2008.08.19 – Public update scheduled by ATSDR on polycythemia vera investigation


August 19, 2008

Public update scheduled by ATSDR on polycythemia vera investigation
Meeting set for Aug. 25 at Genetti’s, Hazleton

By JOE PLASKO jplasko@tnonline.com
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is holding a public meeting to update its investigation into a rash of a rare blood cancer that has been discovered in the Still Creek area north of Tamaqua.

The session, to discuss the final findings into the probe of the polycythemia vera (PV) cases in Schuylkill, Luzerne, and Carbon counties, will be held on Monday, August 25 from 7-9 p.m. at Genetti’s Best Western Hotel, located at 1441 N. Church St. (Route 309) in Hazleton.

ATSDR, a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evaluates the human health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.

National experts on PV and representatives from the Pennsylvania Departments of Health (PADOH) and Environmental Protection will participate in the community meeting, according to news release issued by the agency.

Polycythemia vera is a rare illness that causes the body to make too many red blood cells, which produce oxygen for the body. It is considered as a blood cancer.

In August, 2006, PADOH asked ATSDR to help determine the number of PV cases in the tri-county area and to look for possible factors in common among them.

On Oct. 24, 2007, an initial public meeting was held at Genetti’s Best Western regarding the ATSDR study. At that time, the study confirmed there were elevated levels of polycythemia vera in the three counties that were studied.

Statistically, the study revealed that Pennsylvania’s rate of the disease between 2001-05 was 1.49 cases per 100,000 per year, compared to the national average of .9 per 100,000.

By contrast, the rate in Carbon County over that period was .66 per 100,000, while in Schuylkill County is was .46 and Luzerne County .42.

There have been eight cases of the disease reported along Ben Titus Road in Still Creek. “In the Tamaqua area, there were more cases than anticipated,” said Dr. Steve Dearwent, the chief of ATSDR’s health investigation bureau’s division of health services.

The study was performed by interviewing those who had registered with ATSDR with the disease. The registry reported 97 cases of polycythemia vera, although only 38 of those were interviewed for a variety of reasons. The agency also interviewed 32 others who had the disease but had not reported it to the registry.

Of those interviewed, 53 were found to have the JAK2 gene mutation used to determine the existence of polycythemia vera.

The study drew criticism from area environmental activists because it did not attempt to find an environmental link for the disease. Ben Titus Road in Still Creek is located near the McAdoo Associates Superfund site, where toxic dumping had taken place in prior decades.

Still Creek Reservoir, which supplies drinking water for the Tamaqua area, is also in close proximity of the site, creating concern about the potential for more widespread contamination. There is a filtration plant for the reservoir, and the water has been tested to various degrees.

The agency is expected to outline areas for future research. For Joe Murphy of Hometown, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, that could be good news.

“It is my hope that we can finally get the right science to take a look at this,” said Murphy.