In Avon Lake, it will take more than a fancy government study to prove to residents that their town isn't a hot-spot of cancer
. On Drummond Street, which has only 28 homes, 10 people have developed potentially deadly cancers in just the last five years. That statistic would be alarming even if all the afflicted were elderly chain-smokers. But some are young children, like one teenage girl battling leukemia. On another street, two little girls who lived next door to each other were stricken simultaneously with the same extremely rare form of brain cancer. Both girls have since died.
Still, Avon Lake Mayor Rob Berner wanted to get an official, scientific answer as to why so many people were sick. Could the town’s old toxic waste dump, a site previously listed on the EPA’s Superfund list, be to blame? How about the power plant that sits on the city's shore? People wanted answers. So Berner consulted Robert Indian, the chief epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health, the man hired to investigate cancer clusters and their environmental causes.
In the environmentally backward state of Ohio, where toxic waste is considered OK as long as it’s stored separately from baby food and fresh produce, you’d expect Robert Indian to be a pretty busy guy. Yet this also happens to be a state where most of our public officials wouldn’t pass the first-round interview at Caribou Coffee. It seems every time Robert Indian is asked to do a cancer study, he comes back with the same result: "Cancer? Huh?"
Take, for example, Indian’s handling of a 2003 cancer-cluster investigation in Marion County, where high school graduates exhibited instances of leukemia at three times the normal rate. Never mind the fact that their high school had been built atop an old military depot that housed toxic chemicals. Indian blamed the cancers on teen tobacco use
So it’s no surprise that when the ODH”s official report on Avon Lake came out last week, it showed that there’s really no cause for alarm, no cancer cluster, nothing to worry about
. Who knows? That may well be the case. But if you're living in Avon Lake, who are you going to believe: Indian, or the sick little girl next door? -- Jared Klaus