Families want EPA analysis of data from cancer cluster

Whirlpool Park which is closed to the public in Green Springs, Ohio.
Whirlpool Park which is closed to the public in Green Springs, Ohio.

CLYDE, Ohio — An attorney representing families affected by a cancer cluster wants more analysis of environmental test data he said contains “important and significant findings.”

Families hired a consultant who last month conducted tests to try to determine why at least 35 children have been diagnosed with cancer in the Clyde area in more than a decade; four of the children have died. The work included dust particulate testing in six homes.

Alan Mortensen, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents about a dozen clients including families who lost children to cancer, said Monday the data includes “some important and significant findings,” but he declined to release results until more analysis is finished.

He will send the information to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and ask it to determine if there is “a broader problem.” Families also will work with a chemist and an epidemiologist to study the findings.

“... [W]e don’t want to say we found something that was harmful when it might not be,” Mr. Mortensen said in a telephone interview. “We are going to be working hard on this for the next couple of weeks because we do need to get answers, and we want to enlist the EPA’s help.”

Joel Hebdon, an environmental consultant from the Washington area who collected samples from area homes, said a preliminary analysis is done, but he declined to comment, citing further “considerations.”

Warren Brown, whose 11-year-old daughter Alexa died in 2009 after a 2006 cancer diagnosis, said he is in search of the truth. His Clyde home was among those where testing took place.

“If we have some nemesis in the Clyde area, we have to find it and eradicate it,” he said.

He said the group plans to notify the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency as well as the federal agency of its findings. Mr. Brown said it’s important to study the information promptly, but not “jump to conclusions” or enter “alarmist mode.”

U.S. EPA spokesman Joshua Singer declined to comment on plans to send data to the agency. It is investigating potential contamination sources in eastern Sandusky County. Last year, it found elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, considered probable human carcinogens, at the old Whirlpool Park near Green Springs, Ohio.

Ohio EPA spokesman Dina Pierce said the state agency routinely receives information from outside sources and would be interested in getting the test results. She said she couldn’t address what it might do with the data without knowing what might be sent, though Ms. Pierce said the agency would defer any determination on whether findings may be related to cancer to health officials.

Meanwhile, an attorney who filed an unaffiliated class-action lawsuit against Whirlpool Corp. and other defendants late last month called for the testing results to be made public.

“If they are finding problems in the community, let’s know what it is so the rest of the community can begin testing,” said attorney Joe Albrechta of the Fremont and Toledo law firm Albrechta and Coble.

The Sandusky County Common Pleas Court lawsuit his firm filed alleges a connection between the cancer cluster and toxins found at the former park.

Mr. Mortensen said releasing results of his clients’ testing now would be premature. He doesn’t want the data misused by the media or others, or in a court case.

In a written statement, Mr. Brown contends the class-action suit was filed “prematurely and opportunistically” without “their own science” to back it up.

Mr. Albrechta said evidence exists to proceed now with his case and that the discovery process will give “greater power to explore the truth.”

At a conference Monday, Mr. Mortensen also announced Toledo attorney Charles Boyk is joining the effort to assist his clients.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.