West Salem families want water tested after cancer diagnoses

West Salem families want water tested after cancer diagnoses »Play Video
A family photograph of Lisa Harder and her favorite horse, Rio.

WEST SALEM, Ore. – Hundreds of families here want their water and soil tested for toxins after multiple cases of a rare bone cancer were diagnosed.

This type of bone cancer is so rare that a town of this size usually would see it just once in a generation.

The families hope the Environmental Protection Agency takes action, and more than 975 people have signed an online petition asking why West Salem has seen at least four cases of osteosarcoma in the past three years.

Gail Harder’s daughter, Lisa, battled the cancer for 46 months.

"She had a headache for three months and never told anybody. Didn't do anything. Just thought she had a headache. And here she had a tumor in her brain," Gail says.

Three weeks after Lisa passed, the family hopes to find out why the bone cancer that's diagnosed just 800 times each year in America, has hit so many West Salem families.

"It all revolves around kids in a three-mile radius," says Gail. "Was it the water? Was it a carrot that they ate? Don't know, but I'd sure like to have an answer, because as a parent it kills you. You wonder, 'How could you let your child have something like this and not have an answer?'"

West Salem High School senior Emily Henderson led the campaign this fall to name Lisa homecoming queen alongside homecoming king, Tyler Prosser, who's still fighting his osteosarcoma.

"It's enough to have one student, but to have three in such a short period of time is completely wrong," she says.

Like so many families in the area, Henderson and Harder are convinced the higher osteosarcoma rate here is not a coincidence, and they're hoping the EPA will either prove them right or prove them wrong.

"If it could help a child, it would be great," Gail says.

In addition to the more than 975 signatures online, another petition circulated at West Salem High School has been signed more than 600 times. The people behind these petition efforts are meeting Monday night to decide when and where to take their signatures.