By Donald R. Serfass, dserfasstnonline.com
The Times News, © 2006

October 7, 2006

Is there a connection between a former Superfund site and the high number of cases of a rare blood disorder?

That question, and a related announcement, brought U. S. Sen Arlen Specter to the McAdoo Associates Superfund site Friday afternoon.

The senior U.S. Senator of Pennsylvania was joined by PA Secretary of Health Dr. Calvin Johnson, Congressman Tim Holden, State Senator James Rhoades, State Representative Dave Argall, and Thomas Sinks, Deputy Director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Specter’s visit served to announce that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will partner with the Pennsylvania Department of Health in statistical analyses of regional health data pertaining to polycythemia vera (PV).

There are reportedly eight cases of the illness among residents of Ben Titus Road in Rush Township.

‘This area has been a dumping ground,’ said Specter. ‘We understand your concerns and we share your concerns,’ he said. ‘When I hear about cancer, I’m especially concerned,’ he said, referring to his own bout with the disease.

‘We’ll do everything that can be done.’

However, Thomas Sinks, representing the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, cautioned that not much is known about the cause of PV, which may be manifesting itself in 50 cases in the area and possibly another 20 or 30 more.

‘For a long time we didn’t know. It may or may not be a cancer. It was borderline,’ Sinks said, noting that it was added to the Disease Registry only recently.

Sinks said the study will look to see if ‘chemical contaminants are being released.’

However, one high-level participant seemed to warn attendees against becoming overly optimistic.

‘It’s unlikely we can find a cause of the disease,’ said Dr. Calvin Johnson, PA Secretary of Health.

Johnson said the study would look at ‘characteristics of the condition with regard to environmental conditions.’

‘We’ll be working in an open process, in a fair way, an open way,’ he emphasized.

Linda Dietz, branch chief of the Western PA/Maryland remedial section, Environmental Protection Agency, told the 40 in attendance that the McAdoo Associates site was deleted from Superfund status in 2001.

‘In 2005, we did a five-year review. We have no reason to believe any more work is needed,’ she reported.

However, others disagreed.

‘There’s no evidence to suggest that the EPA went into the mine pool to retrieve the chemicals,’ said Dr. Peter Baddick, a West Penn physician.

‘They did a geo-probe to 125 feet and found no evidence of barrels so they closed the opening to the mine shaft,’ he said. ‘The mine pool goes to 1,200 feet.’

Vicky Mackin, McAdoo, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Schuylkill County, said clean-up efforts were insufficient.

‘It wasn’t done properly. The agencies didn’t do their jobs. There’s something down there and we’re worried.’

Environmentalist Joseph Murphy, Hometown, said signs would indicate that a problem exists.

‘For the volume that was dumped here…they could never explain where it all went.’

Bill Mackey, West Penn Township, said he believes the site has been a problem all along.

‘I don’t think it was ever properly remediated.’

Others questioned the approach to remediation. One environmentalist told the TIMES NEWS that much activity went on behind-the-scenes.

‘About 75 barrels from here ended up in the Hazleton City Landfill,’ said Tom Yurick, West Hazleton. Yurick is a member of CAUSE, or Citizen Advocates United to Safeguard the Environment and said his group currently had three legal appeals pending over the matter.

Much discussion took place regarding toxic dumping in many of its forms.

Irene Genther, Nesquehoning, advised attendees to be aware of the difference between sludge and dredge, since the terms are not interchangeable and refer to different substances.

Tamaqua Council Member Cathy Miorelli asked Specter what he thought about communities – such as Tamaqua – working toward local control.

‘You ought to do it to the extent you can control it through land use and zoning.’

Miorelli noted that sometimes legal counsel warns communities against enacting protective measures due to a fear of being sued. Specter said to move forward anyway.

‘If your lawyer says you can’t do it, find another lawyer. Getting sued is a lot better than getting sick.’