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Carlsbad Residents Concerned About Cancer Risks

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Video published May 28, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: Residents in one Carlsbad neighborhood are concerned that toxins in the ground, water and air could be causing cancer. We speak to Reporter Amita Sharma about her investigation into what might have caused 265 cases of cancer in one Carlsbad community.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): In Carlsbad there have been reports of numbers of children becoming seriously ill with cancer. As concern grows, people are looking for answers. KPBS reporter Amita Sharma is covering the story. Amita, what's causing so much concern about the potential cancer risks in this Carlsbad community?

AMITA SHARMA (KPBS News): Well, there have been 265 reported cases of cancer within a three-mile radius in Carlsbad. Fifteen children have been diagnosed with cancer; four of them have died within a particular neighborhood. At Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad, several teachers have been diagnosed with cancer. Several more have had infertility problems and some of the fifteen children that I described for you, they attended Kelly Elementary School at one time. So people are worried. They believe that something in the soil, the air, or the water might be making them sick.

PENNER: Why would they point to those particular areas of soil, air, water?

SHARMA: Well it’s no secret that Carlsbad was once a heavy agricultural town. So there were tomato fields, flower fields, fruit orchards. And at that time to keep crops robust, very powerful pesticides were used. Pesticides like arsenic, pesticides like DDT, which are now banned. And so the thinking is that there are residual pesticides in the soil that are making people sick. Now, it should be said that when the school district has tested the soil because they’ve had to add onto a school or build a new school that there were pesticides found. In the case of Poinsettia Elementary School there was methane gas found. But in the case of Carlsbad High School they found arsenic, they found pesticides like dieldrin and chlordane. And they found them to a level that they had to be removed. What concern is there that the power plant that’s near the school…

SHARMA: There is concern.

PENNER: …will also be involved?

SHARMA: There is concern that the Encina Power Plant’s emissions might be making people sick as well as power lines. Now one – the parents of one of the children who died recently, Chase Quartarone, said that an autopsy was done of him after he died and that there were very high levels of metals found in his system. That he had something like 98% mercury in his system as well as 96% titanium. So there's a lot of speculation at this point. Parents are asking for answers now. They want the school district to test the soil.

PENNER: And what has been the response?

SHARMA: Well right now, everyone within government is saying we are in information gathering mode. And what they're doing, in fact, the County of San Diego plans to issue an alert to hospitals and doctors offices. To gather information to alert them whenever they have cancer cases that have any sort of connection to Carlsbad. So they're tracking data right now. In addition, the California Cancer Registry is looking at data from Carlsbad. I spoke with Dr. Thomas Mac, who’s doing this on behalf of the registry. He’s an epidemiologist and he says, look, it would be normal. One would expect Carlsbad to have had 5,000 cases of cancer over the last ten years. He does not think there's an issue.

PENNER: In the last few seconds that we have, Amita, this is getting national attention. I mean, cancer risk is getting national attention. What kind of attention?

SHARMA: Well, the president’s cancer panel recently issued a 200-page report. And in that, they said that environmental toxins pose a stronger hazard than believed and that they also say that there is a belief that a higher percentage of cancer deaths within this country are attributed to environmental toxins.

PENNER: Thank you very much, Amita Sharma.

SHARMA: Thank you.


Avatar for user 'SoCalBonnie'

SoCalBonnie | May 30, 2010 at 11:45 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

I need more facts before I can sign on with the "Carlsbad is a dangerous environment" movement, and this report has too few.

For example, what does Sharma mean when she says that Chase "had something like 98% mercury in his system as well as 96% titanium"? She can't possibly be describing levels of mercury and titanium in total body composition, can she?

Or does she mean the boy's blood levels of mercury and titanium were 98% and 96% higher than levels considered safe by medical authorities?

If yes, how much mercury in the blood is considered "normal" or "safe"? Such information should be included in this type of report.

According to the Oklahoma State University (reproducing info from New Jersey State Dept. of Health): "...because mercury remains in the bloodstream for only a few days after exposure, the test must be done soon after exposure. Most non-exposed people have mercury levels of 0 to 2 (all blood measurements are in micrograms of mercury per deciliter of blood, or ug/dl). Levels above 2.8 ug/dl are required to be reported to the Health Department." (

I was never good at math, but percentages don't tell me what I need to know. If you start out with a "normal" mercury level of of 0.0100 ug/dl, a 98% higher level would only be 0.0198 ug/dl, right? That's still within a "normal" range and much, much lower than the 2.8 ug/dl that requires reporting to the Health Department.

I would be devastated if one of my sons died -- my deepest sympathies go out to the Quartarone family. My heart goes out to them in their loss. But percentages don't help me understand if he had too much mercury in his bloodstream or not, or where that mercury came from.

I also need to know why the statement from Dr. Thomas Mack (the last name is misspelled in the above report) was glossed over. Is what he is saying true? That Carlsbad really is having a typical cancer occurrence rate?

That is something Sharma should investigate and report on, because that seems quite straightforward and easy to determine.

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