Cancer concerns spreading

Cancer concerns spreading by David Lias More than just a group of concerned parents have begun to ask questions about cancer in Vermillion.

Two bodies of local government � the Clay County Commission and the Vermillion City Council � both discussed performing surveys or studies at their regular meetings this week in hopes of collecting more information on factors in the region that may be related to cases of cancer here.

The county commission is requesting homeowners throughout Clay County to test their homes for radon.

�We would like to encourage people to test the lower levels of their homes for radon,� said Commissioner Paul Hasse. �They could report their results to Emergency Management Director Ben Taylor.�

Commissioners noted that radon test kits may be purchased by individuals at hardware stores, or from state government sources.

�Maybe this is something we really should be concerned about in the community,� said County Commission Chairman Jerry Sommervold. �If we can get 100 responses out of a request placed in a story in a newspaper, and if all of the test results are high, then maybe we should do something about it.�

Robin Richardson, who recently moved to Vermillion with her family, began a petition drive this summer requesting an investigation of the childhood cancer rate in Vermillion. She was inspired to begin the drive after learning of at least seven Vermillion children in the past two years or so who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Richardson�s community activism has resulted in the formation of a �mom squad� � a group of volunteer parents who are helping her gather signatures on petitions. Their goal is to gather 1,000 signatures.

They�ve collected over 800 signatures on petitions that read �We, the citizens of Vermillion, want an investigation into why so many of our citizens � especially our children � are getting cancer. South Dakota is just now hiring a state epidemiologist to track cancer clusters, thus, we need assistance in getting an investigation under way.�

The mom squad plans to eventually send copies of its petitions to the South Dakota Department of Health, Sen. Tom Daschle, Sen. Tim Johnson and Rep. John Thune in hopes of initiating an investigation.

The state health department has made it known, however, that it has no plans to study childhood cancer rates in Vermillion.

Dr. Sarah Patrick, state epidemiologist, told the Plain Talk in an Aug. 27 news report that a combination of factors, ranging from South Dakota�s limited financial resources, to the complex nature of thorough cancer studies, contributed to her decision not to seek a study here.

She also noted that children who have been diagnosed with cancer in recent years here have all had different types of cancer.

�There are limitations to what we can do,� Patrick said. �It is such a huge issue, and there are so many factors, and there are so many different types of cancer to consider.�

In a guest commentary that appears on page 4 of today�s Plain Talk, Doneen B. Hollingsworth, South Dakota�s secretary of health, notes that Patrick has reviewed cancer cases in Clay County, talked with health professionals, and worked closely with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Hollingsworth, CDC guidelines and a review of in-house and CDC data don�t warrant further study of childhood cancer in Vermillion.

Mayor William Radigan shared a copy of Hollingsworth�s report with members of the Vermillion City Council, which held its regular meeting Tuesday night.

�I know there have been concerns about childhood cancers,� said Councilman Frank Slagle. �I thought the letter from the secretary of health was quite unsatisfactory.�

Slagle said he knew that the city has tested the municipal water supply �and apparently we have a history of having pretty good water.�

He noted that some tests aren�t taken as often as others. Water is tested for lead, for example, every three years.

�I�m just wondering if there is something we could do to assure that the water quality, at present, is good, so concerned citizens would have that information,� he said.

City Finance Officer Mike Carlson said samples from the city water supply are sent to Pierre on a quarterly basis for testing. Some tests are required every three months, and others are required every six months. Carlson said he would be contacted, along with Mayor Radigan and City Finance Officer Jeff Pederson, if Pierre would ever find a problem with the water supply.

Improvements in the city�s infrastructure require water to be tested for lead every three years.

�Since no new lead pipes are going into the system, only lead pipes going out, it was determined that the test for lead was needed only every three years,� Carlson said.

�I guess I�m asking if we could get a report on the latest status of our water quality,� Slagle said.

Councilman Roger Kozak indicated that such a report isn�t necessary.

�There is a system in place,� he said. �I don�t see the necessity of it (a special report) at this time. I think time has proven that we have a satisfactory water source for the city of Vermillion.�

Slagle made a motion to place a water quality standards report on a future agenda of the city council. Kozak again stated that such a report isn�t needed.

�I just think we�d be grasping at more than our staff is able to do,� Kozak said.

Slagle�s motion failed. It received four yes votes and five no votes.

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