Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Northeast Pennsylvania Polycythemia Vera Investigation

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Northeast Pennsylvania Polycythemia Vera (PV) Investigation


In 2004, using state cancer registry records, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) found a PV cluster in northeast Pennsylvania. PV is part of a disease group called myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN), which is a group of slow-growing blood cancers where the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.

In 2006, ATSDR was asked to help study PV patterns in the area. From 2007-2008, ATSDR reviewed medical records, conducted genetic testing, and confirmed this PV cluster.

In 2009, Congress funded ATSDR to continue this investigation. ATSDR is overseeing 18 projects with PADOH, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and various universities and private organizations. These projects are based on recommendations from an expert panel. The panel identified four areas for investigation; epidemiology, genetics, toxicology, and environmental studies.

In 2014, the last of the contracts for the 18 different projects ended.



The graphic with this email provides a summary of the status of each of the 18 projects as of October 2014.  I’ve attached this graphic both as a “snapshot” in the body of this email, as well as a pdf attachment.  Projects highlighted in “green” in the attached graphic have work complete and a final product available (if applicable).  Projects highlighted in “yellow” have final products in progress and undergoing clearance.  Projects highlighted in “red” have final products that are anticipated but not yet started.  The shapes of the projects in the graphics give you an idea of the category of work of that project, as described in the key on the graphic.


As of October 30, 2014, work is complete and a final product is available (if applicable) for 10 projects.  We are happy to announce that 3 new projects (#11, #13, and #18) moved from yellow to green since my April 2014 update:

  • #11:  “Comparative 4-County Study in South Central PA,” conducted by the University of Pittsburgh (Dr. Joel Weissfield) under contract with PADOH.  Final report received.  ATSDR/CDC summary factsheet on ATSDR website at:
  • #13:  “Case Control Study,” conducted by Drexel University (Dr. Carolann Gross-Davis).  Drexel PhD dissertation completed.  Note, this was the one project out of the 18 that was funded via  via a directed appropriation to that university.  Please contact Dr. Gross-Davis regarding requests for further information about her report/dissertation via the contact information on her website at
  • #18: “Air/Water Exposure Assessment,” conducted by Equity Environmental Engineering.  Two final reports (one on water/hydrogeology and one on air) received.  Two ATSDR summary factsheets are on the ATSDR website at:


Final products for another projects are in progress; this is an increase in one project moving from red to yellow (#14) since my August 2014 update.  A final product for 1 project (#6) is anticipated but not yet started.


For more information:

Visit ATSDR’s web page on PV:

Call ATSDR’s toll-free PV information line: 866-448-0242 or email jcx0@cdc, which will connect you to Dr. Elizabeth Irvin-Barnwell, ATSDR Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences.

Contact Lora Siegmann Werner, ATSDR Region 3, by phone at 215-814-3141 or by email at


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Researchers making new push in cancer cluster search,0,6418002.story

By Andrew McGill, Of The Morning Call
11:26 p.m. EDT, April 30, 2012

After a long year, Pennsylvania’s coal country still knows only three things for sure.

People are getting cancer in the region, rare cancer. They’re dying. And no one can say why.

In a Centers for Disease Control investigation that has already stretched seven years and is likely to last several more, researchers are returning to Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties in force next week, setting up shop in hospitals to interview the sick and collect data.

Their question is the same as last year’s, and the year before that, and the year before that: Exactly how many people have the blood-thickening cancer that, while supposedly rare, seems all too common in the three counties?

“We’re really hoping to get one last wave of interviews and consents here,” said Jeanine Buchanich, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh working with the CDC. “As it draws to a close it’s growing more and more important that people get back to us.”

Polycythemia vera puts the body’s blood-producing cells into overdrive, clogging arteries with up to five times as many red blood cells as normal. Itching, headaches and fatigue are the milder symptoms — if left untreated, the cancer can form fatal blood clots.

The most popular treatment tends to the medieval: bloodletting, which goes by “phlebotomy” these days and has been shown to reduce congestion in arteries. But a fancier name doesn’t make the process any more pleasant, and patients need treatment as often as once a month.

