2008.08.30 – More study needed to pinpoint PV cause


More study needed to pinpoint PV cause

If there’s one major thing that came out of the federal study that confirmed 33 cases of a rare blood cancer in the area where Luzerne, Carbon and Schuylkill counties meet, it’s that more investigative research must be done.

Published: Saturday, August 30, 2008 4:31 AM EDT

The study, begun in 2006 and detailed during a gathering this week in Hazleton, showed there is a “statistically significant” number of diagnoses of polycythemia vera in the area of Ben Titus Road between Tamaqua and the McAdoo/Hazleton area. It also identified two smaller PV areas, one south of Frackville in Schuylkill County and the other near Jim Thorpe in Carbon County.

PV is a disease in which red blood cells become too numerous and thicken the blood. Scientists do not know what causes it and they don’t know why there are so many cases in the tri-county area.

Residents of the affected areas were four times as likely to suffer from PV as residents residing in outlying areas, according to the study.

And the 33 cases represent the first and only cluster of PV ever recorded in the United States, although officials said it is statistically likely there are others.

To say this is unsettling is an understatement.

While locals blame environmental factors — specifically the old McAdoo Associates toxic material site in the cluster area, which made the federal Superfund list of the nation’s most toxic places — researchers do not know if the site is in fact the culprit or if something else is at the root of the cluster.

Sure, McAdoo Associates processed some pretty lethal stuff at its operation in the 1970s — thousands of gallons of paint sludge, waste oils, used solvents, PCBs, cyanide, pesticides and other known and suspected carcinogens.

But to assume something, without supportive scientific data, would be foolish and irresponsible.

If, for instance, the causative agent is something other than the old Superfund site, we need to know that in order to deal with it.

That’s why more investigation and research is critical to determine what causes PV, what caused this cluster and how it must be confronted and eliminated.

The government should leave no stone unturned until all of the nagging, perplexing questions are answered.

To their credit, representatives of the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry have signalled that the necessary additional probing will be done.

“I assure you, this is not the end. This is the middle of solving this puzzle,” Vince Seaman, a research toxicologist with ATSDR, said during the Aug. 25 meeting at Genetti’s Best Western Hotel, Hazleton.

While the study found three environmental similarities in the cluster area — hazardous waste sites, air pollution and coal mining operations — it uncovered no smoking gun, so to speak, pinpointing the cause.

“We don’t want to give the message that there are no connections (to environmental issues),” Seaman said. “We just don’t have the data.”

He also said researchers are “not ruling anything out here. Now that we’ve got the what (the study confirming the PV cluster), we need to get to the why.”

Certainly, he’s right.

Accompanying the ATSDR report was word from U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $262,000 for the Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, to investigate the cluster.

According to news reports from the Hazleton meeting, the Drexel study will begin the exploration of a possible environmental link to the cancer.

However, the funding has not yet been cleared by the full Senate. The legislative body should approve it without delay. There is no need for prolonged debate about this. There is a cancer cluster in the region and something is at the root of it. Having such a monster in our midst leaves little room for domestic tranquility or the pursuit of happiness.

We trust Specter will stay on top of this vitally important issue to see that the money is cleared — and to get additional funding if it is needed.

Nothing short of pinpointing a cause and remedy will be satisfactory.