Answers sought on cancer cluster

Crystal Garcia in the Port Huron Times Herald

Public meeting held by American health officials

ST. CLAIR COUNTY, MICH. — Emotions ran high Thursday at a public forum to address a cancer cluster involving children.

About 200 people attending the meeting looking for answers about the ongoing investigation into a Wilms tumor cancer cluster in St. Clair County.

A panel of speakers included Dr. Annette Mercatante, medical director of the St. Clair County Health Department, Dr. Hadi Sawaf, pediatric oncologist at St. John Providence Hospital and Greg Brown, director of environmental health at the health department.

There have been eight cases of Wilms tumor found. The rare childhood kidney cancer typically is genetic, doctors say. The cases in the investigation, all diagnosed since 2007, are in the Marine City/China Township area, the Port Huron area and on the border of St. Clair and Macomb counties in Richmond.

Water and air monitoring were issues brought up a few times by the audience.

“We are not only pushing this forward for our families, but for your families also,” said Kristina Tranchemontagne of Cottrellville Township, whose 6-year-old daughter, Ashleigh, was diagnosed with Wilms tumor when she was three years old.

“… We need to make sure that this investigation is followed through. If this is a result of the environment we live in, hopefully in the end, someone will clean up their act. In the meantime, we need the water monitors working at full capacity. We would also like air monitors in place.”

Mercatante said no sampling had been done because other factors must come into place first such as evidence of a contamination, evidence the people affected came in contact with that contamination and a link from the contamination to Wilms tumor.

Mercatante’s presentation went over the Michigan Department of Community Health’s analysis, which recognized the increase of Wilms tumor in St. Clair County, but determined that “these increases were not high enough to rule out it being a chance finding due to the relatively small number of cases,” she said.

According to the state department, “this analysis was inconclusive, but did not rule out the possibility of a Wilms tumor cluster in St. Clair County,” Mercatante said.

This analysis and conclusion is under review by the Centers for Disease Control, she said. A representative from the CDC was not at the meeting.

The CDC will determine a standardized incidence ratio, which is required statistical analysis that gives a confidence level of the cancer not being by chance, Mercatante said. She said sometimes the CDC does investigate things without a “statistically significant number.”

An ongoing collaboration with the CDC will continue, she said.

“… Even if these cases do not convey statistical significance or reliability, for us and St. Clair County and certainly for you and our community, we do not require this criteria to remain concerned and to remain involved with the study of this,” she said.

Submitted questions asked if St. Clair County was the only county with a Wilms tumor cluster and what water sources the affected families had.

Mercatante said St. Clair County was the only county with this type of cluster to her knowledge and the water sources varied from wells to some from three different municipalities.

There were also queries whether any cases of the tumor have been noted on the Canadian side of the St. Clair River. There were also concerns raised about chemical spill notification systems from industry.

Mercatante said there has not been an increase in Wilms tumor in the Sarnia-Lambton area. From 1986 to 2007, there were less than six cases of Wilms tumor in Lambton County, according to Crystal Palleschi, epidemiologist at the Lambton County Community Health Services Department. Brown said Canada is supposed to report spills to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

“We know there are spills coming down that river, no doubt,” he said. Next, the county health department must wait for the review from the CDC.

Once it receives the review, a final report summarizing the findings will be completed, forwarded to the state department of health and CDC for review and released to the public.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, attended the meeting and said he plans to take everything back to Lansing.

“Statistics tell a story, but families tell another story,” he said.

“That’s what you have to listen to.”

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