CLYDE - Officials said they have found "an important lead" in the investigation into a high number of cancer cases in children in eastern Sandusky County.
A demographic study of the area confirms there is a "cancer cluster" and hints it could have been caused by a past environmental contaminant.
Robert Indian, chief of the Ohio Department of Health's comprehensive cancer control program, released the results of that study yesterday morning pinpointing the cluster to a 5 to 7-mile radius that includes all of Clyde and most of Fremont in eastern Sandusky County.
"This is an important lead," Mr. Indian said. "It's affirmation we've [been] doing the right thing, on the right track. The trail might be a little cold, but that's OK. We're going to backtrack and heat it up."
The goal was to determine an area where cancer was occurring and then find the probability that those clusters occurred by chance.
Previous studies have found no links to cancer.
This study looked at cases of cancer in children up to age 19 from 1996 to 2006 in Sandusky County and the surrounding areas, including Ottawa and Seneca counties, and parts of Erie, Hancock, Huron, Lucas, Wood, and Wyandot counties.
There were 277 cases in that area, 38 of which were in Sandusky County.
When the cases were plotted, the greatest cluster was 29 in the Clyde area.
The study analyzed the data in four ways, looking at both just Sandusky County and the entire region, then researched each geographically, and by areas of highest population. In all four methods, the cancer cluster was in roughly the same area.
"This has a low [probability] of happening by chance alone," Mr. Indian said.
Warren Brown, the Sandusky County clerk of courts, who is the father of a child with cancer, said the study proves a connection he knew was there.
His daughter, Alexa, 11, is the youngest of his four children and was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2006.
"I don't think there was any doubt in the families that something occurred," he said. "It didn't just happen."
Although it's cathartic to see evidence the high number of cancer cases was caused by something and are related in some way, he said he doesn't believe he'll get the answer as to why.
"I have from the outset believed in my heart of hearts they will never uncover what occurred," he said.
The families were told about the study results Thursday night before they were released yesterday, Mr. Brown said.
Mr. Indian said there was a surge of cancer cases in 2005 and 2006, and it now has declined.
There are no adverse environmental issues with ongoing samplings by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in Sandusky County.
"The implication is, and this is one possible suggestion, there was an environmental factor [that] was dangerous at a point in time," Mr. Indian said.
Now, history and medical investigators will coordinate their efforts to identify the source.
Officials will continue to analyze the time span from 1996 through 2006, but Mr. Indian said his experience tells him it was likely between 2000 and 2005, closer to the surge of cancer cases.
They will examine changes in manufacturing and any discharges or accidents that might have resulted in environmental contamination.
The investigation also will include a search for adverse reproductive outcomes in the same time period, examining data from infant deaths and low birth weights.
If an environmental exposure played a role in the cancer, it might have played a role in reproductive issues as well, Mr. Indian said.
"If we don't see that, that's going to be very puzzling," he said.
But if they do see a correlation, it will further confirm there was an environmental contaminant, he said.
"The brutal honesty is we may never know; it might just be gone," Mr. Indian said.
"We owe it to these kids, parents, and future generations of kids to try to find out."
Mr. Brown said the families are anxious to find a cause of the cancer and appreciate the efforts of Mr. Indian and others in the investigation.
"I think the community can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this probably was, which is unfortunate for us because we may never get an answer, a transient activity," Mr. Brown said.
But for the parents, they can't spend too much time worrying about how it happened because they are trying to get their children well.
The community is rallying around Mr. Brown and the other families, offering support in whatever ways they can.
A "Ride for Clyde" fund-raising event is planned by the Church on 53 in Fremont to raise money for the Brown family and the Hisey family that has two children diagnosed with cancer.
The event on June 20 will include a motorcycle ride, inflatable rides for children, food, and live music. All proceeds will go to the families to help with their medical bills.
"We heard about what the families are going through, most of northwest Ohio has been watching their plight over the last several years, and our hearts just went out to them," Pastor Mike Coutcher said.
Mr. Brown said it's hard to express how much the community support has meant to his family and the others.
"Any person for whom an act of kindness is done, has to be nothing but appreciative," he said.
For more information about the fund-raiser, visit www.childrensrescuerun.com.
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