2009.03.12 – $5M to fund cancer stud


$5M to fund cancer study

Published: Thursday, March 12, 2009 4:11 AM EDT

Congress approved $5.5 million to study a rare blood cancer cluster in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter announced Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will get the lion’s share of the funding, $5 million, to study trends and environmental risk factors in the cluster area, according to a release from the senator’s office.

“I am pleased that the Congress has approved this funding to study the higher-than-usual incidence of the blood disease in the area,” Specter said. “The community is very concerned about the problem and they’re entitled to the best answers science can give them.”

The rare disease showed up years ago in four people who live along Ben Titus Road in Rush Township, and last August, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reported 33 cases of polycythemia vera in the tri-county region.

Ben Titus Road, which is between McAdoo and Tamaqua, remains the epicenter of the cluster, which is near the McAdoo Associates Superfund site, cogeneration plant and other sources of hazardous materials.

“I’ve been working on this for a long time — going back to 2006 — and the people in that area are really very worried about this problem and they’re entitled to have the best answer science can give them. And I think we’re getting there,” Specter said.

“This threatens an entire community. When you have these Superfund sites which were created for the industrial development of the area, government ought to respond and do something about it,” Specter said. “And this is, I think, something which really needs to be done. And it takes a lot of push to get it done.”

Those who worked to bring the issue to the forefront — from tri-county residents to activists to local doctors — hope the appropriation will bring the community answers.

Dr. Peter Baddick, Quakake, was one of those people and has been celebrating the funding, which is $3.5 million more than what had been requested.

He also hopes that the study will include other cancers as well, because the region is a “hot bed of cancer.” His involvement began in 2002, when polycythemia vera cases and others started showing up in his practice, he said.

The research should start with those who are sick and still living in the suspect area, and work backward, Baddick said.

“We don’t need to drill more bore holes. We know what’s there,” he said. “They need to start with the people who are sick.”

Hydrogeologist and former state Department of Environmental Protection employee Bob Gadinski sees the study as a necessity for the people living in the area.

“It’s better than sitting back and ignoring a problem,” he said, but the activist also urged caution with using the existing data available without validating it.

Another activist, Joseph Murphy, Hometown, saw the inclusion of the funding in the government’s operating budget, and not as part of a stimulus package, as significant. Lawmakers had discussed the need for the study more than a year ago, he said.

“The need for discovering the truth about what is going on in the region is on everyone’s mind,” Murphy said. “Hopefully, with objective, fair and unbiassed science we can get the answers that the people deserve.”

The remaining $499,000 of the appropriation will go to Drexel University’s School of Public Health in Philadelphia to study rare blood diseases.