That Fracking Childhood Cancer Scare: What We Aren’t Being Told

Tom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW

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When the Guardian published a screed advancing a childhood cancer scare we weren’t told the full story about the Department of Health’s findings.

Yesterday, I wrote about the Guardian‘s scandalous attempt to label Washington County as a “cancer alley.” I say scandalous because it was all husk and no corn as Abraham Lincoln once described a tiny man with a huge fur coat. It was pure demagoguery on the part of a propagandist outfit still pretending to a news journal.

The blatant purpose of the scare-mongering was to leave readers wondering if fracking might be causing childhood cancers in the county. It barely mentioned a Department of Health study, saying only that the agency had “studied rates of the disease in two school districts and said there was no evidence of a cluster.” I’ve read the study, though, and, as somehow who has had cancer personally and within my immediate family, I took it very seriously. It shows Pennsylvania may have a cancer problem but it almost certainly nothing to do with fracking.

The DOH study may be found here, with the most relevant parts highlighted by me. It studied the number of cancers in Washington County and the Canon-McMillan School District compared to the expected numbers of cases based on statistical averages for Pennsylvania as a whole after adjusting for age. Here are some of the key excerpts, especially regarding the Ewing’s family of tumors (EFOT). As usual emphasis is added.

Since the first story on Ewing’s sarcoma aired on news channel WPXI on Feb. 13, 20191, the state health department has received many calls from concerned parents regarding the potential cancer cluster in the area. The news reported multiple children in Canon-McMillan School District, Washington County, had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, and several parents came forward saying their children were also diagnosed with the same disease. Residents in the area were concerned and thought all the cases occurred in the same area over a very short period of time, since the news report did not state the location of the cases or when they were diagnosed.

Ewing’s sarcoma is a cancerous tumor that occurs in bones or soft tissues, such as cartilage or nerves. There are several types of Ewing’s sarcoma, including Ewing’s sarcoma of bone, extraosseous Ewing’s sarcoma, peripheral primitive neuroectodermal tumor (pPNET) and Askin tumor. These tumors are considered to be related because they have similar genetic causes. These types of Ewing’s sarcoma can be distinguished from one another by the tissue in which the tumor develops. The exact cause of Ewing’s sarcoma remains largely unknown.

Chromosomal studies have found that Ewing’s sarcoma cells are often characterized by an abnormal change in their genetic makeup known as a reciprocal translocation.The most common mutation, occurring in approximately 85 percent of Ewing’s sarcoma tumors, involves two genes, the EWSR1 gene on chromosome 22 and the FLI1 gene on chromosome 11.Ewing’s sarcoma is most common in people who are between 10 and 20 years old, occurs slightly more often in males than in females, and is more common among whites than in other ethnic groups. Studies of children with Ewing’s tumors have not found links to radiation, chemicals or any other environmental exposures

[Washinton County]

There were more EFOT incident cases in the recent period of time than in earlier time periods, but EFOT incidence rates for both males and females were lower than the rest of the state for all three time periods and were not statistically significant

The male and combined childhood cancer incidence rates were not statistically significantly different from the rest of the state during any of the three time periods

The incidence rate for all cancers (children plus adults) was statistically significantly lower for males, females and combined

[Canon-McMillan School District]

There were no EFOT cases reported during the first two time periods. There were three cases reported during the 2005- 2017 time period; incidence rates based on these small number of cases were considered unstable and were not statistically significantly different from the rest of the state

Both female and male childhood cancer incidence rates were not statistically significantly different from the rest of the state during any of the three time periods.

Childhood cancer incidence rates in the school district decreased during the last two time periods…

The male incidence rates for all cancers (children plus adults) combined… was not statistically significantly different from the rest of the state during 2005 to 2017.

The female incidence rate for all cancers (children plus adults) combined… was not statistically significantly different from the rest of the state during the other two time periods…

Based on the data we currently have, when compared to incidence rates for the rest of the Pennsylvania population, male and female incidence rates for the Ewing’s family of tumors and childhood cancers in Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District were not consistently and statistically significantly higher than expected in all three time periods analyzed

Overall, there were no conclusive findings indicating that the incidence rates of Ewing’s family of tumors in Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District for female and male populations were consistently and statistically significantly higher than the rest of the state over the time periods reviewed.

Let’s take a look at the details, too. Here are the relevant tables and a map from the report with the important numbers (actual number of cancers observed what would have been expected based on Pennsylvania stats as a whole) highlighted :

childhood cancer

Washington County Data

childhood cancer

Canon-McMillan School District Data

Notice the total observed number of childhood cancers in both Washington County and the Canon-McMillan School District are lower than what would be expected using Pennsylvania averages, excepting for the Ewing’s family of tumors at the district level. But, when the County as a whole is used, which is important given the small numbers from which to extrapolate a trend, those numbers, too, are below state averages. That’s the real takeaway here considering gas drilling is taking place throughout the county.

We might also ask why cancer rates are rising in Pennsylvania. There are at least three probable reasons as I see it. First, the reporting is far better today than 30 years ago, so more cases are now simply being recorded. Second, our nation and Commonwealth are aging in the sense the number of people my age (68) are now a much bigger share of the population. Age adjustments used in this study only compare group to group and don’t reflect the change over time in the relative size of the groups.

Finally, there is urbanization. The map below illustrated the prevalence of the Ewing family of tumors by county and sub-county regions.  The density of tumors found is much, much higher in urban areas. Although, as noted above, there are no studies verifying an environmental connection to EFOT incidence, we do know urban areas generally have dirtier air and are typified by more stressful lifestyles. Could these be factors? I’m only a layman and not qualified to answer but it’s clear Washington County doesn’t have a childhood cancer problem and that’s the story we’re not being told by advocacy journalists who might be better be called propagandists.

childhood cancer

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4 thoughts on “That Fracking Childhood Cancer Scare: What We Aren’t Being Told

  1. Your above post is simply outstanding, Mr. Shepstone, and should be archived and widely disseminated throughout the cyber universe.
    It is beyond despicable that these ghouls stoop to misusing the tragedies of affected families and – in particular, children – in their ongoing deceitful schemes to further political goals.
    Much, MUCH appreciation for your ongoing efforts in shining the light of Truth on these matters.

  2. So the cancer has been around long before the first Marcellus well was even drilled here. That’s something that is left out of the story. Then no one mentions the massive uranium dump at the bottom of the hill from the Canon McMillan High School. Tom you should look into that.

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