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Answers Sought in The Acreage Cancer Cluster

Feb 3, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Calls for a probe into the cause of a childhood cancer cluster in a Florida community called The Acreage are growing louder. The presence of the pediatric cancer cluster was confirmed earlier this week by The Florida Department of Health.

The residents of The Acreage have been concerned about a cancer cluster since several children living in close proximity to each other were diagnosed with brain tumors or brain cancer. Earlier this summer, residents’ concerns prompted the Florida Department of Health to begin a study of cancer rates in the area.

The results of the first phase of the study were unveiled in late August. According to the Palm Beach Post, investigators found 1,369 cases of all types of cancer among residents in The Acreage between 1995 and 2007. A similar-sized area elsewhere in Florida could be expected to have 1,055 cases in that time, the Post said. The report revealed six cases of brain cancer in children 14 and younger from 1997 to 2007. Of those, three were diagnosed in 2008, the report said.

Those findings prompted the health department to launch a second phase, which consisted of interviewing he families of 13 children previously diagnosed with cancer. All of the children were younger than 18 when diagnosed with a brain tumor or brain cancer from 1993-2008. On Monday, health officials announced that preliminary findings from that phase found higher rates of brain tumors and brain cancer among children, especially girls. The health department confirmed that the findings indicated a cancer cluster in The Acreage.

Now, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other lawmakers have called for an investigation to determine the cause of the cluster. According to The Palm Beach Post, Nelson said environmental tests should start “as soon as possible.” He pledged to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get them to “lend their resources and expertise to the investigation.”

But already, state health officials are predicting that they won’t be able to find the cause of the cancer cluster. On Monday the director of the Palm Beach County Health Department also said health officials are not planning to conduct environmental tests at this point.

According to the Post, State Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, rejected those assertions. “We need to give them the resources to make sure they can identify a cause,” Abruzzo said.

The state health department expects to finish and report on the second phase of its cancer investigation in The Acreage by mid-March. If it decides to start a third phase, which could include environmental tests, it would be at least a year before its completed, the Post said.

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