Nationwide, researchers think only one in 100,000 people have the disease. Scientists say that percentage is much higher in coal country, and the CDC has officially labeled the area a cancer cluster since 2005, a rare designation from a cautious agency.

More than $8 million has been spent to find out what’s making people sick. Two universities — the University of Pittsburgh and Drexel University — are conducting studies. A pair of hospitals are running their own tests.

It hasn’t been easy going.

Of the 340 potential Polycythemia vera patients Pitt scientists have contacted, only 80 have agreed to hand over their medical records. Even the promise of $50 gift cards couldn’t persuade the 30 people who refused to participate, or the hundreds more who haven’t responded.

Buchanich hopes her full-court press for more participants May 8-10 will change a few minds, but it is looking likely the study will end with far fewer subjects than she had hoped.

“We’re hoping to get that number as high as we can before we have to close the study,” Buchanich said. “We’ll be kind of dependent on how this goes.”

Then there’s the local community, which has watched its seat at the table shrink as the investigation continues. Funding for a liaison group linking research scientists and residents ended last year, and volunteers are still months away from securing the nonprofit status that would allow them to raise money.

In the meantime, many residents have doubts about the state Department of Environmental Protection’s investigation into environmental factors. Pennsylvania’s coal country has no lack of those, with toxic dumps from a long industrial history still festering in hills and crannies. Every resident has a theory for which spill or leak made their neighbors sick.

But a 28-point list of concerns to the CDC — why aren’t investigators sampling air inside homes? Will coal dust be considered as a possible cause? — was largely dismissed by the agency, with officials siding with their hired contractor.

Local activists say the lack of funding means they won’t be able to weigh in on study methodology before tests are conducted. As of late, federal officials haven’t even told them what’s going on, they say.

It was the residents who first brought to light the fact that their friends were dying, said Joe Murphy, coordinator of the Community Action Committee, a coal region group.

“And now we’re being told, ‘Thanks, see you later,'” he said. “We’re tossed to the side.”


Copyright © 2012, The Morning Call

Doubt on cancer cluster legislation,0,6315339.story

By Andrew McGill, Of The Morning Call
9:57 p.m. EDT, July 10, 2011

Some fear measure, which would create ‘first-responder’ task force, may not be genuine effort to protect public health in Carbon, Schuylkill, Luzerne counties.

Merle Wertman has been kept waiting a long time.

Eight years ago, doctors diagnosed him with polycythemia vera, a rare cancer that thickens the blood to a sludge only bloodletting can relieve. His neighbors in Tamaqua had just started to speak up, to declare something was wrong in the coal region, something that made people sick.

Eight years, millions of dollars in grants and countless studies later, investigators still don’t know why Wertman fell ill or why so many of his neighbors in this rural region share the same disease.

So every time the 66-year-old sits at a public meeting, checks his hemoglobin count or makes the twice-monthly trip to Coaldale for treatment, he can’t help but wonder: Are we being ignored?

“This is going on for eight years, and we’re getting no headway with it,” he said. “There’s no answer.”

Concerned by reports of cancer clusters in his own district near Wilkes-Barre, state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, proposed a bill last week for a statewide cancer cluster task force that would investigate cases like the coal region’s.

Pitched as a union between the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection, the team would be the state’s first responders, evaluating the situation and calling in the feds if necessary.

His measure drew applause from residents in Pittston, who say runoff from a local mine has sickened dozens. But  those who have been here before — namely weary members of the coal region’s Community Action Committee, the guardians of the area’s only federally-confirmed cancer cluster — have learned to be skeptical.

“My fear is that this is not a genuine effort to protect public health,” said Henry Cole, an environmental scientist from Upper Marlboro, Md. and the committee’s hired expert. “My fear is that it will be used to funnel public discontent into a system that can be controlled without any real protection.”

Yudichak’s bill would require the Department of Health to develop guidelines for investigating cancer clusters. It would bring together a team of experts in epidemiology, toxicology, pollution control and other specialties to look into complaints and write a report.

