The first meeting of the Community Action Committee (CAC) of the polycythemia vera (PV)cancer cluster was held Wednesday night at the Hometown Fire Company. Approximately 50 residents and local officials attended the meeting. According to Joe Murphy, who organized the event, the purpose of the CAC is to be a conduit of information and an informational resource between the community and the responsible agencies. The CAC will be working closely with a panel of experts in the environmental field to accomplish a number of goals. Several members of the panel were introduced to the public at last night's meeting.
After providing a brief overview of the steps that have been taken since 2004 to identify the cancer cluster and obtain funding through US Senator Arlen Specter, Murphy introduced Dr. Henry S. Cole, the president of Henry S. Cole and Associates, an independent environmental consulting firm. "Our primary mission is to provide scientific support for community organizations," said Cole. Cole, who has made a career out of environmental awareness and protection, having served as a senior scientist for the US Environmental Protection Agency and as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, where he taught environmental earth sciences. He has specialized in atmospheric pollution.
Cole explained the role of the scientific panel and what the group hoped to accomplish. "You have an extremely troubling and complex situation here," he said. "What underscores it is the finding of the cancer cluster." Cole estimated that in his 40 years of experience, he might not have seen a community that had so many different "environmental insults." Cole also said that it is very rare for the government to actually acknowledge a cancer cluster. "There are maybe a handful at the most," he said, nationwide. He went on to praise residents for the work that they have done so far. "Someone like Specter focused his attention here because the public has been expressing it's concern and has done the homework. If you continue to do the homework, continue to make your voices heard, you're going to see even more."
Cole explained the role of the Community Action Group. "You have some new tools at your disposal. You have a government funded Community Action Committee. That CAC is fully, technically empowered with a team of scientists. We have legal advice. We have some brain power. We will match our wits with the government agencies." Cole also promised to "turn over every stone to make sure when someone comes to a scientific conclusion that it's based, in fact, on evidence."
Cole outlined three categories of studies that will be done, including medical studies, environmental testing, and epidemiologic studies. The experts that will be conducting these studies will work closely with members of the CAC. "If you have concerns, maybe you live next to a contaminated site, you can come to the CAC. You can volunteer. Maybe in your family, there is someone with PV. You can join a patient support group. There are many ways to get active." Cole said.
Cole introduced Robert Martin, a former official with the National EPA, under both Bush administrations and the Clinton administration. Martin estimated that he had worked on approximately 50 major cases, including Area 51 and the World Trade Center. "I kept the Agency as honest as I could," he said. "Keep in mind, the government is there to serve the people, not the other way around." Martin made three promises to the residents. "One, we're going to be diligent. We're going to look at things that need to be looked at, listen to what needs to be heard," he said. "Two, ask the right questions. Three, our findings will be solid. We're here to serve you. We're in your corner."
Dr. Fred Lee, president of G. Fred Lee and Associates, was also introduced. Lee's area of expertise is water quality issues. He also has done extensive work on landfill liners. "Over my fifty year career, I've investigated about eighty landfills. The thrust of all of my work has been on behalf of water utilities or the public." Lee expressed optimism that the group will be able to determine what areas need further remediation and if current remediation techniques are adequate. Lee also said that the panel will review the adequacy of the past studies that have been done. "We'll define the adequacy of the current studies, we'll say 'you need to do these studies.'"
Following the introduction of the panel, the floor was opened for general discussion. Murphy also announced that the group is looking for volunteers who can help create a webpage, manage a database, and help with daily communications for the group. Interested parties can contact Murphy directly, at (570)668-9009.