Pa. lawmakers advance cancer cluster bills
Introduced in the House by state Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Phila.), the measure this week was approved by the Health and Human Services Committee, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reports. Cohen was spurred to action by the paper's recent reporting on a suspected cancer cluster in Selinsgrove and similar health concerns in other Pennsylvania communities.
The Office of Illness Monitoring would work with the state Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies when investigating increased incidences of illnesses in Pennsylvania, according to a Cohen press release:
"The Health Department currently collects data on health issues, but it is not proactive in conducting its own research into potential external causes of illnesses," Cohen said. "The wellness of our residents depends on the Department of Health being able to connect the dots with other state agencies to determine the root causes of the illness clusters."Residents of the Hometown area can attest to the DOH's foot-dragging on cancer cluster investigations, having spent years demanding a probe into unusual patterns of illness locally. A report released last year found unusually elevated rates of polycythemia vera, a relatively rare blood cancer, in Schuylkill and Luzerne counties. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is currently investigating. Independent research I conducted with the help of a Pennsylvania cancer researcher suggests the high incidence of p.v. may be linked to pollution from waste-fuel-burning power plants, which are concentrated in eastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region.
State Sen. Michael O'Pake (D-Berks) introduced a companion measure in his chamber after becoming frustrated by the DOH's slow response to reports of a possible cancer cluster in Muhlenberg Township, according to a press release:
"A month ago the Pennsylvania Department of Health promised to provide me with a revised statistical analysis of a potential cancer cluster in Muhlenberg Township," said Senator O'Pake. "Despite repeated assurances from the Department, including the Secretary of Health, that we would have the information in a timely manner, we have yet to see any final data or conclusions from the Department.If you'd like to thank the lawmakers for their action on this important issue, you can contact Cohen's Harrisburg office at 717-787-4117 or by filling out an online form here. O'Pake can be reached in Harrisburg at 717-787-8925 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
"My constituents are rightly concerned about a potential life and death issue in their own backyard, as are citizens in similar situations across the Commonwealth. It is clear that the one person at the Department of Health who now devotes his time to this task cannot handle the workload alone," added Senator O'Pake. "With our state's industrial heritage, we cannot afford to wait months and months for DOH to complete these studies. Establishing the Office of Illness Monitoring will speed up this process and better protect the health and safety of our citizens."