2007.12.07 – Data ‘strongly suggests’ rare cancer tied to environment

Feds: Data ‘strongly suggests’ rare cancer tied to environment

BY KENT JACKSON
AND SHAWN A. HESSINGER
TIMES • SHAMROCK WriterS
kent.jackson@standardspeaker.com
shessinger@republicanherald.com
12/07/2007

In a surprising declaration, the federal government says there is “significant evidence” that people living near the McAdoo Associates Superfund site face an extra risk of developing a rare blood cancer due to environmental factors, according to a document posted on the American Society of Hematology Web site Thursday.

The report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for the first time draws a link between the environment and polycythemia vera only six weeks after the same agency claimed no such link could be found.

The new report ruled out family relationships, work and recreational activities as being responsible for people living within 13 miles of McAdoo Associates being 4½ times more likely to contract polycythemia vera than other residents of Schuylkill, Luzerne and Carbon counties.

The agency is scheduled to present the information at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology in Atlanta on Monday.

At an Oct. 24 meeting in Hazleton, data released by the agency showed elevated levels of the rare blood disease, but was not specific about where cases were concentrated and made no link with the environment. Federal officials defended their lack of ability to link the illness to environmental factors to the disgust of an angry crowd of more than 130 people.

The new report, however, states: “Lack of traditional epidemiological explanations and the high degree of statistical certainty for the geographical association of the cases strongly suggests that an external influence led to the development of PV.”

“I believe polycythemia vera is like the canary in the coal mine. It’s indicative of a much larger problem,” said Dante J. Picciano, a West Penn Township attorney and scientist with training in genetics who has been in the forefront on local environmental issues including the Superfund site.

At McAdoo Associates, toxic chemicals were dumped into mines from 1975 to 1979. The federal Environmental Protection Agency cleaned the site in the early 1990s, but doesn’t know the extent of the dumping or the fate of the chemicals, ATSDR’s report states.

On Oct. 24, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry confirmed 38 cases of the rare cancer in eastern Schuylkill and northern Luzerne counties where statistically only 25 might have been expected — 52 percent higher than anticipated — over the last five years.

Four of the cases were on Ben Titus Road. The confirmed cases are a conservative estimate, the report states.

Eighteen people with confirmed cases lived within the 13-mile radius for five years or more between 1970 and 1995.

Researchers identified 97 cases in the state registry and had 34 other patients report that they had the disease. Of those 131 people, 63 were tested.

The “external stimulus” associated with contracting polycythemia vera remains uncharacterized, the new report states.

The report was written by Ronald Hoffman, Mingjiang Xu, Aisha Jumaan, Brian Lewis, Carol A. Gotway, Vincent Seaman and Paul I. Roda, an oncologist in Hazleton. It is available online at http://www.abstracts2view.com/hem07/view.php?nu=HEM07L1_1871.

After a federally mandated cleanup of the site, including removal of contaminated soil and 7,000 drums of chemicals from the site in the early 1980s, the property was removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund National Priorities List of most contaminated sites in 2001.

Jim Leber, Elizabethtown, a former mine inspector for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, now the state Department of Environmental Protection, confirmed in October that in 1976 he had witnessed and reported chemical dumping at the site.

At the time, McAdoo Associates was licensed as a metal reclamation and incineration facility on an 8-acre former mining site in Kline Township.

Leber said he had discovered that trucks entering the site with a variety of volatile organical chemicals and other wastes were emptying into 15,000-gallon tanks, on which large spigots had been open to allow the materials to spill onto the ground.

In October, an EPA spokesman acknowledged contaminants in groundwater beneath the property may still exist, but said the federal agency believes a clay cap and drainage ditches around the site have prevented any further water from entering to leach pollutants.

“There’s no conspiracy to hide any information,” Steve Dearwent, chief of investigations branch, Division of Health Studies for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said at the time.

Health officials say the cause of polycythemia vera, a bone marrow cancer producing an increase in red blood cells, remains unknown and more research is needed.

Concerns over contamination at the former Superfund site also extend to the nearby Still Creek Reservoir that serves customers in the borough of Tamaqua, Rush, West Penn and Schuylkill Townships.

Betty Kester, a Rush Township resident living across the street from the Still Creek Reservoir was diagnosed with the disease in 2002 or 2003 and her husband, Lester, was diagnosed with the disease in 2001.

The Tamaqua Area Water Authority has repeatedly said there is no proof of any contamination of the reservoir.

See the report abstract at http://www.abstracts2view.com/hem07/view.php?nu=HEM07L1_1871

©The REPUBLICAN & Herald 2007

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