2007.10.17 – State to release findings of cancer study

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State to release findings of cancer study

Wednesday, 17 October 2007
By SHAWN A. HESSINGER
Staff Writer

The region will receive its cancer diagnosis Oct. 24, and some concerned citizens believe the prognosis will be bad.

The state Department of Health announced Tuesday a public meeting to release findings on incidence of a rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera from 7 to 9 p.m. at Best Western Genetti Inn & Suites, Hazleton.

“I’m sure the community will have some questions and hopefully we’ll be able to provide some answers,” said Stacy Kriedeman, a spokeswoman for the department.

Kriedeman said representatives from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the state Department of Health, along with a national polycythemia vera expert and local doctors, will attend the meeting.

Joseph Murphy, a resident of Hometown, said he expects the data to show four times the number of cases expected for the rare affliction, confirming residents’ suspicions of a “cancer cluster” in the area. The disease causes an overproduction of red blood cells in patients.

Environmental activist Dante J. Picciano, a trained geneticist and attorney with a background in environmental issues, said on his Web site, www.dante7.com, in September that the federal agency would be reporting 72 cases of the disease – or triple the 25 cases that might be expected in the Schuylkill, Luzerne and Carbon County region where data was collected.

Door-to-door surveys by concerned citizens had suggested 97 total diagnosed cases of the disease in the area, or four times the expected number.

State and federal officials have repeatedly declined to share the contents of the study prior to its release but have said it includes both interviews with patients and, in some cases, blood sampling to confirm diagnosis. “I don’t know the exact numbers. I don’t know the tone of the data that’s going to be released,” Murphy said.

He said regardless of the specific findings, he believes the data will form the basis for research into the elevated incidence of the disease locally and possibly its cause by medical research groups in the future.

“This will give us a place to get started,” he said.

State and federal officials pulled the plug on a plan to hold that meeting from 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 29 because they needed more time to review the data.

On Sept. 27, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., wrote a letter to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry urging public briefings for the community to share data with the community upon the study’s completion.

“The community is anxiously the findings and the recommendations of the study,” Specter wrote.

“I think he was just trying to put the agency on notice that he is watching this carefully,” Kate Kelly, deputy press secretary for Specter, said Tuesday.

In an October 2006 visit, Specter urged the federal agency to look into concerns over the incidence of the disease locally in a press conference near a former Superfund site that has peaked concern over local health issues.

Concern over polycythemia vera 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 the former McAdoo Associates 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.

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.

shessinger@republicanherald.com

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