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  • Leukemia study in Marion taking too long, some say

    Health officials say state is just being thorough

    Friday, June 15, 2001

    Tom Sheehan
    Dispatch Staff Reporter

    A Pennsylvania toxicologist who locked horns with officials last summer over an investigation of toxic contamination at a Marion- area school district said the state is taking too long to unveil the results of a related survey of leukemia cases.

    Last month, Bruce Molholt wrote a letter to the Ohio Department of Health complaining about the delay.

    "It looks like the public is being run over roughshod,'' said Molholt, who was still awaiting a response this week to his May 29 letter.

    Mari-jean Siehl, Health Department spokeswoman, said the agency is doing a thorough job in its review of leukemia cases and expects to release the results this summer. She said Molholt's letter was interpreted as a request for a copy of the study and therefore didn't warrant a response.

    Molholt was hired last year by a consultant for an advisory group that was reviewing contamination issues in Marion and at River Valley schools in Marion County. He studied findings from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's investigation, which began in 1997 after a high rate of leukemia was discovered among graduates of the high school.

    About 800 students now attend classes at the 78-acre high-school and middle-school campus built in the early 1960s on a former military depot. Toxic contamination has been discovered at the site.

    The students, Molholt said at the time, should be moved. He said he still thinks that.

    School officials and government investigators have defended the decision to continue using the campus while new schools are built elsewhere. The most contaminated areas, they said, have been restricted and health risks are minimal.

    They criticized Molholt for questioning the ongoing investigation and said he didn't review all the data. The advisory group later decided against renewing the one- year, $25,000 contract for the consultant who had hired Molholt.

    Molholt, of West Chester, Pa., said he's still interested in the River Valley case, even though he is no longer officially involved.

    The Health Department, Molholt said, finished the review weeks ago and should share the results with the public now.

    In his letter to epidemiologist Robert Indian, who is leading the leukemia study, Molholt accused the agency of dragging its feet in finishing the four-year review.

    "I believe it to be unconscionable to deprive the public of these valuable data regarding potential past and future risks,'' he wrote.

    The mother of a River Valley graduate who developed leukemia also sent a letter to the Health Department, criticizing how long it has taken to complete the report.

    On June 3, Roxanne Krumanaker wrote: "The leukemia case review was put into action to determine if there was any kind of connection between the Marion leukemia cases and the River Valley leukemia cases. . . . This extreme delay is totally unacceptable.''

    Indian responded in a June 5 letter, saying more time is needed to do a thorough study. That has not dissuaded Krumanaker, whose daughter, Kim Tolnar, developed leukemia seven years after she graduated in 1983. The disease is in remission.

    The study has expanded and the amount of time needed to complete it has increased as well, said Siehl, the Health Department spokeswoman.

    The department has broadened the review to include an assessment of other forms of cancer among River Valley students who graduated between 1963 and 1999. The study also will review every leukemia case in the county between 1992 and 1999, Siehl said.

    "We're being as comprehensive as possible. We have no desire to drag this thing out,'' she said.

    A city health official said his agency is very interested in the results of the study but not impatient at the time devoted to the process.

    "We're anxious to see it,'' Marion Health Commissioner Michael J. Fielding said this week.

    "They can give us their expertise on what they think is significant and if there is any response we need to make in this community.''

    He said he understands why people are concerned about the amount of time taken, but he thinks the state health officials are trying to do a complete job.



    Copyright 2001, The Columbus Dispatch