2009.03.12 – Locals react to $5.5 million funding secured by Specter

March 12, 2009

‘People here deserve an answer’

Locals react to $5.5 million funding secured by Specter

By DONALD R. SERFASS dserfass@tnonline.com
20090312-specterU.S. Sen. Arlen Specter at the former McAdoo Associates site in 2006.

Locals involved with the investigation into the cause of a rare blood disease offered a variety of comments regarding news that U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had secured $5.5 million in federal funding to study the cancer cluster.

Hometown resident and health advocate Joe Murphy said it’s good news because the funding likely would include resources to address 12 studies already recommended and other scientific research.

Murphy said he’s pleased about the announcement.

“It sends a signal that Sen. Specter is serious about helping us find an answer. People here deserve an answer. We need to engage the right science to get at the truth,” he said.

A Tamaqua resident involved with the issue from the beginning said he’s glad progress is being made.

“I got a call yesterday and I think it’s great,” said Merle Wertman, who has been a proponent of getting to the bottom of the polycythemia vera crisis and has attended virtually every meeting on the matter. “It’s a disease that should be taken care of and I hope we spend the money on research so that every penny goes for it.”

Wertman expressed relief over what has been many years of frustration.

“At least we’re more ahead now than we were five years ago. At least we have a start,” he said.

Tamaqua Area School District nurse Cathy Miorelli, who also pushed for answers and was part of an initial health screening conducted in the region several years ago, sees the news as positive.

“I’m pleased that it’s moving forward,” said Miorelli, a member of Tamaqua Borough Council.

Miorelli recalled the plight of the Kester family, Lester and Betty. The couple resided on Ben Titus Road in Rush Township and both were diagnosed with polycythemia vera.

20090312-residentsTIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO Some of the local residents who attended Sen. Specter’s announcement in October, 2006, at McAdoo Associates.

The Kesters were among the first local residents to put a face on the illness. They were highly visible to the public through extensive media interviews and their appearance at any forums related to the medical condition and the local crisis.

Sadly, the Kesters passed away last year; Lester in January, Betty in July.

“It’s a shame that they aren’t here to see this happen,” said Miorelli.

There are reports that efforts are under way to establish a memorial in honor of Betty and Lester Kester through the MPD network, or Myleo-Proliferative Disorder Foundation. The foundation would raise money to do additional research on the illness.

The incidence of polycythemia vera seems to impact the Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill county region, with one report calling it the most pronounced incidence of the illness in the country.

Following Specter’s appearance at the former McAdoo Associates site in October, 2006, at which time Specter said a statistical analysis would be conducted, he convened a public meeting in Hazleton on August 25, 2008.

At that session, held at Genetti’s Best Western Motor Lodge, Specter revealed details of what he called the “Final Report to the Community.”

At that time, federal officials said at least 33 confirmed cases of polycythemia vera (PV) had been identified in Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties. It appeared to be a highly pronounced cluster and one centered around the McAdoo Associates Superfund Site. The site is one of five Superfund locations in the general area.

“The health of my constituents is of utmost importance and I remain concerned about the reports of a cancer cluster in northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Specter in a prepared statement. “It is clear that more research is necessary to pinpoint the reasons for this cluster, including whether environmental contaminants are a factor, and this funding will help to accomplish what today’s panel of experts recommends.”

Specter, a ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education, said the funds would specifically target the polycythemia vera cluster. The determination was made after consultation with the PA Department of Health and Drexel University.