Anyone could submit a petition to call in the response team. The Department of Health would consider the site’s local pollution sources, significant health threats or the lack of good data.

“Any way that you can make the bureaucracy of state or federal government work more efficiently is a good thing,” Yudichak said. “Particularly when you’re talking about an emotional issue like this.”

The senator wrote the bill amid complaints from residents in Pittston, who said they had to go to local television stations before anyone would look into the high rate of cancer in some neighborhoods. The Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t found evidence of a cluster and said it won’t investigate further, residents say.

He’s lauded by his Luzerne County supporters, who say the bill would set into statute a clear path to addressing their concerns.

The subjects of the coal region’s cancer cluster study aren’t so sure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been investigating the cluster, which spans Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties, for nearly five years, making those who live in the area all too aware of the government’s limitations.

Joe Murphy, president of the Community Action Committee remembers 2004, when representatives from the Department of Health told him a cancer problem “didn’t exist.” DEP is hardly more popular. At a meeting in Tamaqua in June, residents heaved a collective sigh of exasperation when a DEP spokesman said tests to determine a cause haven’t found anything conclusive.

Neither state agency has the experts necessary to effectively investigate cancer clusters, Murphy said. For example, he said, much of the groundwork in the Tamaqua investigation has been outsourced to universities and professional contractors.

It’s also unclear how Yudichak’s team would be financed. The current bill doesn’t appropriate funds, and the senator admits both departments may have to use existing equipment and personnel.

That’s what Cole, a veteran and skeptic of government investigations , calls a recipe for neglect. He’s doubtful Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration would push the envelope on environmental issues, particularly when industry could stand to lose.

“They function in accordance with the policy of the executive branch of government, which is to promote energy development — with environmental protection taking the back seat in the bus,” he said. “This bill would do little to change that.”

Despite his distrust, Wertman is willing to give Yudichak’s bill a chance. Anything is better than being ignored, the polycythemia vera patient said. And hope does spring eternal.

“The more people you get involved, the better,” he said. “I’m not in love with DEP, don’t get me wrong, but maybe there’d be someone that could turn things around.”

Coal region still far from finding cause for mysterious cancer,0,2997474.story
10:35 p.m. EDT, June 18, 2011

Researchers studying a cancer cluster say they’re still mastering the basics in an investigation that’s stretched five years.

Five years have passed since federal researchers first came to Pennsylvania’s coal region seeking the origins of a mysterious disease.

And while numerous government agencies, hospitals, doctors and universities have joined the hunt, a cause remains elusive, those gathered in Tamaqua for an update of the studies found out Wednesday.

“PV” is as well-known as anthracite in the Pennsylvania coal region, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the rare form of cancer has taken unusually strong root. Estimated to affect one in 100,000 Americans — though researchers aren’t firm on that number — polycythemia vera has been known to hit four families on a single street in Tamaqua.

The victims have little in common, researchers say. They don’t have the same jobs, the same ancestry, the same lifestyle. The only things they share are age — the disease strikes few under 60 — and an attachment to the three-county region of Carbon, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties, home to one of the CDC’s few confirmed cancer clusters.

And to hear scientists speak at a community meeting Wednesday, proving anything further could be slow going.

At the Tamaqua Community Center, researchers said they’re still struggling with the basics of the investigation: finding people with PV, winnowing out the false positives and narrowing down possible environmental causes.

In a University of Pittsburgh study seeking to confirm legitimate cases of the blood cancer, only 27 patients out of the 164 queried agreed to participate. The numbers also are low for a sister study at Drexel University in Philadelphia, which has gotten 26 positive responses out of 117.

To date, researchers have diagnosed 372 cases.

But many of the names provided to researchers by the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry are out of date, either because of death or a change in address. Reporting irregularities mean researchers still aren’t sure how prevalent the cancer is in the general population.

“The primary data collection is very tedious,” said Carol Ann Gross-Davis, a researcher at Drexel. “But things are still progressing. Since Wednesday, we got two more cases. That’s how we have to count them.”

