Poisoned Places Struggle to Get Attention continued...
There is no national system for tracking the fates of these reports, so a 2012 study tried to figure out what happened to them.
Looking over a span of 20 years, Emory University researchers found 567 cluster investigations. Only 72 of those were confirmed to be clusters, meaning that there actually was more cancer in a given area at a given time than would have been expected.
Just three were associated with environmental factors. In Charleston, SC, an investigation found many cancer patients had been exposed to asbestos when they worked at the naval shipyard there. Childhood leukemia was linked to TCE-contaminated water in Woburn, MA. Brain cancers and leukemia in children were linked to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in drinking water in Toms River, NJ.
Digging for Answers
Tibor, the former Waycross resident who is pushing for help, once owned a business in Waycross. But in 2012, she started getting sick with a puzzling collection of symptoms -- breathing problems, headaches, ringing in her ears, mouth sores, and blood pressure that would drop suddenly. Those were followed by more problems. One morning, she woke up to find she could hardly see out of her right eye. She lost 30 pounds while gobbling food. Benign tumors grew in her leg and thyroid.
After consulting dozens of doctors, she says the only explanation anyone could give her was that something in her environment was making her sick.
“My doctor told me that if I didn’t move, I was going to die,” she says.
So she packed up her things and moved in with her son in Florida. She also spent 2 months getting medical treatment from an environmental health specialist in South Carolina. It helped, but she still falls ill when she returns to town, something she doesn’t do very often because it makes her sick.
Now she works almost full time digging into reports, looking at testing records, and writing emails and letters to state and federal agencies. She also runs several Facebook pages.
In 2013, Tibor began collecting stories of other sick people in Waycross and plotting them on a map. With nothing obvious to connect the cases, she has pushed the state to do more testing around contaminated sites and the homes of sick residents.