Philadelphia Environmental Lawyers Discuss a Decrease in the Incidence of Childhood Leukemia in Tom’s River

Good News From Toms River

There is a lot of bad news circulating today, but I have nothing but good news to report from my recent visit to Tom’s River. I was invited by Linda Gillick, head of the Toms River Citizen’s Action Committee for Childhood Cancer Cluster, to join her and Bob Ingenito, formerly the Ocean County Health Department, in meeting with a group of law students from North Umbria University in the United Kingdom. They were interested in hearing the story of the Tom’s River Childhood Cancer Cluster and the use of a unique alternate dispute resolution process to resolve the claims of 69 children with cancer without litigation.

If you want to hear the whole story, you should consider reading Dan Fagin’s Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction work Toms River, a Story of Science and Salvation. But much of what I heard in the meeting was not in the book.

It is now over twenty years since the Parkway Well Field, which was the source of cancer causing contamination in Toms River, was shut down. The old Toms River Water Company, which may have been one the most despised public utilities in the United States, was acquired by Suez, which has been a model corporate citizen, fully and completely disclosing any and all issues concerning the water supply and consistently acting in the best interests of the community. Suez has “ten commitments to do good” posted on its website. See link

The shutdown of the Parkway Wellfield, has resulted in an astonishing decrease in the incidence of childhood leukemia in Tom’s River. The New Jersey Department of Health looks at childhood cancer rates using a five year rolling average because individual one year averages can be misleading. The five year rolling average for leukemia among girls in Tom’s River Township, starting with the five year period from 1983 to 1987 and ending with the period of 1999 to 2003 was 8.6 per 100,000. This is about double the statewide average in New Jersey.

Starting with the five year rolling average from 2000 to 2004 and ending with the average from 2009 to 2013 the rate of childhood leukemia among girls in Tom’s River is only 1.5 per 100,000, less than half the statewide average, an astonishing 83% drop. Had the contamination not been identified, had the wellfield not been shut down and had the water company not continued to keep it shut down, it is virtually certain there would have been many more cases of childhood leukemia among the girls of Tom’s River.

Improved Testing of Radiologicals

That is not the only good news. When the childhood cancer cluster was first identified extraordinary measures were taken to test the drinking waters in schools. The samples were analyzed very quickly, within an hour or two. All of the sudden, radioactive material was identified in the drinking water. It had not been seen in prior tests, because prior sampling was done with less urgency and samples would sit around for a day or two before they were analyzed. The well with high radiologicals was taken offline and testing protocols were changed throughout the United States to assure that testing for radiologicals would be done rapidly because of the short half-life of radiologicals in water. We don’t know how many cancers have been prevented by the improved detection of radiologicals in drinking water.

But we have a lot of work to do. As we have noted in many prior blogs, other “unregulated” contaminants are poisoning our water and causing cancer. Chief among them are PFCs which, it is now estimated, contaminate the drinking water of 6,000,000 people. We made progress in Tom’s River. We need to continue it nationwide.

For more information, contact our environmental lawyers in Philadelphia at Williams Cuker Berezofsky at 215-557-0099 or contact us online.