Progress has been similarly slow for state Department of Environmental Protection field workers, who have collected water, soil and sediment samples from homes of PV patients, nearby power plants and area water sources. They’ve found little, with water tests showing scattered elevations of lead and nitrates and a few homes showing moderate spikes in radon.

The one place they haven’t looked? The air. That’ll be left to private contractor Peter Jaran, who’s reproducing some of DEP’s tests and extending the search into the atmosphere, heavy with the grit of several nearby power plants.

But the $8 million in federal funding for the investigation includes a deadline, and several projects are coming due. Gross-Davis said her study, which seeks to find demographic data among PV patients, was supposed to end in September, far too early.

She’ll apply for an extension. But in an investigation that has grown many limbs — funding is split among a dozen separate projects and 10 organizations — coordinating efforts with other researchers has gummed the gears in finding PV’s cause.

At the same time, funding for the Community Action Committee, the investigation’s main public relations link to the coal region community, has nearly run out. Organizer Joe Murphy said the government has denied his request for $50,000 to keep the program going for another year, leaving him scrambling to find donors.

The group runs a PV support organization and distributes information on the progress of the studies.

The need for communication couldn’t have been clearer Wednesday. Residents, who have grown far too familiar with phrases like “allele burden” and “causal factors,” threw out suggestions: Have you looked at heredity? How about coal ash?

Frustration mounted.

Amid their questions, officials began hedging that they may never find the smoking gun that leads to PV.

That keeps Dr. Henry Cole awake at night. A paid adviser to the Community Action Committee, he’s seen the government muddle around and throw its hands up at the end of an investigation before. He doesn’t want the same fate for Tamaqua.

“There’s a distinction between not finding evidence and saying there’s no problem,” he said. “That’s been done all  over this country.”

Experts discuss likely sources of the rare blood illnesses in the three-county area
Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is it radon, fly ash or something else?

DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Dr. Jeanine Buchanich, University of Pittsburgh, stresses the importance of participating in studies aimed at targeting the cause of a rare blood disease. Buchanich was one of several speakers at a public forum held Wednesday at the Tamaqua Community Center. Also shown are Tom Murphy, Hometown, health and environmental advocate, and Dr. Henry Cole, Maryland.

Is radon the culprit in an unusually high number of cases of a rare blood illness in Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties? Or is it fly ash? Or maybe something else?

Those possibilities are being examined, along with a variety of other scenarios as part of $8.8M in research and investigations.

At Wednesday’s public meeting, sponsored by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Tri-County Polycythemia Vera (PV) Community Advisory Committee, an expert said significantly high levels of radon have been seen in studies here.

Robert K. Lewis, manager, hazardous sites cleanup, Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), told 50 in attendance at the Tamaqua Community Center that one environmental analysis of air quality has turned up an area of concern.

“We sampled radon in homes. Fifty percent of homes were 4 picocuries or higher,” noted Lewis, who explained that 48 different locations were tested. One area tested was where a high incidence of PV cases has been identified.

“We were requested to sample along Ben Titus Road,” said Lewis.

In terms of water analysis, Lewis said testing was done on “a combination of well water and commercial water supplies such as the Tamaqua Water Authority.”

Lewis said results indicate that Tamaqua residential drinking water appears to have no problem with contaminants. However, “we didn’t (test for) radon in water,” he added. That is one area that would need to be looked at, said Lewis.

Lewis indicated that drinking water testing turned up only two lead results and two nitrate.

“The department doesn’t feel that drinking water is a problem here, but we should go back and look for radon.”

One expert said the entire effort is multipronged.

“You have an interdisciplinary group of scientists working on these studies,” said Dr. Henry Cole of Maryland, who has been working with Tom Murphy, Hometown, a founder of the CAC group.

The meeting featured updates by the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection, the agency sampling drinking water, dust and soil at the homes of study participants.

In addition, workers are testing water and sediment at the McAdoo Superfund site and cogeneration plants in the area.

A team from Drexel University is trying to identify risk factors for the disease, while researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are studying the frequency of PV cases.

