Time is extended for reporting cases of polycythemia vera
By Donald R. Serfass, dserfass@tnonline.com

March 6, 2007

A federal agency conducting outreach efforts to try and get a handle on the locally-reported cases of a rare blood disease has extended the time frame for reporting cases.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Atlanta, is coordinating a study regarding the incidence of local cases of polycythemia vera.

The disease is said to cause a thickening of the blood and can occur when bone marrow produces extra blood cells. Anyone with the disease is asked to call the registry toll-free, 866-448-0242 by the end of Marcy 30 in order to participate in the initiative.

The agency originally planned to wrap up data collection in February but decided to extend the deadline for an additional month. Results are expected to be announced in April.

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.

The Still Creek Reservoir supplies drinking water to the Tamaqua area.

Lora Werner, ATSDR Philadelphia regional representative, cautioned Monday against building up expectations based on data gleaned in the study.

“We hope it’ll a piece of the puzzle,” she said, noting that information gathered will not necessarily be a “smoking gun” in terms of identifying the cause.

In a related development, the agency will conduct DNA tests on about 45 residents in lower Luzerne and upper Schuylkill counties identified with the disease to help determine whether a genetic indicator is present.

Three of those interviewed for the testing live along Ben Titus Road, downhill from the McAdoo Associates site.

In a letter last year 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.”

At that time, Cibulas promised that his agency would look into reports concerning cases of the disease.

“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.”