Dept. of Health Port Clinton cancer assessment

March 29, 2010 9:00:00 PM PDT
The Ohio Department of Health is now moving full steam ahead with the Port Clinton cancer assessment; thanks to pressure from a passionate woman collecting the names of people fighting cancer.

She's not only collecting names, she's investigating a possible cause. The Health Department calls the Port Clinton cancer assessment a "priority". Right now, it's just looking at the numbers and we've learned the numbers are quickly adding up.

Last October, we met 42-year-old Maria Claus Konoff who grew up in Port Clinton. She had thyroid cancer and now wants to know if something in Port Clinton made her and others sick.

"I think that we definitely have a cancer cluster in the area or a concern that needs to be looked at. There are far too many people with cancer, not just thyroid cancer," says Konoff.

Konoff went on Facebook and asked: did any of her Port Clinton classmates ever have thyroid cancer? "There were five, including me."

Konoff contacted the Ohio Department of Health and the Preliminary Cancer Assessment for Ottawa County was hatched. But after our story aired, dozens more people contacted Konoff; including Lori Roberts-Cobbledick who's five year old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2001.

Kathryn died last summer. She was 13.

And there's 20-year-old Brandon Smith. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2006. "I woke up one morning and my neck looked like I had a grapefruit in it. It was really big."

He's fine now, but has to take a daily hormone pill.

A woman from California who runs a website called toxicsites.org contacted Konoff and tipped her off about a map on the U.S. Geological Survey website dated 1969. It shows the Port Clinton High School playing fields were built on top of an old sewage disposal.

At least 20 people on Konoff's list, at one point, lived directly across from the playing fields, including Kathryn and Brandon.

An Ohio EPA spokesman says, "We searched our records and found nothing on the Port Clinton High School site. We have no record of anything that occurred there, such as land fills or dumps. The school was built in 1963 and the Ohio EPA didn't exist until 1972. So if there was any sewage or waste, there's no record of it."

As for the cancer assessment, the Ohio Department of Health is breaking down the number of cancer cases reported in Ottawa County from 1996 to 2007.

Chief of the Chronic Disease and Behavioral Epidemiology Section Holly Sobotka says, "We actually map the cases and pull out cases that are mapped within the boundaries of Port Clinton. We break down from there the type of cancer. Typically we look at 26 different groupings of cancer."

Sobotka expects to complete the assessment by the end of June.