The Alliance For A Clean Environment
Health study aims to put
The voices about environmental risks to the health of the Pottstown area have been ringing loud and clear for some time, often in the headlines of this newspaper reporting protests or events and even more often in published letters from our readers.
The resounding cry from a segment of this community is that the Pottstown Landfill, Occidental Chemical and Exelon's Nuclear Limerick Generating Station are forces causing illness among us.
Whether those charges are founded and whether the protests inspired by the activist group Alliance for a Clean Environment are based on fact or fiction has generated a secondary debate, nearly as loud and emotional: Who is telling the truth?
Charges of failing to address the questions surrounding what is perceived as a high incidence of cancer and respiratory illness in our area are followed with counter-charges of trumped up statistics and widespread inaccuracy. Emotions run high on both sides.
At the center of this debate about who cares and who doesn't have been state Sen. Jim Gerlach and state Rep. Mary Ann Dailey, whose districts include Pottstown and much of the surrounding area.
So it was with some pride and a sense of answering their opposition that Dailey and Gerlach jointly announced Friday the launching of a major health study to, in Gerlach's words, "put to rest one way or the other whether there is a relationship between the landfill and industry of this area and cancer."
The two-year study will be funded with a $290,000 public health grant that Gerlach and Dailey were able to secure in the state budget last year. It will be directed by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute -- one of the leading cancer research institutions in the nation -- and Dr. Andrew Baum, who directed the study of possible health effects from the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.
Although the legislators do not know when work will begin, they said the team
of researchers will include in their efforts a meeting with people of the Pottstown area to get local input. Among the criteria used in the comprehensive analysis will be medical records, cancer registry data and interviews with as many as 1,500 area residents.
In comparison, a study of much smaller scope conducted several years ago by the Montgomery County Health Department looked only at cancer registry data and has often been criticized for its failure to take into account anecdotal evidence that can show patterns of the causes and effects of disease.
Dailey and Gerlach began working on securing funding for the study and ironing out the details of how it would be executed more than two years ago. To their credit, they have quietly endured much criticism that there were "doing nothing" to address public concerns because they did not want to make empty promises before the study mechanism was funded and in place.
To those who say this is just more questions, instead of answers, we suggest they hold those thoughts for a while. This is the opportunity to participate in finding answers. ACE leaders and any local people have a responsibility to put forward to the researchers the questions they most want answered and the cases they believe represent cancer risks in our area.
If the study is to begin with a call for public participation, the public has the responsibility to answer.
The study may result in one of three things: We may learn we have a problem in our area caused by the environment, and that will demand action. We may learn that more questions remain, and that will likely demand more study. We may learn that there is no correlation between cancer and the local environment, and that will demand a certain measure of trust to drop the battle and move on.
In any case, it's far better than voices shouting at each other in the dark.