Carlsbad Residents Concerned About Cancer Risks
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.