State's foot-dragging on polycythemia vera study release sparks FOIA request
Responding to a news report on the delay that appeared in the Pottsville Republican (I'd link to the story, titled "Release of polycythemia vera findings on hold," but the link seems to be broken), Dante Picciano -- a Tamaqua-area attorney and geneticist who has been a leader in efforts to get public health officials to address local environmental health problems -- disclosed on his Web site his concern that state health officials don't want the study's results made public. He suspects they especially don't want to disclose the results right on the heels of a just-released report documenting extensive groundwater contamination as a result of the state's so-called "beneficial use" program for coal ash, as well as sloppy record-keeping for the program by state regulators. Picciano wrote:
We are hearing that the heads of the Pennsylvania Department of Heath and the Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) are meeting in State College to discuss ways to dismiss the results of the polycythemia vera study. Our sources tell us that the PA DOH and the PA DEP will try to blame exposure to radon gas in this area as the cause for the increase in the number of cases of polycythemia vera. Since radon is a naturally occurring gas, industry cannot be blamed for the problem.Also raising eyebrows among local environmental advocates were comments by U.S. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) during his visit Friday to the Broad Mountain Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the Schuylkill County community of Frackville, not far from where the coal ash study was released. The event was originally characterized as a campaign rally by the Schuylkill County Republican Party, but a press release that Specter's office put out that day said he would discuss the health study, the Hazleton Standard-Speaker reported. But Specter didn't mention the study until asked about it by a reporter, according to the paper:
However, radon exposure will not fly as an out for the PA DOH or the PA DEP. We have enough data that strongly indicate that radon gas is not a significant factor for the cause of the increase in polycythemia vera. We will wait until the PA DOH and the PA DEP come out with their ridiculous radon theory before we release our information.
Stay tuned for more information on the PA DOH cover-up of the polycythemia vera study.
"They say they're not prepared to release the findings yet. I'm pressing them on it, to do it and do it right," Specter said ... .Adding to the concerns surrounding the report and its release, Specter then told the gathering that he expected the public meeting about the study to take place on Oct. 15. But when the paper contacted the Department of Health to confirm that date, officials there said that date was not definite.
The news that Specter -- at whose behest the study was originally launched -- was "pressing" the state to release the results and had been left in the dark about when the meeting would be held hardly instilled confidence in those already suspicious about the delay. Here's what Picciano had to say about it in response to my request for comment:
This study has been done for weeks, if not for months. Now, the Pennsylvania Department of Health is doing everything possible to delay its release. The Department of Health is unhappy with the results and is buying time trying to come up with an explanation that will get Pennsylvania's dumping industries off the hook. The Department of Health is saying to hell with the people dying of cancer. We must protect our dumping industries.The Freedom of Information Act provides for the disclosure of documents controlled by the U.S. government. For more information about the Act and its use, click here.
I filed a request with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of the study. It will be interesting to see if the Pennsylvania Department of Health's request for additional time supersedes the requirements of federal law.