Frustrations ran high at a Frederick County Health Department meeting Monday night as residents continued to argue Fort Detrick environmental contamination led to a high number of cancer cases despite preliminary data suggesting otherwise.
Randy White, whose Kristen Renee Foundation has led the fight against Fort Detrick since the spring, first criticized the media for dismissing the issue after last month’s health department meeting. Health officials announced a first look at the data did not indicate unusually high rates of cancer near Fort Detrick.
“The media has front-page headlines saying ‘no cancer clusters,’ but then you’ve got 800 people dying,” he said, referring to the about 800 names of people he has collected who live or lived near Fort Detrick and were diagnosed with cancer.
After debating semantics with Clifford Mitchell, acting assistant director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s office of environmental health and food protection, both agreed the data needed to be looked at more closely before any conclusions could be drawn. Mitchell said the state would examine the cancer registry data to see if residents were diagnosed with certain cancers at an unusual age or if there was any geographic pattern to the diagnoses. He expected he would have the next round of analysis for the next meeting, Jan. 3…..
Only about 40 people attended Monday night’s meeting compared to previous meetings that drew nearly 100 people. Among those who did attend and spoke at the podium, there was a sentiment residents were attending meeting after meeting but not making any progress.
“We have people here from the EPA, from all these other agencies, but I don’t get the feeling that anyone’s here to help us,” said Bob Roberson, who lives in Meadowcrest. Roberson said his well had been tested years ago and he was told that the test came back negative for contaminants, but he never received the full report as promised.
Joe Gortva, Fort Detrick’s Area B restoration project manager who spoke about the groundwater contamination, promised to retest wells of nearby residents and look up their old test results upon request.
But White insisted that was not good enough. He asked that the government hire an outside agency to test wells instead of the Army, “so we can get a better feeling that a fox isn’t watching the hen house.”
The Kristen Renee Foundation unveiled its newest documentation of a likely cancer cluster: a map of where 513 of the 800 cancer patients in the county live. Shookstown Road and Old Receiver Road showed high concentrations of diagnoses. The only problem, Mitchell and Frederick County health officer Barbara Brookmyer said, is the diagnoses span so many decades it is impossible to compare it to any kind of population total to determine whether the number of cases is unusual.
The Foundation is also testing blood samples of cancer patients who live near Fort Detrick to check for exposure to carcinogens. An initial lab report came back last week from Analytical Perspectives, a lab in North Carolina.
Seven adults who live “within a stone’s throw” of Fort Detrick and are sick with cancer were included in the initial report. However, April Boulton, the director of Hood College’s environmental biology master’s program, said the test results do not show any significant exposure to dioxin or any of the other chemicals analyzed.
“It’s not very impressive in terms of thinking they might be affected” by environmental exposure to chemicals, she saidMonday. In virtually every case, the blood test showed no detection of the chemical or the lowest recordable level.
Toward the end of the health department meeting, Jennifer Peppe Hahn approached the microphone. She told her story about developing a childhood cancer and then being hit with another cancer for which she recently underwent surgery. Her message: the fertilizers and pesticides people use on their own lawns contain the same ingredients everyone is accusing Fort Detrick of spreading throughout the community. Paraphrasing Mother Teresa, she implored people to make the changes they want to see in their own homes instead of pointing fingers at everyone else, particularly Fort Detrick.