PADOH Meeting Sparks Anger - and Promises
But don't give up yet - officials are promising further action.
The meeting at the Hometown Fire Co. opened with a presentation by Dr. Gene Weinberg of the DOH's Bureau of Epidemiology. Weinberg was one of the authors of the study, which dismissed local residents' concerns that high rates and unusual patterns of illness are linked to the area's toxic pollution problem.
Weinberg "rambled on ... for almost an hour," reports Dante Picciano, director of the grassroots Army for a Clean Environment. "At one point, the DOH was explaining to us what community was represented by a given ZIP code. In other words, the DOH was telling us what our ZIP codes are. Questions were then asked but the answers were evasive."
(For more details on the meeting, read the reports in the Lehighton Times-News, Pottsville Republican, Hazleton Standard-Speaker and Allentown Morning Call. The Times-News also ran a nice story about this Web log. Thank you!)
Today I called state Rep. Dave Argall to find out what would happen next. He promised that he and state Sen. James Rhoades would "find the money" to pay for additional tests of the Still Creek drinking-water reservoir. One wonders why they haven't done that already, but OK. It's always good to know whether your drinking water is poisonous. Sure hope we find out soon.
I also called Weinberg to ask him what steps his department would take to help Hometown-area residents. He said he'd like to study local polycythemia vera cases further.
"We're committed to tracking those cases and working to refine the rates for that area," he said.
That's all well and good, I said. But what did his department intend to do about all the sick and suffering people in the area?
Direct people to cancer screening and smoking cessation programs, he answered.
But what about all the toxic pollution there?, I asked. How would his department address its impact on local residents' health? You are aware of all the pollution there, aren't you?, I asked.
Weinberg hemmed and hawed and finally admitted that no, he had not considered environmental exposures other than the McAdoo Associates Superfund site. He hadn't even looked at the toxic release inventory data I sent him.
I must confess that I blew up in frustration. But I ended up talking with Weinberg for about an hour, during which time I told him about all the many toxic exposures and the illnesses besides polycythemia vera and cancer such as autoimmune and thyroid conditions.
"My dream would be for the DOH to come in, look at all the exposures in the area, and to offer people some information to help them deal with the situation," I told him. "The reality is what it is. Now what do we do? I would love to see a forum addressing that, and maybe even aimed at the medical professionals in the area who take care of people."
To Weinberg's credit, he listened patiently and seemed receptive to my concerns. He said DOH staff would meet internally to discuss the situation further and would probably have additional conversations with the state Department of Environmental Protection to better assess local residents' toxic risks.
"The way you're presenting the situation now does leave a strong impression on me," Weinberg said. "I'll take this back and see if there's not a bigger role for us in this."
Let's hope he's serious.