Families who have been affected by Ewing sarcoma in Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District, along with residents concerned by the number of cancer cases in Southwestern Pennsylvania, expressed frustration Monday at the results of a Department of Health study that determined there is no cancer cluster in the area.
Dozens attended a meeting held Monday by the DOH at Canon-McMillan High School, where officials discussed how the state health department arrived at “no conclusive findings” of a cancer cluster following an investigation.
According to the investigation, rates of Ewing sarcoma weren’t “consistently or statistically significantly higher than expected.”
Six cases of the rare childhood disease have been diagnosed in Washington County since 2005.
The authors of the study, however, said the number of cases was so small that the higher-than-expected rates weren’t “statistically significant.”
But residents voiced concerns that the investigation didn’t include three confirmed cases of Ewing. Two men, Mitchell Barton of North Strabane Township and David Cobb of Canonsburg, are undergoing treatment and completed treatment, respectively, for Ewing.
A third man, Kyle Deliere, who died in 2013 following a battle with Ewing, was not included in the study because, according to the report, he did not live in Washington County.
However, Deliere grew up in Cecil Township and lived in the township at the time of his diagnosis.
They also were frustrated that the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry, whose data was used for the investigation, does not include information including environmental factors.
Many in the audience believe fracking could be responsible for the cancers, and demanded that the industry be shut down.
Cindy Valent, whose son, Curt, died from Ewing sarcoma in 2011, just after he turned 23, is among those who believe there is a link to fracking.
“If you would put a map up with the drilling sites and the cancer cases, I think you’d find a connection,” said Valent. “We want an investigational study into what’s causing this. If it’s Gatorade that’s causing it, then that’s fine, but that’s all we want – a study.”
David Cobb’s wife, Alison, told the panel she and her husband, who previously lived in Virginia and Florida, moved to Southwestern Pennsylvania three years ago and he was diagnosed with Ewing about a year-and-a-half ago.
He completed treatment in August.
She wonders if there is a connection between her husband’s cancer and the fracking industry.
Cobb said they stopped using the water in their home the day David was diagnosed, and now use purified water that is delivered.
Alison Cobb also was angry that her husband wasn’t included in the study, apparently because of a software error on the part of the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry.
“My 7-year-old spent 15 Friday nights this past year going to the Hillman Cancer Center watching her daddy get infused and eating pizza because that’s the life we lived, and you’re going to tell me he’s not included in your report because your software wasn’t updated?” she asked.
Residents also were upset that Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t attend the meeting, despite a petition asking for his presence there.
At a press conference held before the DOH meeting, affected parents and other groups called on Wolf to further investigate the cancers, despite the DOH report.
In attendance were Kurt and Janice Blanock, whose son, Luke, died in August 2016 from Ewing.
Janice Blanock, who broke down in tears, said, “We don’t know what caused our son’s cancer. However, taking into consideration the high numbers of rare cancers in Washington, Greene, Westmoreland and Fayette counties, 67 in the last 10 years, six of which were Ewing sarcoma cases in the Canon-McMillan School District, it should seem obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense, sincere heartfelt concern, and true courage, that we need to be looking at environmental issues and triggers. If Gov. Wolf and our state representatives that we elected choose to ignore our pleas for an investigation, there most likely will be long-term negative effects on the health of our children, our grandchildren as well as our communities and the environment.”
Continued Blanock, “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist. I’m a mom. Something is wrong. I’m not sure, but they need to do something.”
Sarah Rankin, public health nurse for the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, said that around 55 compounds used in fracking are either known, probable, or possible carcinogens.
“We have heard loud and clear from residents that they want to know if something in their environment is contributing to these high rates of cancer,” said Rankin.
State Rep. Tim O’Neal, who, along with State Rep. Jason Ortitay and Canonsburg Mayor David Rhome, organized the DOH meeting, reiterated their concern with getting answers.
O’Neal said he and Ortitay are working to get state funding to investigate the cause of the cancers and he has requested an investigation by the National Institute of Health.
O'Neal, a resident of South Strabane Township, said, he believes fracking, along with other possible causes, should be investigated.
“The whole reason we are here today is because we care. I’m raising two children clearly within the affected areas of all the fracking,” he said. “I don’t care what we find out. If we find out that something is causing this, we’re going to begin to address that issue. It may be fracking – and I don’t know the answer – but I also don’t know if it is something else.”