2007.06.15 – Blood disease data doesn’t include possible cause

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Blood disease data doesn’t include possible cause

Friday, 15 June 2007
By SHAWN A. HESSINGER
Staff Writer

A federal agency says it should be ready to share data collected from at least 72 reported cases of a rare blood disease in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties by late July or early August.

But those findings will not include indications of the possible cause of the affliction or other regional health problems or whether some may be related to a notorious former Superfund site.

“The critical piece of this is we don’t know what switches it on,” said Vince Seaman, a toxicologist with the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, a sister agency to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A local community leader who helped catalog area health problems including the rare Polycythemia Vera, a chronic disease causing the body to produce excess red blood cells, said she hopes the investigation won’t stop with the information collected so far.

“It’s my hope and the hope of the group I’m working with that enough information has been collected to keep the CDC here so that we can look at some other things,” said Cathy Miorelli, Tamaqua Area High School nurse, Tamaqua councilwoman and a local health and environmental advocate.

Concern over the disease began in June 2004, when a Carbon County environmental group reported that three people and possibly a fourth had contracted the disease locally.

The cases were reported along Ben Titus Road, Rush Township, rekindling concern about the environmental and health impacts of a nearby controversial Superfund site.

Though declassified from the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list of the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or hazardous waste sites in 2001, the former McAdoo Associates site, just off Route 309 south of McAdoo, still concerns local residents.

Before its closure by federal officials in 1979 for a variety of environmental issues, the site, a little more than a mile north of Ben Titus Road, operated as an industrial recycler, extracting metals from waste sludge.

However, between 1981 and 1982, federal authorities removed 6,790 drums of hazardous waste from the property and critics and community leaders allege other hazardous wastes were also dumped into underground mine workings beneath the site.

Federal authorities agreed to look into concerns related to Polycythemia Vera specifically in September 2006 after a meeting with environmental advocates and health professionals who shared collected data and concerns over the issue.

But Seaman said in December no documented cause for the disorder has yet been determined, making it hard to draw such connections between the disease and the environment.

Among data collected were blood samples from 90 percent of those interviewed to attempt to identify a genetic marker indicating a mutation believed to trigger the disease, said Seaman.

He said efforts will also be made to use information provided during interviews with subjects to determine whether they share a common environmental exposure or other factor that might account for the disease.

That will include the use of Geographic Information System technology to determine whether those afflicted share any geographic commonalities that might explain the illness.

In December, Seaman said the federal agency became interested in interviewing residents because of what appears to be an unusually high reporting of the disease locally.

Frequency of Polycythemia Vera, which became reportable to cancer registries in 2001, is estimated to be 1 in 100,000.

Because of its population, estimated at 500,000, the three-county region being investigated might be expected to see five cases per year or 25 cases over five years instead of the 97 cases reported from 2001-2005, the only period from which data is currently available.

Seaman said the federal agency will likely hold a public meeting in early August to release its findings.

shessinger@republicanherald.com

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