Dee Lewis on Dec 19th 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Several state agencies are trying to decide if there is an environmental cause for Zavalla-area health concerns centered around two recent diagnoses of the same type of brain tumor.
Within two years, two children attending the same school in Zavalla were diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a form of brain cancer occurring in the brainstem, where the brain connects to the spinal cord. According to the National Cancer Institute, most patients die within 18 months of diagnosis, as one Zavalla family has already discovered. The prognosis is looking better, however, for Danielle Phillips’ son, who has been given a 90 percent chance of survival by doctors.
Prior to the latest diagnosis, at least two cancer cluster investigations were requested and conducted by the state. Many of the 61 people, including county and school officials, to attend the first organized meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Zavalla, held Thursday night, disagree with findings claiming the area’s cancer rates are normal.
The National Cancer Institute states that “The cause of most childhood brain tumors is unknown,” but the Zavalla residents want to connect the dots and find out what is causing the tumors in their town.
Local and regional state health agencies were aware of the community action meeting held Thursday evening, said Bill Cibulas, director of the Division of Health Assessment and Consultation Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
“Our partners are in contact with the local elementary school where there are concerns about a possible increased incidence of cancer,” he said.
Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services is conducting yet another study on the Zavalla cancer concerns, Cibulas said.
“The results of their assessment will be provided in the form of a report known as a Health Consultation,” Cibulas said. “This Health Consultation has been drafted and is currently in the review process at the Texas DSHS.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is also assisting in the investigation and has provided a review of all appropriate water data, according to Cibulas.
TCEQ drew treated and untreated water samples from Zavalla wells late last month.
“In this case, the cost of sampling will be borne by TCEQ, not the water system,” said Terry Clawson, TCEQ spokesman. “Complaint samples are sometimes billed to public water systems, but sometimes in cases where the system is economically challenged sampling costs will be very burdensome, TCEQ is glad to be able to help in this way.”
The tests thus far have cost $2,198, he said.
“We plan to schedule follow-up sampling to try and determine exactly which wells are the worst players,” Clawson said.
TCEQ is testing for several constituents, none of which have proven problematic in the past, Clawson said. In the most recent tests, he said, “At some locations, levels of trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids were over the maximum contaminant level.” As a result, Zavalla will have to test for those chemicals four times in the upcoming year to determine whether the high levels persist, he said.
“The chemicals we are talking about are disinfection by-products,” Clawson said. “They form when naturally occurring carbon — like old, dead leaves — reacts with the disinfectant that the system adds to kill potential disease-causing pathogens. The risk prevention that you get from chlorine far outweighs the risk introduced by disinfection by-products.”
Other local people with interest in the Zavalla situation have said TCEQ should also test for dioxin, mercury, creosote constituents, pesticides and radioisotopes.
Filed in Texas