It amounts to a basic pecking order, a circle of corruption. Throw in a lack of ethics, the likelihood of back-room deals, and maybe even pay-offs, and one can begin to see the scope of the problem.

The system isn’t merely broken, it’s totally destroyed. As a result, the public is looking for the right answers at the wrong places. Pennsylvania government is a contributor to the problem.

After covering this crisis over the past several years, it’s become apparent to me that objective, outside help is the only answer. It’ll take an independent entity to uncover the truth. The truth about this situation will never emerge from any government agency or government-appointed panel, no matter how distinguished-sounding their name.

In the meantime, here’s the reality – Pennsylvania has one of the highest cancer rates in the country. That’s because lawmakers and bureaucrats refuse to acknowledge the truth: Toxic dumping is not an industry of growth. It’s an industry of death.