The Pike County General Health District announced on Wednesday that they are in the organizing stages for a potential cancer cluster study for people living near the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon in order to determine if there is a correlation between the plant site and cancer rates in the area.

The study is being organized with the ATSDR/CDC (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

“Congressman (Brad) Wenstrup has requested that we start gathering cancer data locally in the meantime,” the Pike County General Health District stated.

“A list has already been sent to us of over 100 names and a huge thanks to the group that helped develop that list.”

The Pike health district has created a form for anyone who lives within 10 miles of the plant site and has been diagnosed with cancer or other unusual illness.

A link to the form can also be found on the Pike County General Health District Facbook page, https://www.facebook.com/Pike-County-General-Health-District-177816679077330/

The Pike health district asks that you fill out the form completely, and the information will be automatically sent to the health district when you click “SUBMIT”.

According to the American Cancer Society, the CDC and the National Cancer Institute both say that a cancer cluster is a “greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a defined geographic area over a period of time.” (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/general-info/cancer-clusters.html)

The Pike County General Health District has been spearheading an effort along with other local officials to choose an independent, third party to survey contamination issues in the area. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has agreed to fund the study.

The Scioto Valley Local School District Board of Education decided to close Zahn’s Corner Middle School as of Monday, May 13 due to the detection of enriched uranium inside the school building during a recent study by scientists which was released by Northern Arizona University on April 27 and detection of neptunium-237 in a U.S. Department of Energy air monitor adjacent to the school.

It was also announced recently that americium-241 was detected at the school air monitor in 2018. The neptunium detection was from 2017 but was only made public in recent months.

According to the Pike County General Health District, americium-241 is a radioactive isotope with health effects similar to neptunium. Neptunium is a transuranic element and a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance), according to the health district.

The Pike County General Health District and others have expressed belief that neptunium reached the air monitor at the school as a likely result of the construction of a waste disposal facility at the plant site.

On June 4, the Pike County General Health District released a community update and stated that they have sent their proposed scope of work for the independent assessment to the Ohio Department of Health for review before sending it to DOE.

“We recently received comments from DOE concerning the proposed sampling approach that we had sent on 5/14/19 and are in the process of reviewing those comments,” the Pike health district stated.

“We finally received the required documents from DOE on 5/29/19 concerning the Memorial Day weekend sampling event that we were supposed to have on 5/25/19 prior to any sampling taking place. The duplicate samples that the health district received from that sampling event have been sent to the lab for analysis.”

The sampling conducted in the area over Memorial Day weekend is separate from the independent, third-party study yet to be conducted.

On June 4, the health district also noted that Congressman Wenstrup met with their working group the previous week.

“He (Wenstrup) seemed to understand our concerns and frustrations,” the health district stated. “He was very interested in the health assessment piece and wanted the health district to start gathering some data as far as cancer incidence within a certain distance from the plant while we organize a full health assessment/cancer study.

“He seemed to understand our call for a temporary pause in the construction of the on-site disposal cell and halting any other activities that may be causing the off-site contamination such as cut/cap and open-air demolition. We are hopeful that Congressman Wenstrup will formally call for a pause in these activities until the independent assessment to determine source, levels, extent, and risk is complete.”

Also in its June 4 update, the Pike County General Health District stated that the stance of the health district and working group has not changed.

“The stance of the health district and working group has not changed and we reiterate that any process or activity that leads to off-site contamination must stop — stop what you are doing, figure out where it is coming from, implement a corrective measure to prevent future releases, and then resume activities with adequate monitoring in place to ensure that the corrective measures are working,” the health district stated. “Any activity that cannot be performed safely and without leading to off-site contamination or risk to our community must not take place.”

The health district also mentioned that Anne White, assistant secretary of Environmental Management for DOE, has resigned, effective June 14. The health district and their working group had a conference call with White and then met with her in person recently to discuss their concerns about contamination in the school and the area.

“Her resignation is concerning since we had a good working relationship with Anne and we were making progress,” the health district stated. “We hope her stepping down doesn’t impede the process, the timeliness of the independent study, or communication in general. She was being very transparent and open with the local community which was a welcome change.”

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