State officials determine no cancer cluster in Johnson County

By Megan Powell

State health officials say Franklin College should not be concerned about an alleged cancer cluster in Johnson County.

Recently, the Greenwood area tested its water systems and wells to detect a possible cancer cluster.

Tim Johnson and Christina Gosnell address questions about Johnson County’s water supply at Monday’s forum. Several parents out of the about 100 people in attendance had sick children at Riley Hospital for Children.

According to the National Cancer Institute, a cancer cluster is when the expected number of cancer cases in an area is greater than expected.

On Nov. 17, the state opened a second investigation in Johnson County to look into the possibility of a cancer cluster weeks after reports of Henry County having the same issue.

At the beginning of November, state investigators found three people in Henry County were diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer.

According to a WTHR report, the disease only affects one to three people per 100,000 nationwide.

At least 20 children in Johnson County have been diagnosed with cancer, living just blocks away from each other.

Several of the cancer cases reported are forms of leukemia.

County residents gathered late Monday at Franklin Community High School with questions and concerns.

Sophomore Claire Meade’s brother was diagnosed with cancer in 2010.

“I want no family to go through what we went through and I want no family to have to hear that a family member has cancer,” Meade said.

Meade lives in Franklin and attended Monday’s forum.

“As a college student, I just want people to know that there is a problem here,” Meade said. “Hopefully with lots of research and all of these families speaking up … we will get this figured out.”

Three organizations who manage the state’s water – the Indiana State Department of Health, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and American Family Water – assured the crowd of about 100 that the water is safe to drink.

Jennifer Walthall, who works as the deputy commissioner and director for health outcomes for the state health department, said there is not a cancer cluster in the county.

In addition to her roles in state government, Walthall is also the division chief for pediatric emergency medicine at Riley Hospital for Children.

“There is nothing that I’m going to say tonight that will be able to ease the pain [about having a child diagnosed],” Walthall said. “As with any cancer, there is a lot we in the medical community don’t know.”

Walthall said that although she can’t explain why the children were diagnosed with cancer, she is certain of the investigation’s conclusion.

“There is not a pediatric cancer cluster in Johnson County,” Walthall said. “There is no known link between drinking water and any of the cancers that have been reported.”

Over the past 14 years, there have been 111 cancer cases diagnosed in people younger than 20 in Johnson County.

According to an Indianapolis Star report, that puts the county at a rate of 19.6 cases per 100,000 people.

The pediatric cancer rate in the state is 19.8.

Walthall said these cases are in no way linked to well or tap water, the area flood in 2008 or any other environment-related issue.

The expected cases of childhood cancer for the population size of Johnson County is 107.

The investigation determined the extra four reports are not significant enough to determine a cancer cluster.

Mary Hollingsworth, drinking water branch chief for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, also said the county’s water is safe.

“The water has been, and is, safe to drink,” Hollingsworth said.

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About Ashley Shuler 1253 Articles

Ashley Shuler is the executive editor of The Franklin. She has held various multimedia journalism and public relations internships, including positions at Indianapolis Monthly, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Dittoe Public Relations.

When she isn’t staying up late to edit stories, Ashley spends her time boutique shopping and drinking as much vanilla Coke as possible.

This is Ashley’s third year in a leadership role and her fourth year on The Franklin staff. She previously held positions as web editor and news editor.

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