State investigation into Ft. Detrick cancer cluster leaves residents frustrated
For many who live around Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland--- there are two haunting questions: is there a cancer cluster in the community, and are the chemicals buried at the Fort one of the causes?
Jennifer Peppe-Hahn, who has survived Hodgkin's Disease and breast cancer, but now is fighting growths on her pancreas and her thyroid gland, is eager for answers.
"I think it takes a perfect storm to line up cancer", she says.
Monday night, the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene presented it's findings of a cancer investigation.
The report used data from the Maryland Cancer Registry from 1992 to 2008.
"We were looking specifically at the area around Fort Detrick", says Dr. Clifford Mitchell.
The study found no significant cancer increases around the Fort.
But investigators uncovered information on 102 Lymphoma Cancer cases -- 91 were expected. That's a 20 percent difference from the rest of Maryland.
Still, Mitchell says "There was no difference that we could find between cancer rates around Fort Detrick, and cancer rates in the county as a whole."
Pepper-Hahn, and others believe the study needs to go back further, to the Cold War, when the Fort tested, then buried, industrial solvents, Agent Orange wastes and radioactive materials.
"We know that they are one of the worst toxic sites in America", says Rachel Pisani, with the Kristen Renee Foundation, a non-profit representing cancer victims.
County health officials also presented graphics showing locations where the solvents TEC and PCE, have turned up in surface water in Area B, a section of Fort property.
There are fears that may have contaminated other waterways.
"There were five locations", Pisani says, "that currently have human carcinogens, TCE, flowing out of there."
But so far, no one has been able to prove the Fort has caused a specific person's cancer.
"We can't just point fingers at Fort Detrick", Peppe-Hahn says. "But if there's an obvious elephant in the room, we could start with the data we have."
"To go backwards and say this cancer was caused by the exposure is sometimes very very complicated", Mitchell adds.
State Health Officials have promised to continue investigating.
Peppe-Hahn, meantime says she's taking part in a Frederick County Health Department study.
She says twenty-three of her childhood school-mates have died from cancer.
Her school, she says, is located right outside Fort Detrick.
"If we don't know exactly what happened, there's no proper way to clean it up", she says.