Posted – August 26, 2008

Waste Coal Cogeneration Plant

On August 25, 2008, scientists from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) held a public meeting in Hazleton, Pennsylvania about the results of their investigation into the polycythemia vera cancer cluster in this area. The main point being reported in the press is that the federal agency confirmed the presence of a polycythemia vera cluster ñ the first and only cluster of polycythemia vera ever recorded in the United States. We have three specific comments on the meeting.

First, the federal scientists also reported that they found three areas within Luzerne, Schuylkill and Carbon counties with a significant elevation of the polycythemia vera rate. The three areas were identified as an area south of Hazleton and north of Tamaqua, an area south of Frackville and an area in eastern Carbon County near Jim Thorpe.

Dr. Vincent Seaman, a research toxicologist at the ATSDR, stated that a conservative estimate of the polycythemia vera rate in these three areas was four times higher than the rest of the tri-county region. In October 2007, the ATSDR reported that the rate in the tri-county region was approximately 4 times the state rate (see Archives: ÏPolycythemia Vera Cancer Epidemic, November 9, 2007). Thus, it is fair to state that the ATSDR results indicate an approximate 16-fold increase in the polycythemia vera rate in these three areas.

The ATSDR report did not indicate what is the cause of this polycythemia vera epidemic but did identify hazardous waste sites, air pollution and coal mining operations as three environmental similarities in these areas. We can go farther than the ATSDR.

In 2006, Sue Sturgis, a reporter from North Carolina reviewed the Pennsylvania Department of Healthís data of reported cases of polycythemia vera by county for the years 2001 through 2003 and suggested a possible association between polycythemia vera and power plants that burn waste coal (see Cancer researcher confirms possible link between polycythemia, waste-fuel-burning power plants, December 7, 2006, www.hometownhazards.com.

In 2007, we published an article indicating that there was evidence suggesting a possible link between the polycythemia vera and waste coal burning power plants (see Archives: ÏPointing the ATSDR in the Right Direction,August 24, 2007).

There are waste coal burning power plants in the three areas identified in the ATSDR report. We can only hope that the scientists at the ATSDR will open their eyes and look at the most likely cause of the polycythemia vera epidemic.

Second, a representative from the office of Senator Arlen Specter announced that Senator Specter had arranged for $262,000 in federal funding for Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia to investigate the polycythemia vera problem in this area. The full Senate, the House of Representatives and the President must still approve the appropriation.

We found this direct appropriation to a school in Philadelphia to be of particular interest. In 2007, Senator Specter wrote about the initial ATSDR report as follows, “I am heartened by the study’s findings that there are no environmental or occupational causes for the disease….”

In addition, the usual method for funding scientific research is to give the money to a federal agency such as the National Institutes of Health and have a scientific panel select the best proposal for the funding. I am suspect of the motives of any politician who is heartened by findings of no environmental or occupational causes and who gives money directly to a university in his hometown.

Finally, in 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported statistically significant increases in the incidences of buccal cavity (mouth), cervix, colon-rectum, larynx, leukemia, polycythemia vera, skin (malignant melanoma), stomach and uterus cancers in the tri-county area. However, the government scientists have failed to follow up on any of these cancers other than the polycythemia vera cancers.

Perhaps our elected officials can put some pressure on the federal and state scientists to do their jobs.