The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded to concerns about elevated cancer rates in West Salem at a public meeting Tuesday night.
Hundreds of Salem residents have signed petitions asking the EPA to study whether something in the local environment is causing a rare form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
There have been several cases of osteosarcoma in West Salem over the past several years, and some residents have already died from the disease. The community has raised concerns about a "cancer cluster" in the area, but so far health officials say their data don't show that the area has higher than expected cancer rates.
Tony Barber is the director of the Oregon operations office for the EPA. At the meeting, he explained his agency's plans to do a contamination assessment of four local places the patients had visited before their diagnoses. The sites include Walker Middle School, West Salem High School, Orchard Heights Park and the ball field at 7th and Patterson.
"We may never know why those young people got sick and why some of them died," Barber said. "The best I think we're going to be able to do is to either identify whether there are environmental contaminants that are making people sick or whether those are relatively safe places for people to work and play and live."
Barber says if the initial assessment reveals possible contamination at any of the four sites, the EPA will begin testing.