Johnson County parents take concerns over pediatric cancer cases, contamination to nation’s capital

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Johnson County moms are taking their concerns about pediatric cancer cases and contamination near their homes to the nation’s capital.

Wednesday, the founders of ‘If It Was Your Child’ helped advocate a ban on a known carcinogen, TCE, and met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. The organization was started by Kari Rhinehart, who lost her 13-year old daughter Emma Grace Findley to a rare brain cancer, and Stacie Davidson, who’s stepson Zane successfully battle Leukemia.

“Three months and thirteen days after her diagnosis on Dec. 18th of 2014 Emma Grace died at home in my arms. We had just returned from her wish trip to Paris two days before. Then I began learning that Emma wasn't the only child in our community fighting rare pediatric cancer,” Kari Rhinehart said during a press conference with Senator Tom Udall.

Emma Grace’s memory is living on in part through the mothers fight to make sure no more children suffer.

“We spent three years begging officials to look at our routine cases. Today we are done begging, today we are demanding the EPA finished what it started and place these restrictions on TCE and other dangerous toxins that are routinely making our children sick” Rhinehart said.

This week, lawmakers are listening.

“In Jersey we have many communities that have been harmed by TCE but there is one community outside of New Jersey in Franklin, Indiana that I want to focus on,” Sen. Cory Booker said in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Work’s hearing on the EPA.

During the hearing, Booker shared the story of Emma Grace, Zane and other children in Johnson County while raising his concerns about the Toxic Substances Control Act with the acting administrator of the U.S. EPA, Andrew Wheeler. Specifically, he raised concerns about sources of exposure from chemicals and why a proposed ban on TCE has not been finalized. The EPA included TCE on a list of the first ten chemicals to be evaluated under the TSCA and proposed a ban on certain uses of TCE in 2016.

TCE is a volatile organic compound, known to be carcinogenic, according to the EPA. It is used in metal degreasing, dry cleaning and in the manufacturing of refrigerant chemicals.

It is also one of the chemicals found in higher levels in some spots during recent testing of some homes in Franklin near the old Amphenol and Franklin Power Products site and Webb Wellfield. The first is an EPA RCRA corrective action site, while the latter is a non-NPOL state of Indiana led Superfund site.

“I guess it’s yes or no is I’m asking is would you commit to comprehensively reviewing the list of chemicals by including known releases into our air, land and water releases like TCE?” Sen. Booker asked Wheeler.

“It's my understanding we are looking at those pathways as we look at the chemicals on the list and I will need to double check with our chemical office on that but it's my understanding that as part of the ten chemicals, as TCE being one of the first ten chemicals that we are examining, that we are examining the different pathways,” Wheeler said.

Rhinehart and Davidson continued sharing their story with other lawmakers, including Senator Todd Young and Senator Joe Donnelly.

“We're working on a local level, we're working on a state level, but it has to meet in the middle somewhere and if we can figure out and we can ban TCE on a federal level it's only gonna make Johnson County safer,” Davidson said.

Sen. Donnelly said lawmakers are working to make sure IDEM, the EPA, ISDH and HHS are all engaged. He said families need to have a plan presented to them, testing needs to be done in the community and questions must be answered.

“I would say to you that the state department of health number one doing this is the job that the state department of health is supposed to do, that's why they have a budget. For IDEM, that's why they have a budget is to do these things. And if it costs more than that, the lives of our children can are the most important things we have and we have a two billion dollar state surplus and I know that the governor feels the same exact way as I do, that whatever is necessary to give peace to the people of Franklin on this issue is what we will do,” Sen. Donnelly said.

Governor Eric Holcomb’s office said the governor “…has directed his state agency leaders to come together and work in partnership with federal agencies to further investigate and gather additional information about potential environmental contamination in the City of Franklin.”

Meanwhile, the EPA said it is requiring Amphenol Corp. to investigate vapor intrusion in the residential area near the site and groundwater conditions. The EPA will oversee the investigation.

A community forum is scheduled for Friday at Franklin High School at 6 p.m., where Emma Grace, Zane and other children’s stories will likely be heard again.

“It makes it feel like we are working towards something and not just spinning our wheels right now, that we are making progress and that things are gonna move rapidly now,” Rhinehart said