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Money Likely A Factor In Carlsbad Cancer Testing

The question of whether toxic substances at a Carlsbad school are causing cancer may be answered soon. The board of trustees is likely to decide this month whether to test the soil and air at the campus.

Carlsbad parents and community members want Carlsbad school district official...
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Above: Carlsbad parents and community members want Carlsbad school district officials to test the air, water and soil at Kelly Elementary School to see if lingering farming chemicals there are contributing to cancer malignancies.

Chase Quartarone was 16 years old when he died of lymphoma in December 2009.

Above: Chase Quartarone was 16 years old when he died of lymphoma in December 2009.

Carlsbad resident Kelsey Deviche died at the age of 5 of leukemia on Septembe...

Above: Carlsbad resident Kelsey Deviche died at the age of 5 of leukemia on September 28, 2005

When word spread early last week about dump trucks leaving Kelly Elementary School, Carlsbad grandfather Travis Burlson and three others got into their cars and engaged in a slow-speed chase.

"We made several attempts to follow a truck of loaded soil and every time it came around and came back. They knew all our cars so we weren't successful with that," said Burlson.

Burlson wanted a sample of the soil from Kelly School to have it tested for toxins. Burlson said his daughter is one of nine teachers and 18 one-time students at Kelly School who have developed cancer over the last decade.

"I'm not a doctor. I'm not a scientist. I will just tell you the cancer occurrence at Kelly School is above the norm," he said.

Parents suspect residual pesticides from Carlsbad's farming days. They've been pressing the school district to test. District officials refused. And they would not allow parents to take the soil for independent testing.

The district wanted to wait until results from a state study on the city's cancer rates were available. This week, state health officials said they found no cancer cluster in Carlsbad. Researchers checked the community around Kelly school and could verify only half of the 323 cancer cases residents had reported.

But the state did not study Kelly School where much of the concern has centered, even though the California Cancer Registry's Kurt Snipes said such a review is possible.

"But it's labor intensive and takes longer than the initial assessment just looking at the communities and looking at how much cancer is occurring based on what you would expect in the census tract areas of residents," Snipes explained.

Ken August of the California Department of Public Health said researchers will start verifying the student cancer cases at Kelly but a full-blown study is not guaranteed.

"The process is what drives this when we find out more about those 18 cases." said August. "If they are all in the registry that will help dictate what the next step would be, whether it's to launch a nine-month study or whether it's to do something else that's going to be more of what the community wants."

Burleson said many people in the community want environmental testing at Kelly. But he said district officials have told him privately they're worried about the possible cost implications of the test results.

"They made mention of it numerous times that it's about the money. It's the cost of the fix," said Burleson.

The cost of testing at a school runs about $60,000. Of the district's 15 school sites, seven have been tested. Three have required soil cleanup. Carlsbad Superintendent John Roach said toxin removal at just one school is more than a million dollars.

"Unfortunately, the board needs that information to know what they're considering."

Roach said he'll recommend this month that the board allow testing at Kelly school. He says his personal opinion about the matter is not appropriate but . . "I am human. I'd like people to find a sense of peace or a sense of closure about their loss. I'd like them also to feel confident in what we do for their children."

School board members did not respond to requests for interviews. If they vote against testing, there may be little recourse. The law only requires environmental testing on sites where schools were built after 1999. Kelly was built in 1979. Even though the state could undertake its own tests, Tom Cota of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control said there's no reason to do that.

"There is no regulatory requirement for the DTSC to do the sampling," said Cota. "We don't have any evidence that there has been release of any type of substances on the site."

But local environmental lawyer Marco Gonzalez said just because the law says the state does not have to test, does not mean it can't.

"The government's primary duty is to protect its citizens," said Gonzalez. "We know that these schools were built in locations that didn't have the luxury that they have today of environmental standards. The notion that we set a cutoff that you can only study newer schools is counterintuitive to the whole rationale."

Gonzalez said not doing the testing will further undermine the public's confidence in its government.