Research updates target PV incidence

The session provided a broad range of updates from a variety of sources:

Ÿ Elizabeth Irvin-Barnwell of the ATSDR said a total of 1,150 persons were screened for the JAK2 mutation, found in those who develop PV. In addition, 3,500 DNA samples were analyzed for the mutation.

“We can link each person’s test with demographic factors … it’s a groundbreaking study,” said Irvin-Barnwell.

Ÿ Dr. Lora Siegmann Werner of the ATSDR outlined initiatives in health education, such as developing literature to address “What does it mean if you have PV?” A comprehensive list of physicians has been completed because there is great need to get information to doctors, she said. She also lauded work by the CAC support group and Michelle Greshner.

Ÿ Dr. Jeanine Buchanich, University of Pittsburgh said, “We’re working with the Department of Health to do an expansion of the original study.” She said 372 cases are included in the study, all from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry. She said as many folks as possible should take part.

“We’re hoping CAC members will convey how important it is to participate in the study. The success of the study depends on getting people to participate.”

Ÿ Dr. Carol Ann Gross-Davis of Drexel University reported on a case control study of 147 people.

“Of the cases, we have 24 consented who have PV. We had 10 percent who declined to participate, which is their right,” she said, adding, “We’re doing it through the Geisinger system, coordinating through the University of Pittsburgh.”

Ÿ Dr. Jim Logue, Pennsylvania DOH principal investigator for the myeloproliferative neoplasm program, said he’s been involved in cancer analyses since 2004. He announced success with a partnership.

“We secured two contracts with the University of Pittsburgh.”

Ÿ David Marchetto, the department’s program manager, said progress is being made.

“The pieces are coming together,” he said. “We’re working with state, federal and local partners.” Marchetto also said, “Misclassification of the disease is a concern to us. There are cases reported to the cancer registry that aren’t PV, not only here but in southwestern and central Pa. as well.”

Similarly, sometimes PV cases do not get reported, he stated.

It was noted that Dr. Peter Jaran, environmental engineer from New Jersey, will look at groundwater and potential sources of contamination.

Local residents had several questions for the experts.

Irene Genther, a Nesquehoning resident and former educator with extensive background in the sciences, asked for clarification as to whether susceptibility to PV can be attributed to heredity. Irvin-Barnwell said heredity itself isn’t seen as a factor. Still, family history and ethnicity are areas being examined.

Genther advised attendees that contaminants such as fly ash dust and radon aren’t found only in the ground, but are airborne.

Some said a solution isn’t coming fast enough.

“It’s been eight years and we still don’t have an answer,” said PV patient Merle Wertman, Tamaqua. Wertman was on hand with wife Linda. The two have been staying on top of developments with the disease. Wertman was diagnosed in 2003. He has no family history of cancer.

Dr. Cole had words of praise for Murphy, a community volunteer who devotes himself to the role of environmental and health activist.

“Joe has put so much into this,” said Cole. “He’s been the guiding light. He put his whole heart and soul into this.”

Those in attendance gave Murphy a round of applause for his role in coordinating activities of the CAC.

National cancer prevention study looking for local volunteers

By Erin L. Nissley, Staff Writer
Published: May 2, 2011

Next month, Northeastern Pennsylvanians will have an opportunity to participate in a groundbreaking national study that will examine how lifestyle, genetics and the environment can cause or prevent cancer.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-3 is seeking to enroll up to 500,000 people from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico over the next few years. Enrollments locally will be taken during the Relay for Life event in Hazleton on from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 4, said local cancer study chairwoman Amy Herbener.

Men and women between the ages of 30 and 65 who have never been diagnosed with cancer can enroll in the study. At the Relay for Life event, potential enrollees must complete a brief written survey, provide some physical measurements and give a small blood sample. A more comprehensive survey must be completed at home.

And over the next two or three decades, participants will be asked to fill out follow-up surveys every few years, Herbener said.

“This has the potential to change so much,” from advances in cancer screenings to finding a cure, she said. “It’s about 15 hours of time over the course of someone’s lifetime (to fill out the surveys).”

