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

June 23, 2006

A federal agency will conduct outreach efforts to try and get a handle on the locally-reported cases of a rare blood disease. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Atlanta, will coordinate the studies even though the agency reported in a communication yesterday that the water quality at Still Creek Reservoir has shown no evidence of contamination. In a letter to Dr. Dante Picciano of the Army for a Clean Environment, William Cibulas, Ph.D., Director, Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, said: “The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s review of the information for the McAdoo site shows no evidence that any contamination from the site is affecting the water quality in the reservoir.”

Cibulas said the ATSDR consulted with the PA Department of Health and other agencies to make its determination. “Past, regulated monitoring of the drinking water supply from the reservoir has not resulted in detections of contaminants at levels of health concern. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the local water authority are also co-testing additional raw and finished drinking water samples from the reservoir to further address any community concerns about this drinking water supply. The state DEP also tested five private wells about two years ago in proximity to the reservoir, one well had a low level of lead. These data do not indicate contamination in the reservoir water being a source of exposures to the community through the municipal water system at levels of public health concern; nor does the limited data on private wells. ATSDR’s regional office staffs are conducting a public health evaluation of the environmental sampling data for the reservoir and private wells.”

Cibulas said his agency will look into reports of polycythemia vera and is asking local residents and the medical community to help.

“The primary concern that ATSDR has heard about is the significantly elevated incidence of polycythemia vera compared to other counties in Pennsylvania based on a PA DOH Cancer Incidence Study released to the public in early 2006. ATSDR is collaborating with the PA DOH on possible follow-up activities to further evaluate the findings.

“PA DOH, with assistance from the ATSDR, plans to conduct outreach to area physicians, to share and gather more information about the p. vera cases. We would appreciate any encouragement members of the Army for a Clean Environment could give their personal physicians to participate in this effort. Please contact Ms. Lora Werner, ATSDR, at (215) 814-3141 or Dr. Gene Weinberg, PA DOH, at (717) 346-3284 with any questions regarding these activities.”

Experts say polycythemia vera is associated, in part, with exposure to the chemical benzene. The chemical is one of many that had been dumped at the McAdoo Associates location, an area north, and uphill, of the Still Creek Reservoir and one which was later declared a federal Superfund site.