EPA agrees to investigate cancer cluster in West Salem

EPA agrees to investigate cancer cluster in West Salem

WEST SALEM, Ore. – The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to investigate after five cases of a rare bone cancer were diagnosed in a two-square mile area here.

Parents and neighbors concerned about the cancer cluster got their first chance to hear from the EPA Tuesday.

But the EPA has not agreed to any testing for environmental contaminants – at least not yet. The testing is what parents want.

The osteosarcoma cases have hit students attending Walker Middle school and West Salem High School. The EPA has committed to assessing those two schools, as well as Orchard Heights City Park and a nearby ball field.
 
But EPA employees say they still need to find reason to be suspicious of a cancer cluster before they commit to testing.

Health officials told about 65 people gathered Tuesday afternoon that the five cases of osteosarcoma do not constitute a statistically higher rate of cancer for the area.

Parents say they understand EPA staff doesn’t want to promise more than they can deliver, but the families are focused on finding out why five young people have been hit by osteosarcoma.

"On one hand, I'm 100 percent behind everything, but on the other hand I'm a little skeptical about how far they're going to actually go," said Craig Prosser, whose son was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. "I'm hoping they can find answers for the families and the community. That's my goal for this whole thing. We just want to make sure not one more kid gets sick because of something that might be out there."

So while the families wait for the testing, the EPA says it typically takes it up to six months to conduct a preliminary assessment but it is trying to expedite that.

EPA officials are also worried about the impact that sequestration cuts could have on their efforts in West Salem.