2007.12.08 – Feds back off disease report

Feds back off disease report

Saturday, 08 December 2007
Staff Writer

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has now backed off the abstract of a report concerning diseases that may have been caused by illegal dumping at a Kline Township site in the 1970s.

The report itself will be presented Monday to a medical conference in Atlanta.

But an abstract of the report has been available for weeks. It states with virtual certainty the high local rate of a rare blood disease was caused by chemicals at McAdoo Associates, once one of the top federal Superfund sites in the nation.

But Friday, officials said the abstract was publicly released mistakenly, and that no direct link had been established.

“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,” the abstract states.

It stated that people who had lived within 13 miles of the former McAdoo Associates site, along Route 309 just south of the borough were four and a half times more likely to develop polycythemia vera, a blood cancer, than people living in other parts of the three counties. The abstract was submitted to the American Society of Hematology.

But Friday, ATSDR Chief of Health Investigation Steve Dearwent, an epidemiologist, told the Associated Press the abstract was written early in the summer, adding that subsequent analysis of the data did not support the conclusion of an environmental link — although he added that’s still possible. He said the abstract should have been revised before it was submitted.

“We’re going to have to retract the abstract to correct the record because it is erroneous information,” Dearwent said. “It was preliminary and hadn’t been vetted, and unfortunately it got submitted unbeknownst to most people here.’’

Dearwent said additional research might prove an environmental link.

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, lead epidemiologist at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said the abstract is “not an accurate representation of what the current thinking is.”

Dearwent said Friday the early analysis on which the abstract was based was faulty because it incorrectly assumed that residents with polycythemia vera had lived near McAdoo Associates for the entire 25 years of the study period, when in fact some had moved around. That, he said, invalidated the assertion that people living nearby were at 4.5 times greater risk, he said.

But the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Ronald Hoffman of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said Friday data does in fact point to something in the environment.

“Based upon the data, there’s significant concern that there is something in the environment leading to the development of polycythemia vera in that area. The nature of what’s causing it is unknown at the moment and is going to require further study,” he said.

Dante Picciano, head of the group Army for A Clean Environment, said the data indicates a larger problem than polycythemia vera. He said he wants study of a wide range of cancers and other diseases in the area.

“This is the tip of the iceberg. It’s inconceivable that you’re going to have environmental exposures cause an increase in (only) one type of rare cancer,” he told AP.

Polycythemia vera, classified as a cancer, can lead to heart attack or stroke. The cause is unknown. About 1 case of polycythemia vera occurs each year in every 100,000 Americans.

But ATSDR confirmed 18 cases of it within 13 miles of McAdoo Associates between 1970 and 1995. They were among 38 confirmed cases in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties.

McAdoo Associates was a hazardous waste recycling business which operated from 1975 to 1979. It accepted hundreds of thousands of gallons of paint sludge, waste oils, used solvents, PCBs, cyanide, pesticides and other known or suspected carcinogens.

The Environmental Protection Agency officials shut the operation down in 1979. It was later placed on the federal Superfund list and cleaned up.

But residents have long feared chemicals from the site worked their way into water supplies and polluted wells and reservoirs.

But, state and federal environmental officials have said for years that McAdoo Associates does not pose a health threat.

When the full report is discuss Monday, the abstract’s number of confirmed cases of polycythemia vera near McAdoo Associates will not be included. Biostatisticians wanted more time to analyze data and make sure it is correct, he said.