2009.03.13 – Congress OKs $5 million to study cancer outbreak

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Congress OKs $5 million to study cancer outbreak
Cluster cases of blood disease found in Luzerne, Schuylkill and Carbon counties.

By John J. Moser
Of The Morning Call
March 13, 2009

Money to study what’s causing a cluster of rare blood cancer cases in a 20-mile swath of Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties from Tamaqua to Hazleton has been approved by Congress.

The Senate on Tuesday approved an appropriations bill with $5 million for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess polycythemia vera trends and risk factors, including the possibility of environmental causes, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter said.

The money also may be used to improve reporting of the disease and other blood cancers.

Drexel University’s School of Public Health in Philadelphia also will get $499,000 for studies.

Specter promised the funding at an Oct. 6 meeting of local, state and federal officials in Hazleton. But just $2 million was sought.

”I am pleased that the congress has approved this funding,” Specter said. ”The community is very concerned about the problem and they’re entitled to the best answers science can give them.”

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in August said it confirmed 33 cases of polycythemia vera — four times the expected number — in the area. It’s the only recorded cluster in the United States, but the disease only became reportable to state cancer registries in 2001, and little is known about it, so other clusters are likely to exist, officials said. The disease causes overproduction of red blood cells and can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Activists have cited coal mining and mine drainage, electric plants that burn waste coal, and federal Superfund sites in the area as suspected causes.

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