It is the third such study undertaken by the American Cancer Society. The first began in the 1950s and played a major role in understanding cancer prevention and risk, especially the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer and the impact of air pollution on heart and lung conditions, according to American Cancer Society officials.

A second study, which began in 1982, is still ongoing.

Samuel Lesko, M.D., a research and medical director at the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute, said comprehensive studies like this can be a powerful tool for understanding the causes of cancer and the differences in how tumors develop. He said the study will likely examine participants’ DNA to see how subtle differences in genetics can impact the risk or acceleration of cancer.

People who want more information or to pre-register should call the American Cancer Society in Hazleton at 570-459-1212 or visit

Rare blood disorder

Rare blood disorder
Study will look at air and water quality

Reported on Friday, October 29, 2010

DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Members of the Tri-County Polycythemia Vera Citizens Advistory Committee pose questions late Thursday to experts who will study the local air and water quality. From left: CAC chairman and Tamaqua Mayor Chris Morrison; Mark Ioos, vice president, Skelly and Loy, Harrisburg; Peter Jaran, engineer, Equity Environmental Engineering, Flanders, NJ; and Joe Murphy, CAC member.

A New Jersey firm will oversee a regional air and water quality study to try and find out why there is a higher then normal incidence of a rare blood disease in the local area.

The study, the first of a multifaceted investigation, comes about after cases of polycythemia vera, a rare blood cancer, have surfaced in clusters at an unusually high rate in Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties.

Peter Jaran of Equity Environmental Engineering, Flanders, N.J., will serve as project manager and will employ the expertise of a project team to include Skelly & Loy, an environmental consulting firm in Harrisburg; and Princeton Somerset Group, a firm headed by Dr. Dennis M. Stainken, providing expertise in the field of toxicology, health issues, chemical exposures, contamination and other issues.

DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS “This is very personal to the community. We need to have open lines of communication,” says Peter Jaran, left, on Thursday at Tamaqua Borough Hall. Jaran, an environmental engineer from New Jersey, will serve as project manager in an air and water quality study as part of an investigation into a rare blood disorder that surfaced two years ago in Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties. Shown right is Joe Murphy, Hometown, of the Citizens Advisory Committee.

The study will be funded through part of the $8M earmarked by Sen. Arlen Specter.

“We were awarded the contract with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at the end of September,” said Jaran.

On Thursday, members of the Tri-County Polycythemia Vera Community Advisory Committee (CAC) took Jaran and Mark B. Ioos, vice president, Skelly and Loy, on a tour of the local area. The session was followed by a meeting at Tamaqua Borough Hall in which Jaran outlined the course of action and answered questions posed by CAC members. Tamaqua Mayor Chris Morrison serves as chairman of the CAC and moderated the session.

The goal of the assessment is to identify possible contributing factors of the PV cases and related myeloproliferative diseases (MPDs) and their possible link to environmental conditions in the area.

The discussion mentioned factors such as the presence of Superfund sites in the area, along with fly ash trucking and storage, and a wide variety of other industries such as co-gen plants, gas plants and manufacturers, and even the existing fluff pile in Hometown.

“We were originally looking at the drinking water,” revealed Jaran, noting that “the first step is that we have to take a look at the (existing) data. How does each one of the environmental aspects impact the human body.”

Hydrogeology has been identified as task one of the project, followed by air pollution exposure assessment. Air assessment will evaluate present and past exposures of cluster-area residents to specific air pollutants, including factors such as topography and air emission. Task three will focus on community interaction, including a working relationship with the CAC.

“This is very personal to the community,” said Jaran. “We need to have open lines of communication.”

That view was echoed by Morrison, who stressed the importance of timely dissemination of information to the public.

CAC members posed a wide variety of questions to Jaran and Ioos. For example, Hometown resident Joe Murphy, longtime advocate for a health and environment, asked Jaran if his firm or any of its clients might be seen as having a conflict of interest regarding aspects of the local study, including its outcome. Jaran said no, explaining that the potential issue already had been explored at Equity Environmental Engineering.

