By Liz Pinkey
The Standard Speaker, © 2006

October 6, 2006

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., paid a visit to Schuylkill County Friday and brought some welcome news to local residents. Specter, along with Dr. Calvin B. Johnson, MD, MPH, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and Dr. Thomas Sinks, Ph. D, of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), in Atlanta, announced that federal funding is being made available to support research concerning the number of local cases of a rare cancer, polycythemia vera (PCV).

“I have reviewed the issues before coming here. We understand your concerns, and we share those concerns,” Specter said to the group of local citizens and officials who gathered at the McAdoo Associates Superfund site for the announcement.

Specter pointed out that he chose to announce the funding because “the site has been problematic for the area. I wanted to come to this site to give you assurance that this is a priority.

“We will do everything that can be done,” he said.

Specter expressed confidence in the work of the ATSDR, which is a subsidiary of the Center for Disease Control.

“They know their stuff to the extent that anyone can know it,” he said. He also asked about the care that those diagnosed were receiving.

“We owe it to the people diagnosed to see what care they are getting. When I hear about cancer, I get concerned, because I’ve had my own battle with it,” Specter said.

The investigation will specifically deal with polycythemia vera and will be conducted jointly by the PA Department of Health and the ATSDR.

Sinks outlined the tentative plan for the study.

“We need to identify issues with how the disease is reported. We don’t know a lot about how these cases are registered,” he said.

“PCV was recently added to the list of cancers. It was considered to be borderline for years.”

This situation may have led to an underreporting of the disease.

Johnson estimated that there are about 50 reported cases of the disease.

“There are another 20 to 30 cases that may not be registered,” he said.

Sinks estimated that there are “about two times as many cases as they would expect to see.

“We will review the cases. We will look at the characteristics of the cases, where people live,” Sinks said. We will look for connections to the environment.”

He cautioned the group as to what the study will not do. “It is unlikely that we will identify a cause of polycythemia vera. It is unlikely that we will identify the magic bullet,” he said.

“The research into the cause of the disease should be done on a large scale.”

Specter questioned EPA official Linda Dietz, the branch chief of the western Pennsylvania and Maryland branch, regarding EPA’s activities at the site.

“It is my understanding that it has been remediated to the point that it can be remediated. Is that true?” Specter asked.

Dietz responded that as of the five-year review in 2005, “We have no reason to believe anymore needs to be done to the site.” Dr. Peter Baddick, a local physician and environmental activist, questioned Dietz’s statements and the official report on the area.

“The test wells were only dug to 200 feet,” he said. “The mine pool extends to 1,200 feet below ground.”

Specter said that his office will look into the matter.

“We’ll find out how far they went and how far they could go,” he said.

Local officials who were on hand for the announcement were pleased with the news. U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-17, said.

“It’s a good thing. There are unanswered questions. The people aren’t satisfied. The Federal government will bring more resources to the table.” State Rep. David Argall, R-124, said.

“Many people in the area have been asking for federal dollars. There is another $20,000 in state money in the pipeline for the testing of the Still Creek reservoir.”

Tamaqua Councilwoman Cathy Miorelli asked Specter what he thought about local ordinances governing land use to prevent the dumping from happening again.

Specter advocated “controlling land use through zoning and restrictive measures.

“We will back you up. You need to decide what to do and do it,” he added.

Miorelli indicated a reluctance of local solicitors to pursue ordinances that could result in lawsuits.

“Getting sued is better than getting sick,” Specter said.

According to Johnson, the study will begin in the immediate future and information will be shared with the public as it becomes available.