Lawmakers push for more funding for potential cancer cluster investigations in Johnson County

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. -  Some federal lawmakers are asking for more money to help update the guidelines for investigating potential cancer clusters. It's an issue some families in Johnson County are paying close attention to with concerns about the number of pediatric cancer cases in their area and what could be behind it.

The group If It Was Your Child, started after Emma Grace Findley passed away from brain cancer at age 15 and after Zane Davidson battled Leukemia, said it's tracked 56 pediatric cancer cases in Johnson County since 2008. The state has not recognized a cancer cluster in Johnson County, though.

"I think as people look at us as two emotional moms fighting for this but that's exactly what we are. I don't think that you start to get passionate about a cause that you don't have a fight in somehow and our fight is our children and our fight is our community children," Zane's stepmother and a co-founder of IIWYC, Stacie Davidson, said.

Sen. Joe Donnelly and Sen. Mike Crapo filed an amendment that if passed would provide $1 million to the Department of Health and Human Services for updating guidelines for investigating potential cancer clusters according to Trevor's Law. Trevor's Law was passed in 2016, addressing how federal and state agencies work together on the topic and instructs HHS to develop criteria for the designation of cancer clusters.

“Hoosiers just want to have confidence that their communities are safe, and Trevor’s Law will provide us with the opportunity to improve the way federal, state, and local governments work to investigate and address potential cancer clusters. I am disappointed that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has yet to update its relevant guidelines and regulations, which is why I introduced a bipartisan amendment with my colleague, Senator Crapo (R-ID), to provide HHS with the funding the agency needs to update the guidelines for the investigation of potential cancer clusters as directed by Trevor’s Law.” U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly said in a statement.

The CDC said the Indiana State Department of Health asked it and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to review ISDH's Dec. 2017 report on cancer rates in Johnson County to determine if it was consistent with CDC's 2013 guidelines.

ISDH writes on its website in part “…ISDH’s current guidelines for responding to inquiries related to suspected cancer clusters align with the 2013 guidelines from the CDC and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. These guidelines have not changed since the passage of Trevor’s Law. The ISDH will continue to monitor for new guidance or changes in resources provided by federal partners.”

While there is a push for more funding at the capitol, a push for more environmental testing in the wake of families concerns about the old Amphenol/Franklin Power Products site and Webb Wellfield is also taking another step.

IIWYC partnered with the non-profit Edison Wetlands Association. It helped coordinate environmental testing by Mundell and Associates. The organizations said sampling showed higher levels of toxins in some homes in Johnson County.

"I just wanted to know that the well was safe and to know if I needed to take extra steps to try to make it more safe," Franklin resident Josh Oldham said.

He lives in the Paris Estates subdivision. He said after learning of the concerns and his proximity to the Webb Wellfield, he asked the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to test the well at his home.

IDEM said it's working with the Johnson County Health Department to sample 24 private drinking water wells near the subdivision. It's also looking into a former Franklin Power Products site on Forsythe St., is taking water samples from Hurricane Creek, ground water and soil gas samples from the north side of Hurricane Creek and conducting short term air monitoring in certain spots around Franklin to determine where to place an air monitor.

"At no time during the operation of the former Webb Wellfield was the water from any of the wells considered unsafe for public consumption," IDEM wrote  on its webpage dedicated to Johnson County.

IDEM also wrote on the site it does not believe vapor intrusion, a concern raised by EWA, was demonstrated at the homes in Mundell's report. IDEM said it has committed to testing three homes and an ambient air site from the report, though.

Following Mundell's report, the EPA also required Amphenol to investigate at its old site on Hurricane Rd. It said ambient air samples taken from locations at the fence line indicated volatile organic compounds were below the EPA's health-based screening levels for residential exposure. The company also installed a filter on an emissions pipe to help eliminate the emissions of volatile organic compounds. The EPA said it's also requiring a second round of outdoor air sampling.

"I can appreciate that they are testing because that's something that we do want but there is no timeline, there is no public transparent timeline for what they are doing," Davidson said about IDEM's testing.

EWA and IIYC sent letters to the EPA and other agencies questioning the clean up of the old Amphenol site, the extent of previous testing and any potential data gaps. EWA said it plans to send another letter to IDEM about transparency.

Franklin College had testing conducted but said results showed levels that were non-detect or below state mandated exposure levels.