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Published: Tuesday, 4/21/2009

EPA says it is still guessing on childhood cancer spike in Clyde

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

CLYDE, Ohio - Although the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency claims to have made at least some progress in identifying the mysterious cause of the Clyde area's unusually high incidence of childhood cancers, it had little to show for its efforts at a community update in Clyde High School Monday night.

The frustration shared by pollution investigators and parents alike was perhaps best summarized by statements that Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski made during a press conference that preceded the event:

"Are we still guessing? Yes," Mr. Korleski said. "Right now the evidence isn't pointing anywhere."

If there is any silver lining to be had in the early stages of the investigation - one which Mr. Korleski has made his agency's No. 1 priority - it's that there's no hard evidence to suggest Clyde residents should worry about the community's water or air.

Sampling of all sources of public and private water have come back clean. The community's air - though only two months into a yearlong study - hasn't shown any signs of danger yet either.

"We have found nothing in the air results or water results that are indicative of a public health problem," Mr. Korleski told nearly 200 people in the high school auditorium.

Warren Brown, Sandusky County clerk of courts, is one of the parents waiting for answers. His daughter, Alexa, 10, the youngest of his four children, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2006. The tumor was removed, but the cancer reappeared in her spine in May.

"It's exactly what I expected," Mr. Brown said out in the hallway as he reflected upon what was being told to others inside the auditorium.

He agreed there's at least some progress in that the environmental trigger - whatever it may be - hasn't made itself obvious.

But all that means is that parents like him will have to wait longer and the Ohio EPA will have to dig harder.

Mr. Brown and Steve Keller, Sr., who sat with him for a moment in the hallway, fear the evidence may already be gone. Mr. Keller is a retired Oak Harbor High School basketball coach and teacher who lost his grandson Cole Keller of Clyde to cancer on April 7, 2007.

Mr. Korleski vowed to stick with the investigation, which began in earnest after an Ohio EPA meeting with the community in December. It includes Clyde and Sandusky County's adjacent Green Creek, Riley, and York townships.

The Ohio Department of Health began investigating after the local health department contacted it in 2006. State health officials, after analyzing local cancer statistics, determined the childhood cancer incidence was so high in the Clyde area that it was likely caused by some unknown environmental trigger.

Cancer has been diagnosed in 20 children since 2001.

"Clyde is still my No. 1 priority," Mr. Korleski said.

He and agency staffers told residents there will be more sampling and different types of it in the coming weeks, including work on pesticide residue. Among other things, they will look at biological indicators of area streams.

"We will go wherever the evidence takes us," he said.

Michael Eggert, assistant chief of the Ohio EPA's water division, said 11 sites were tested for water pollution. Low levels of atrazine were found. But that's one of the Midwest's most common corn fertilizers and is especially prevalent in northwest Ohio.

Paul Koval, a toxicologist in the Ohio EPA air division, said air samples were drawn from seven sites in Clyde. Benzene - a carcinogen known to trigger leukemia, one of the most rare forms of cancer - was found in trace amounts at five sites.

But the levels detected, from 0.70 to 0.81 micrograms per cubic meter, were nearly half of Ohio's statewide average of 1.39 micrograms per cubic meter.

"We are trying to turn over every stone," Dave Pollick, Sandusky County health director, said.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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