2008.08.26 – Cancer Cluster Confirmed Between Hazleton, Tamaqua

POSTED: 08-26-2008 07:37 PM ET | MODIFIED: 08-27-2008 01:35 PM ET

Cancer Cluster Confirmed Between Hazleton, Tamaqua

It’s the first of its kind in the U.S. A cancer cluster sparking a rare blood disorder. Health officials don’t know what’s causing it, but they do know it has roots in our area. The disease is known as “PV” and health officials say a lot of people living between Hazleton and Tamaqua have it. WFMZ’s Bo Koltnow reports.
A cancer cluster is the occurrence of a larger than expected number of cases of cancer within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time. An area where this is apparently occurring is right in our backyard. >>Reporter On a beautiful late summer day- 63 year old Merle Wertman should be out enjoying his retirement. Instead he spent most of the day in the hospital. >>Merle Stick 22-26 inch needle up your arm. Sucks all the blood out. >>Reporter The procedure is called a Phlebotomy. Something he has to do every couple of weeks. In 2003 Wertman who has no history of family cancer was diagnosed with a polycythemia vera or PV. >>Merle Most of the time fell sluggish, can’t work, tired, miserable, don’t feel right. >>Reporter The Tamaqua man who moved to the area almost 40 years ago is not alone in his battle with this rare form of cancer. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry confirmed 33 cases of PV in Luzerne, Carbon and Schuylkill counties. They call it a cancer cluster, the first and only cluster of PV ever recorded in the U.S. >>Dr. Roda (Bo 2) 48-50 Pattern of where disease is suggest environmental. >>Reporter Dr. Paul Roda who has been working to confirm the cases since 2002 has no hard proof of the environment being the cause…. But says the largest cluster of confirmed cases is around dumping and superfund sites. The McAdoo superfund site in Schyulkill county has 4 confirmed cases in a 13 mile radius. >>Dr. Roda (Bo 2) 54-04 If it wasn’t environmental you would see in West Hazelton, Drums, Minersville. >>Reporter Wertman’s wife of 40 years Linda is healthy but her health is not her worry. >>Linda I’m more concerned with my grandkids. They’re younger, we’re up in age. I don’t want to see any child get sick. >> Dr. Roda says that is a concern. He says work is being done to find out what is causing this disease. Yesterday Senator Arlen Specter approved 260-thousand dollars to investigate the cluster.