Franklin schools hire firm to test air, soil for cancer-causing chemicals

FRANKLIN, Ind. — Angela Brennan keeps picture after picture of her daughter, Karley Spears. One shows her smiling, sitting in a salon chair. Another shows her grinning, holding onto a stuffed animal.

“That was getting the hair cut before it all fell out,” Brennan says. “This is the day of surgery right before everything started.”

They’re proof of a battle no child should fight, but one Spears did with cancer. Brennan said a child who lived in the same apartment unit as them prior to them moving in passed away from cancer. Spears got the diagnosis of cutaneous t-cell lymphoma when she was 8-years-old and a student at Needham Elementary.

“I’m just glad that now they’re getting it so like the people later on know about it and they know what to do,” Spears said.

Tuesday evening and Wednesday, crews could be found at Needham and Webb Elementary Schools taking soil and air samples. Franklin Community Schools said they hired EnviroForensics to test for TCE and PCE after a report released by the environmental non-profit Edison Wetlands Association. The cost is tens of thousands of dollars..

“With the report coming back and the site that was tested was near our facilities we wanted to make sure that our kids are safe, we want our community to be safe,” Franklin Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Clendening said. “And so for us it was very important from receiving information last week to right now to make sure that when school starts on the 8th that our kids are safe.”

Prompted by concerns over the number of pediatric cancer cases in the area, EWA coordinated testing by Mundell & Associates for 14 homes near the old Amphenol site and Webb Wellfield. It showed higher levels of PCE, TCE and radon in some homes.

“We’re focused on doing the right things and doing them in a very rigorous manner, but doing them very quickly because the time is so short for us,” Jeff Sewell, the director of operations for Franklin Community Schools, said.

EWA said it had looked to work with the school district to conduct sampling, but also believes long term monitoring of both the ambient air and installation of groundwater monitoring wells should be conducted on school properties.

“We appreciate Edison Wetlands Association and If It Was Your Child reaching out to us,” Dr. Clendening said.  “We received correspondence from them Tuesday but had already mobilized the sampling team from EnviroForensics. We understand that we are both working toward a common goal of keeping our students and staff safe. We welcome future partnerships with all interested parties.”

EWA said it plans on doing additional testing and is discussing what areas will be prioritized, but plans to take its investigation wherever it leads.

A group of parents fighting for testing, If It Was Your Child, said the testing at the schools is welcome news.

“Once we get to that point where we do get the answers we can move forward whether there are positive hits or there’s not, but we can go forward from there,” co-founder Stacie Davidson said.

Spokespeople with both the Indiana State Department of Health and Indiana Department of Environmental Management said they are working to get more information about the initial report on the homes.

EWA said it has not refused to provide agencies with information, redacting only home addresses for privacy reasons. However, it said it provided street names and distances from the sites.

The school district said it plans to make the results of the elementary school testing public, and expects results by the end of the week or early next week.

For Spears, the test results won’t change her past. But they hope it gives more answers moving forward.

“This was her first survivor walk, her hair was still growing back in,” Brennan said flipping through another photo.

Now Spears is focused on starting her freshman year of high school.