One month ago today, we published a story about a potential cancer cluster in Washington County, Pennsylvania, specifically centered around the Canon-McMillan School District. The article asked why no elected leaders or media sources had even mentioned the cancer cluster. Many of the comments received via this site and social media were quick to deny the existence of any problem and accuse this writer of making it up because… well, they didn’t really have an answer for that part.
Anyhow, over the past month, the Canon-McMillan Cancer Cluster has finally started to garner media attention.
Washington Observer-Reporter: “State Department of Health Investigating Potential Cancer Cluster in Washington County”
The Washington Observer-Reporter, a media outlet specifically called out in the original post, ran two stories; one about Mitch Barton specifically and one about a pending State Department of Health investigation into the cancer cluster itself:
The Department of Health is using data from the Pennsylvania cancer registry to review cancer incidence in Washington County and Canon-McMillan and, using a protocol the department has in place, will determine if the number of cancer cases in the area is elevated compared to incidences for the same type of cancer in the rest of the state.
DOE Reports on the Remediated Uranium Site Show No Groundwater Contamination
The investigation will supposedly include concerns about a remediated uranium plant in Canonsburg, which has been speculated as a potential cause of the outbreak of Ewing’s Sarcoma cases in the area. It should be noted that the site has been regularly inspected since it was remediated and sealed, with groundwater levels within acceptable limits as 2013, which is the most recent data available. Here are the most recent reports on the site from the U.S. Department of Energy:
Canonsburg Uranium Site Inf… by on Scribd
WPXI-TV: “Channel 11 report prompts health department investigation of rare cancer cases”
WPXI, the source of the initial story about Mitch Barton’s battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma, also did a story on the investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Health:
Cara Sapida, the WPXI reporter covering the story, has taken a personal interest in the issue, as indicated by her Facebook post below:
WTAE-TV: “Department of Health reviewing cancer statistics for Washington County, Canon-McMillan School District”
WTAE ran a story just yesterday (3/26/19) titled, “Department of Health reviewing cancer statistics for Washington County, Canon-McMillan School District.” The video can’t be embedded, but click here for a direct link to the story.
WESA-FM: “State Investigating Potential Cancer Cluster in Washington County”
WESA FM, in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, published this report by Reid Frazier:
KDKA-TV: “KDKA Investigates: State Grand Jury Probing Shale Gas Industry” (No, Seriously.)
And perhaps most shocking is the coverage by KDKA TV, a media outlet that has a history of whitewashing environmental concerns on behalf of its advertisers. First comes this story about the Pennsylvania Department of Health investigation, which basically repeats what all of the other reports have said:
But then we got another story from KDKA, specifically from Andy Sheehan, who is no friend to quality investigative reporting in general and this site in particular. The story, “KDKA Investigates: State Grand Jury Probing Shale Gas Industry” can be seen here:
We can only assume that somebody bounced a check to the KDKA Advertising Department, but half-serious jokes aside, this is a significant development. Although the criminal investigation by PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro is not specifically related to the cancer cluster issue, I can say based on personal knowledge of incidents over the past decade that any criminal investigation into companies like Range Resources will yield significant information with serious environmental consequences for the region.
Am I saying that Range Resources (and their myriad of subcontractors) knowingly and intentionally covered up environmental impacts including the proliferation of cancer-causing chemicals into the air and groundwater of communities in Washington County? Absolutely, and I have reams of evidence to back up that statement, but that’s a topic for another day.
Raising Public Awareness on Social Media
A Facebook Group called “Washington County PA Cancer Cluster Information” has been established for those people interested in sharing information and learning more about this important issue. From the group description:
The purpose of this group is to share information related to the growing child cancer cluster (Ewing’s Sarcoma) in Washington County.
Information about individuals fighting the cancer is welcome, along with links to any events or fundraisers to help victims and their families.
The main point of this group is to explore possible causes of the cancer cluster and share information. Anyone who comes to the group for the purpose of denying the problem or to gaslight a potential cause will be promptly banned.
Feel free to invite parents or anyone else interested in this topic- the more voices, the better.
You can join the “Washington County PA Cancer Cluster Information” Facebook group here:
So What Happens Now?
Although recent media reports have undeniably heightened public awareness of the cancer cluster, acknowledging a problem is not nearly the same thing as finding the cause and solving it. Elected leaders are still silent, presumably because they dare not risk offending the oil and gas industry, who has a clear interest in preventing any sort of environmental investigation in Washington County. The lack of political leadership on this issue creates a vacuum that has the potential to significantly impede the quest for truth.
Additionally, some environmentalists have expressed concerns that Governor Tom Wolf’s administration has not been as strong as it could be on environmental issues. These concerns could easily cloud the Department of Health investigation if the results come back overly vague.
What we do know for certain is that something isn’t right in Washington County; the mounting number of child cancer cases speak for themselves. The question now is whether the public will get the answers they deserve or another whitewashed “nothing to see here” response from those in power who seem to value political self-preservation over the lives of the people they swore to protect.