Johnson County investigates cluster

By Stephanie Lingenfelter

Editor in Chief

Yearly, 15,780 U.S. children are diagnosed with cancer, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. In Johnson County, at least 50 children have been diagnosed with rare forms of blood and brain cancer in the past 10 years, with almost half coming from Franklin. This realization has sparked investigations in Franklin to determine why this is.

Every person is exposed to carcinogens and natural toxins, according to science teacher Kyle Roberts. They only become a concern at certain levels.

“Radon, which is a naturally occurring gas that can be a carcinogen, [is in homes]. That’s something that everyone should have their homes tested for,” Roberts said. “You can get testing kits inexpensively at Lowes or Home Depot or Amazon. Other things also naturally occurring are mold, which you can also test your home for.”

According to the Indy Star, testing began after parents of the children with cancer started an organization, If it Was Your Child, and partnered with Mundell & Associates. On June 20, they tested the air of 14 homes near the Amphenol facility, an old power products factory. Six homes had high radon levels and three exceeded recommended levels of tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene. Those can be cancer-causing in high levels, so a deeper investigation ensued.

One of the children affected, Lana Johnson, currently attends the middle school. Her grandma lives in the tested neighborhood. Johnson’s third and fourth grade teacher, Sherry Pryor, shared how Johnson’s cancer progressed.

“Lana initially had thyroid cancer, but it was malignant and traveled into her lymph nodes. The lymph cancer came back and she had a second surgery. Finally, they found cancer spots on her lungs that they are still treating with radiation pills. Currently those spots are stagnant and not growing,” Pryor said.

According to Elizabeth Swearingen, the Director of the Johnson County Health Department, tests haven’t supported the cluster.

“The epidemiological data that has been collected does not support a cancer cluster. The types and locations of the cancers do not fit the guidelines and there have not been enough cases diagnosed in a particularly defined geographic area,” Swearingen said.

Even though there has been no direct correlation, the plant is installing carbon hoods to reduce emissions.

Roberts explained cancer is multifactorial.

“It doesn’t look like the site is producing large amounts of the toxins. The thing with cancer is it’s multi-factorial, so there’s different things that cause it to gather,” Roberts said. “Johnson County has factories that aren’t in use that could be producing toxins, so it’s hard to pinpoint it.”

While the Amphenol site isn’t necessarily the cause for the potential cluster, pollution in Johnson County is still high because it’s under Marian and air from factories enters Johnson.

Roberts went over ways people can be environmentally conscious.

“The more fuel efficient your car is, the generally less your carbon footprint. Other ways you can reduce your carbon footprint at home is keeping your temperature a little higher in the summer, little lower in the winter. Most of the electricity in this area is produced by burning fossil fuels. The less energy you use at home, the less your carbon footprint is going to be,” Roberts said.

 

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