2006.11.29 – OFFICIALS PROBE RARE DISEASE

By Stephen J. Pytak, Staff Writer, spytak@republicanherald.com
The REPUBLICAN & Herald, © 2006

November 29, 2006

McADOO – State and federal health officials are trying to find out what causes a rare blood disorder called polycythemia vera.

This week, 22 people diagnosed with PCV in Schuylkill County are scheduled to participate in interviews with the state Department of Health and the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter announced plans for the study Oct. 6 at the McAdoo Superfund site at Interstate 81 and Route 309.

Though state and federal authorities deny evidence of a link, community and environmental leaders fear a connection between the incidence of PCV and contaminants dumped at the site.

“We’re not pointing fingers at anybody or anything, but I believe there’s a strong environmental component to this,” said Joseph M. Murphy of Rush Township, who knows people who suffer from PCV.

“Specter was instrumental in getting the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to come up and work with the state health department on this,” Richard L. McGarvey, state Department of Health spokesman, said Tuesday.

This is an epidemiological investigation – a study to determine factors that affect the health of a population.

“Questions will include where do they work, what are some of their work habits, what are their social habits, where they live, what they’ve done all their life,” McGarvey said. “The information gathered during this investigation will be used to better understand the PCV cases and identify potential residential and occupational environmental exposures.”

Polycythemia vera is an abnormal increase in blood cells, primarily red blood cells, resulting from excess production by the bone marrow, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

It can lead to abnormal bleeding, blood clots, strokes, heart attacks and cancer, McGarvey said.

“It’s only been reportable for a couple of years now, so we don’t have a lot of information on it. We’ve only been collecting information on it for two years,” he added.

Thomas Sink, deputy director of the National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, acknowledged in October about twice the expected level of PCV cases locally.

The study will focus on 82 patients from three counties diagnosed between 2001 and 2004.

There are 58 in Luzerne County, two in Carbon County and 22 in Schuylkill, McGarvey said. “They’re throughout the county. It’s spread out,” he said.

The two Schuylkill County municipalities with the highest number of cases are Frackville and Pottsville, with four cases each.

Only documented cases reported to the State of Pennsylvania Cancer Registry will be interviewed. Patients diagnosed are not required to participate, but individuals who have the condition and want to be part of the study are encouraged to contact their physicians to have their case reported.

Murphy said he knows of about 15 cases between McAdoo and Tamaqua. “A couple of them are pending with their doctors, but we have to get them on the registry,” Murphy said.

For more information, people are asked to call the state health department at (717) 346-3283.

At Specter’s press conference in October, he urged federal and state health agencies to determine the incidence of cancer and whether the former McAdoo Associates site required further cleanup.

A message was left for Specter at his Washington, D.C., office but was not returned Tuesday.

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