Pediatric Cancer Cluster in The Acreage

The Florida Department of Health confirmed that The Acreage in Palm Beach County is encountering a higher than normal number of brain and central nervous system tumors and cancer in children, especially girls.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and other state lawmakers are calling for a probe to determine the cause.   One environmental expert said that the cancer cluster did warrant national attention.

Health officials state that they may never be able to determine the cause.  Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, said that there are currently no plans to conduct environmental tests.

“We really don’t have one thing,” said Alonso.  “From what we’re seeing now, there is nothing that is going to say, ‘Aha this is the cause of the cancer.’”

Nelson said environmental tests should start “as soon as possible.”  He pledged to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get them to “lend their resources and expertise to the investigation.”

“Residents still don’t know a cause or what’s responsible for these cases of cancer,” Nelson wrote to Florida’s surgeon general on Tuesday.  “And we can’t work to fix the problem or hold someone accountable until we can answer these questions.”

“We need to give them the resources to make sure they can identify a cause,” said State Representative Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington).

Environmental tests will not occur until the department finishes analyzing the interviews over the next two months. 

Authorities have identified 13 cases of brain cancer or tumors among children and teenagers in the community from 1993 and 2008.

There was a significant jump in the number of cases after 2002 said Tammie Johnson, a state epidemiologist.  There is enough data available thus far to label these cancer cases a cluster.

Two more children were diagnosed with brain tumors in late 2009 generating fears that the cancer cluster is continuing to grow.

Homeowners should insist on federal assistance said Peter deFur, president of Environmental Stewardship Concepts in Richmond, Virginia.   He added that the CDC should conduct a health assessment which would include reviewing residents’ medical records and performing blood and environmental analysis.

The Acreage is a semirural community in northwest Palm Beach County.  As the name would suggest, homes are built on at least a single acre lot.  There are farms in the area and farm equipment is stored on those lots. 

Quick aside:  I looked at the area a dozen years ago about a year before my divorce.  I really have to say that I liked the rural feel of the community and loved the idea of hiring and working directly with the builder that would construct my home.   I suspect it is this reason that I have been watching this story develop.  My daughter was 6 years old when I looked at the community.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which is not part of the cluster investigation, isn’t planning to conduct any tests, spokeswoman Cristina Llorens said Tuesday.  The agency randomly sampled 50 wells last year and declared that ground water quality in The Acreage was “generally good,” despite some elevated levels of radiation that could come from natural causes.

Excessive radiation can cause brain cancer.

Environmental concerns in the area:

  • Farm chemicals
  • Well-water quality
  • Pratt & Whitney toxic-cleanup site
  • Possibly contaminated fill dumped from other locations
  • Cell phone towers
  • Naturally occurring radioactive substances in rock

deFur said that The Acreage may be experiencing a “cumulative risk situation” where stresses on top of stresses exceed  what people’s systems can handle.

The fact the health department found a greater disparity in girls than boys raises a question of whether a hormone-disrupting chemical could be involved, he said.

“For everybody to have a comfort level, you need to know the source,” said Michelle Damone, board president of Indian Trail Improvement District.  “Without knowing the cause of it, how do you go and correct it?”

Next phases:

The state health department expects to complete the second phase of the study by mid-March, 2010.  They plan to conduct interviews with 12 of the 13 families and review the cancer rates using updated population data.  Note:  The thirteenth family could not be located as they have moved from the area.

If a third phase occurs, it may include environmental tests which would take up to one year to complete.

A fourth phase would be a large-scale federal or university-based project.

As mentioned earlier, additional studies are not currently planned.

“Everybody is exposed to a multitude of things,” said Becky Samarripa, whose 15-year-old daughter had a tumor removed in 2008.  Still, so many of these children went to the same schools, play in the same soil and drink the same well water that tests in at least one of those areas should be warranted, she said.

New York law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, affiliated with environmental activist Erin Brockovich, has been conducting water analyses since late last year. 

 

Public meeting:

Officials plan to discuss the investigation at a public meeting.

Date:           February 9, 2010

Time:          6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Location:   Seminole Ridge High School

                    4601 Seminole Pratt Whitney Road

                    Loxahatchee

 Sources:

Link to study:  Acreage SIR Recalculation Population Estimate Methods and Results

Cancer cluster designation rattles The Acreage

New data confirms Acreage cancer cluster; health official puzzled on cause of children’s ailments

 

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