News | Local

Statesman Journal: EPA's `Long Process' Irks Parents

Statesman Journal | Jan. 26, 2014 11 a.m. | Updated: Jan. 27, 2014 10:45 a.m. | Salem, Oregon

Contributed By:

Tracy Loew

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won’t meet its mid-January target for releasing a report on possible environmental causes for a string of childhood cancer cases in West Salem.

But the report is “close to being ready for launch,” EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre said in an email last week.

The report originally was scheduled for release in the fall, then was pushed back to mid-December, then until mid-January.

Now, MacIntyre said, “We are no longer offering estimates of when the report will be done and ready for public distribution. There are many moving pieces to the puzzle of getting the report finished, reviewed, approved and ready for release.”

Oregon Health Authority staffers have seen the report and are meeting Thursday to discuss it, OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie said.

“They’ve asked us to look at the results of their findings and use our public health lens to see if we agree or disagree,” said Jae Douglas, head of OHA’s Center for Prevention and Health Promotion.

OHA staffers will attend a public meeting planned by EPA to share the results with the public, Douglas said. But EPA will remain the lead agency in the investigation.

EPA agreed to the study in December 2012, in response to public demands after 17-year-old West Salem High School student Lisa Harder died of osteosarcoma.

At least four other West Salem youths have been diagnosed with the same type of bone cancer in recent years.

In June 2013, an EPA contractor took samples at Walker Middle School, West Salem High School, Orchard Heights City Park, Wallace Marine Park and the field at Seventh and Patterson streets. Control samples also are being taken at Minto-Brown Island Park.

The samples were tested for a long list of contaminants, including pesticides; polychlorinated biphenyls; semivolatile organic compounds such as paint; and metals such as mercury.

Investigators also tested for the presence of radium, found in some drinking water sources, that has been connected with osteosarcoma. There are no known sources of radium in West Salem.

MacIntyre previously said lab results were delayed because of the government shutdown.

Federal, state and local officials also have considered the possibility of a link between radon and osteosarcoma in West Salem.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is present in soil. It becomes a health risk when levels build up indoors. West Salem has among the highest levels of radon in the state.

Ed John, principal of West Salem High School, said concern has died down among parents at school events.

“My thinking is, if there is a problem, (EPA) would let you know. Other than that, it’s a long process,” he said.

Meanwhile, West Salem parents who had petitioned for the investigation are getting frustrated.

They held a meeting earlier this month in anticipation of the report’s release, said Craig Prosser, a spokesman for the group.

Prosser’s son, Tyler, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in March 2012. He graduated from West Salem High School last year, Prosser said, and on Monday he has his first yearly checkup after being declared cancer-free.

“Now, we’re just sitting and waiting,” Prosser said. “We’re just patiently waiting for some answers from the EPA.”

tloew@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-06779

 

Online

See this story at StatesmanJournal .com/news to view documents and previous coverage related to osteosarcoma cases in West Salem.

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