2008.08.26 – Cancer cluster exists between Tamaqua, McAdoo

http://citizensvoice.com/articles/2008/08/26/news/wb_voice.20080826.t.pg36.cv26cdatsdr_s1.1904045_loc.txt

Federal agency: Cancer cluster exists between Tamaqua, McAdoo

BY MIA LIGHT
STAFF WRITER
Published: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 4:13 AM EDT

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on Monday confirmed something that residents of an area at the intersections of Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties have felt sure of for many years — that an unusually high number of people there are suffering from a rare blood cancer.

In a public meeting held Monday at Genetti’s Best Western Hotel in Hazle Township, the ATSDR released the final results of a two-year study that confirmed 33 cases of polycythemia vera cancer diagnoses — a statistically significant number in a 15-mile hot zone surrounding Ben Titus Road between Tamaqua and McAdoo.

Polycythemia vera is a rare bone marrow disorder that results in overproduction of red blood cells. One in 100,000 people are expected to develop it. It is classified as a cancer because stem cells in the marrow do not respond to the normal signal to stop producing red blood cells.

Residents in the affected ZIP codes were four times as likely to suffer from PV as residents living in outlying areas, according to the government.

In October 2006 at the request of the state Department of Health, the ATSDR began a study into the number of PV cases reported in the tri-county area. The study, which confirmed a statistically significant cluster of diagnoses around the tri-county intersection, also identified two smaller — but still statistically significant — PV cancer cluster areas: one south of Frackville in Schuylkill County and one near Jim Thorpe in Carbon County.

Vince Seaman, research toxicologist with the ATSDR in Atlanta, said the study revealed “more than enough cases to call it statistically significant.”

The report found three environmental similarities in common in the cluster areas: hazardous waste sites, air pollution and coal mining operations.

Some residents blame their illnesses on a recycler called McAdoo Associates that accepted hundreds of thousands of gallons of paint sludge, waste oils, used solvents, PCBs, cyanide, pesticides and many other known or suspected carcinogens.

Environmental officials shut down the site in 1979, and it was later placed on the federal Superfund list and cleaned up.

However, the study could not pinpoint which, if any, of the environmental commonalities might influence PV.

“We are not ruling anything out here. Now that we’ve got the ‘what’ we need to get to the ‘why,’” Seaman said.

On the heels of the ATSDR report, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter announced that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $262,000 for the Drexel University School of Public Health of Philadelphia to investigate the Northeastern Pennsylvania PV cancer cluster. The funding has not yet cleared full Senate.

Exploration of the possible environmental link will commence with the Drexel study.

According to the ATSDR, medical research has discovered that a mutation in a gene called JAK2 occurred in most PV patients. The discovery led scientists to search for the cause of the mutation in hopes of finding the cause of PV.

The ATSDR report recommends four steps in future research: rigorous risk factor studies, long-term clinical evaluation of patients, assessment of genetic markers for PV and environmental exposures, and evaluate other myeloproliferative disorders.

“I assure you, this is not the end. This is the middle of solving the puzzle,” Seaman said.

Joseph Murphy, a Tamaqua area resident and environmental advocate, said he realizes the study is a work in progress. “I wish they could have been more specific with the type of research and science that will commence at Drexel University to get the answers we need,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

mialight@standardspeaker.com, 570-455-3636

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