The air and water assessment study and other related studies will extend through 2011 and 2012.

During the business portion of the meeting, CAC members approved a request to the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for $25,000 in operational funding for both years.

Other studies are forthcoming. For example, Drexel University investigators will use a case control study to try and determine factors that may contribute to the PV cluster in the Tamaqua-Hazleton area by examining environmental and occupational histories of patients with PV and MPD-related disease and comparing them with those free of the diseases.

A University of Pittsburgh team will conduct a study that will compare PV rates in the Tamaqua-Hazleton area to those in four counties in the western Pennsylvania coal region to look for similarities and differences in the two areas that might provide clues to the causes of the disease.

Polycythemia vera advisory group announces contaminant study
Reported on Saturday, October 23, 2010

Polycythemia vera advisory group announces contaminant study

Tamaqua Mayor Chris Morrison, Chairman of the Tri-County Polycythemia Community Advisory Committee (CAC), announced Wednesday that Equity Environmental Engineering (EEE) has been chosen by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to conduct a study of possible exposure of area residents to contaminants in air and drinking water.

“We are pleased that ATSDR and CDC have funded this study in response to public concerns about high cancer rates and the many sources of contamination in our area.,” said Morrison.

According to Morrison, EEE investigators will meet with members of the CAC and tour the area on Oct. 28.

“Thanks to the hard work of community members we now have a large number of studies to get to the bottom of the cancer cluster in our area,” Morrison said.

U.S Senator Arlen Specter obtained about $8 million in federal funds for the research programs. On Sept. 22, researchers and government officials were on hand to discuss the major studies now underway; studies include:

Ÿ An epidemiological study by Drexel University designed to determine what factors that PV/MPD patients have in common and what factors separate those with the illnesses and those without.

Ÿ A study by the University of Pittsburgh (School of Public Health) to obtain an accurate and updated account of the number/incidence of PV/MPD cases in the tri-county area.

Ÿ A second study by University of Pittsburg scientists to investigate the incidence of PV/MPD in a four-county area of coal country in southwestern Pennsylvania with similar geography and demographics, coal burning plants and ash disposal sites.

Ÿ Laboratory studies by Dr. Ronald Hoffman (a foremost expert on PV) to determine more on the genetic changes that precipitate the onset of JAK-2 mutations and PV disease. One study will subject blood cells to various contaminants that have been found in the tri-county area.

Ÿ An analysis of thousands of blood samples and data from U.S. residents obtained from the CDC’s NHANES program, one of the largest randomized collections of samples and associated data in existence. The analysis will be used to estimate the frequency of PV, JAK-2 across the country and look for possible correlations with factors such as work history, diet and contaminant levels in blood.

What is Polcythemia vera?

What is Polcythemia vera?

Reported on Thursday, September 23, 2010

Polycythemia vera (PV) is a blood disease in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, causing a thickening of the blood.

PV usually takes years to develop. Most people are diagnosed with PV later in life, most often around age 60 or older. People with PV might experience headaches, tiredness and shortness of breath. They are also at risk for getting blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.

At this time, there is no cure for PV. But treatment can control symptoms and avoid heart problems. Some people with PV do not need treatment but should see their doctor regularly to stay as healthy as possible and to catch problems early, according to information provided by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

In 2008, the Pa. Department of Health and the ATSDR confirmed more PV cases than expected in parts of Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties.

The Department of Health and ATSDR are tracking patterns of PV and working with research partners in looking for trends and risk factors. In addition, the Center for Disease Control is working to improve reporting systems for PV.


May 7, 2010

The search for answers in a rare cancer cluster will continue. $2.5 million was earmarked to further study the polycythemia vera cancer cluster in Carbon, Schuylkill, and Luzerne Counties. But, sources at the Centers for Disease Control say the agency was considering reprogramming that funding and not using it to study the rare blood cancer. Senator Arlen Specter made sure the important funding will stay where it belongs. Residents feel toxic dump sites are to blame for tainting groundwater and making people sick. Some of the money will be used to test groundwater and air samples for contamination.