State study can't link leukemia to chemicals at
River Valley schools
Friday, July 27, 2001
Dispatch Staff Reporter
MARION, Ohio -- State health officials said last night that
they could not determine whether toxic contamination at River
Valley schools contributed to a high rate of leukemia among
An extensive four-year study by the Ohio Department of
Health turned up 83 leukemia cases in Marion County, including
nine graduates with leukemia. River Valley's high school and
middle school sit on part of a former military depot where
chemical waste was dumped for years. An investigation of the
contamination and school leukemia cases began in 1997.
"Despite an exhaustive study, making use of the best
available science, we were unable to identify one single
cause'' for the leukemia, Dr. J. Nick Baird, state Health
Department director, said in a statement.
The leukemia study looked at high-school graduates from
1963 to 2000. The study later was expanded to look at all
leukemia cases in Marion County between Jan. 1, 1992, and Dec.
31, 1999, using data from the state cancer registry.
A total of 47 leukemia victims participated in the study,
including all nine graduates. Two people refused to
participate, and health officials weren't able to interview 34
In a report released last night to a community-advisory
group studying contamination issues at River Valley and
elsewhere in Marion, three primary conclusions were reached:
The most common factor among the leukemia victims was
direct or secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke.
Six of the River Valley graduates had extensive contact
with school grounds through sports or agricultural activities,
but it is not known whether it included exposure to potential
cancer-causing contaminants that might have played a role in
Continued study of leukemia among Marion County residents
and River Valley graduates is unlikely to identify additional
factors that caused the leukemia.
"There are 56,000 new cases of cancer each year in Ohio,''
Robert Indian of the state Health Department told the advisory
group. "The way cancer works, there are usually a number of
factors at work.''
Don Millard, co-chairman of the advisory group, said group
members appreciated the work done by the Health Department.
"You're always hoping you can find a smoking gun, something
that makes sense,'' Millard said. "We're back to square one.
We still do not know if the leukemia cluster at the school is
caused by what.''
Some Marion residents and others had questioned why the
study took so long. Indian said last night that the department
wanted to be as thorough as possible.
One group member suggested Indian attend the next meeting
in two months to give members a chance to review the study.
Indian said he would attend.
A related Health Department study looking at all cancers
among River Valley graduates was released last year. It showed
that in addition to leukemia, there also was a higher rate of
cancer of the esophagus then expected. No conclusions were
drawn by that study.
River Valley, a 1,700-student district east of Marion,
plans to build a new high school and middle school on a
different site by August 2003. The most heavily contaminated
areas of the school campus have been restricted, and school
and other officials have determined it is safe for the
students to remain in the current schools for the next two