One Step Closer to Solving Cancer Cluster Mystery

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CLYDE, Ohio-- The residents of Clyde, Ohio may be one step closer to finding the cause of a cancer cluster in their small community, thanks to the recently released results of a U.S. EPA study.

"There's never a day that goes by that Alexa's not thought about," said Wendy Brown, as she remembered her 11-year-old daughter who died from brain and spinal cancer in 2009.

According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), 35 children have been diagnosed with various types of cancer since 1996; four have died in eastern Sandusky County. They are part of a cluster that has been under investigation for several years.  A cluster is defined by an abnormally high number of cancer cases in a region without reason. 

Brown is ever mindful of the promise Alexa's father, Warren, made to his daughter shortly before her death. "Warren said he promised her, practically on her death bed, that he wasn't going to stop looking 'til he found out why," she said.

That relentless effort, joined by the voices of other local families, prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to test water, air and soil at 14 sites in February of this past year, including a park formerly owned by the Whirlpool Corporation.  Other sites included:

  • Amert Lagoon Site
  • Bellevue City Dump
  • Clyde City Dump
  • Formulated Products Site
  • Golembiowski Dump Site
  • Green Township Dump Site
  • Leach Dump Site
  • McGrath Dump
  • Meggitt Landfill
  • Riley Township Dump
  • Townsend Township Dump
  • Whirlpool Manufacturing Site
  • Wickerham Drum Site

“We're here now because residents probably still had concerns about what was here,” the agency's Steve Wolfe said at the time of the testing. “They remember drums being here but nobody ever looked underground."

Tipsters also recalled black sludge being dumped near the basketball court at Whirlpool Park, as well as, by a pond that provided water for the park swimming pool. It was reportedly open at the time the dumping was underway.

“They found up to nine feet of this toxic sludge that’s full of PCBs,” said Alan Mortensen, an attorney hired by the families involved in the cancer cluster.

The EPA’s test results from four soil samples, found PCBs that exceeded the EPA's regional screening levels for residential properties, two of the samples showed levels higher than the agency's requirements for a PCB spill cleanup.

"Doing this, a place where knowingly, kids played, I just don't see how you could do it and live with yourself," said Brown.

Dan O’Brien, Plant Leader at Whirlpool Clyde released the following statement to company employees: “Since being notified by the USEPA of their test results, Whirlpool has worked diligently and persistently with the current owner of this property, his lawyer and has even solicited the help of the USEPA to gain access to the site to conduct appropriate surveys and additional testing in partnership with the state and federal environmental agencies. However, the property owner and his lawyer have denied all of our requests for access to the site under reasonable conditions.

We are hopeful that the voices of these families will encourage the property owner and his lawyers to allow Whirlpool onto the property to begin the site characterization in coordination with state and federal authorities. We are prepared to move forward immediately with the first steps of the evaluation once granted access to the property."

Here are some of the actions taken to resolve this issue:

  • Whirlpool made contact with the property owner within days of receiving notification from the USEPA of their test results. Since then we have had continuous, respectful contact with he and his lawyers requesting permission to enter the property, and have been denied access to the site under reasonable conditions.
  • As we had communicated to the USEPA, timely access to the site would have allowed us to complete the first steps of the environmental review by mid to late September.
  • We have been working on an ongoing basis, and in a transparent manner, with USEPA and Ohio EPA. Both agencies have indicated their support for our working with the Ohio EPA under their Voluntary Action Program (VAP).
  • During our conversations with state and federal officials, and with the property owner and his attorney, we have been clear that once testing and validation were complete, we would, where appropriate, accept all responsibility and expenses for remediation of those materials found to be placed on the site during our ownership. We would complete any required cleanup consistent with practices of the day.
  • In August, we set up a phone line for community members to contact us if they had questions.
  • We have reached out to city and county officials, along with state and federal authorities.
  • We have cooperated fully with the USEPA on six Whirlpool-owned sites, which were found to be within compliance standards.

We continue to work to gain access to the site to conduct the studies under the Ohio EPA Voluntary Action Program:

  • We have asked the USEPA to intervene and compel the property owner to allow us access to the site.
  • We have discussed the possibility of getting a USEPA mediator assigned to help facilitate the discussions with the property owner and his lawyer so we may move forward with our environmental study. 
  • To help speed up the process, we have proposed to the property owner and his lawyer the possibility of our repurchasing the property.

Meanwhile, it is important to understand, that we truly believe there is no current exposure risk posed by this substance.  As stated in USEPA materials, PCBs are a very stable substance that does not readily migrate, and the use and disposal of PCBs was a common practice, and within the laws and standards of the 1950s and 1960s.

We continue to work toward gaining access to the site, and will continue to work with state and federal agencies to abide by the law, and address the issues on the site until they are satisfactorily resolved in the best interest of the community and its residents."

The families of Clyde hired Alan Mortensen, an attorney from Salt Lake City, Utah, to help with their search for answers as to what’s behind their town’s cancer cluster. Mortensen believes this latest development brings the group one step closer to solving the mystery.

"I think that we are in that this has been a wake up call," said Mortensen.  He said more vigilance and testing is needed.

Wendy Brown expressed cautious optimism over the latest news and vowed to continue on until all the facts are in. "This is for Alexa and other kids too."