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Avatar for user 'T'

T | July 1, 2010 at 7:53 a.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

Has anyone verified these "18" children at Kelly School in the past 10 years? I have been around Carlsbad for MANY years...and can't count that many children in all schools together, let alone one school, in the last 20 years, let alone 10. ...and Kelsey Devich did not attend Kelly School. Let's get accurate numbers and facts before scaring people.

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Avatar for user 'Lorena'

Lorena | July 1, 2010 at 9:23 a.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

While it's certainly possible that there's a cancer cluster at or around the Kelly School, I wonder why the sudden "outbreak" if the school is three decades old.

Have there been cancer cases in the past that would substantiate the possibility that pesticides are to blame? I would think that with the breakdown of chemical agents, there would be fewer cases over time, not more. Then again, perhaps I'm ill-informed.

I would really appreciate an expert opinion from a research scientist who specializes in cancer and/or pesticides to weigh in. It would certainly provide some additional context to this issue.

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Avatar for user 'seakay'

seakay | July 1, 2010 at 10:40 a.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

It is unconscionable that the district is considering NOT testing. Children associated with the school and area in general, are sick and dying!

There is NO reason not to test - particularly if the district feels that the school is safe. And why prohibit parents from taking soil for independent testing? If the district has nothing to hide and is concerned about cost, they should welcome independent testing! What are they afraid of and/or hiding, that there may be a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed? No child's life is worth any of their possible concerns!

If there's a problem the children and faculty need to be informed and protected. I'm amazed anyone is attending this school, I would remove my child and homeschool before allowing him near any facility with a track record of cancer such as the one at Kelly.

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Avatar for user 'SusanS'

SusanS | July 1, 2010 at 12:14 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

Let me get this straight - the parents asked for health authorities to collect data and see if there were an unusually high number of cancers in this area. Their request was granted, and the data showed no cancer cluster.

Now the parents don't believe this data and want a study of the dirt. What happens if that comes back negative? They won't believe that and will ask for a test of something else - water, air, power lines, cell towers?

I agree with the previous post. It's not the cancer registry data that's questionable; it's the cancer group's numbers that are unverified. I've lived in Carlsbad for a long time and haven't heard that total from anyone but these folks.

The state's report said it verified less than half the number of overall cases reported by this group of residents. Maybe the residents' report of 18 kids is just as unreliable.

I rely on data, not fear. I rely on experts, not amateurs. I rely on objective researchers, not grieving parents and scared neighbors. I'm not afraid of the school and I'm not moving away.

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Avatar for user 'T'

T | July 1, 2010 at 1:13 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

While one child is too many, if there were "children sick and dying" then there ought to be a huge investigation. There are not. The data from the county and state registrys (scientists and data analysts...experts in other words), and from people who actually live and work at that school (just good people who love the kids), verify that there are NOT "many children dying" is a tight knit group of people at that school who knows and loves their children. They would know. News media are only reporting what a very small group of people...who have NOT verified or proven telling them.

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Avatar for user 'keepmeinformed'

keepmeinformed | July 1, 2010 at 8:17 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

I applaud Dr. Roach for saying that he will recommend that the board allow testing at Kelly School. The parents are willing to pay for the testing and have offered time and again. I have also been around Carlsbad for a long time. It is true that children are sick and dying. Yes, maybe it is a coincidence. But maybe it is not. I am one who feels we should err on the side of caution when it comes to the lives of children. To be clear, the meeting on Monday did nothing to rule out a potential problem at a specific school. The California Cancer Registry is not specific enough, nor was it ever designed to, rule out such issues. The only way to know for sure is to test. This testing is already being done at schools built after 1999. Mr. Quartarone is working with California Cancer Registry officials to verify the number of children with cancer. Until then he cannot just post the names of children on a public website. To set the record straight, many of the teachers requested air, soil, and water testing months ago because of what they have seen and experienced. Unfortunately some may be afraid to speak candidly about the matter due to fear of retribution.

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