June 21, 2018
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State health official says Coldbrook Road cases in Hampden don’t indicate a cancer cluster

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — A state health official said Monday night that her research so far does not indicate the existence of a cancer cluster among former and current Coldbrook Road residents.

Dr. Molly Schwenn, director of the Maine Cancer Registry, attended a Hampden Town Council meeting to provide town officials and residents an update on her findings so far and to assure the community that she will continue to look into the matter.

“First of all, for the town of Hampden as a whole, I found the rates of cancer overall and for the major types are not higher than they are for the county of Penobscot or for the state,” Schwenn said.

Schwenn said that in Hampden, observed cases of the most common kinds of cancer — prostate, breast, lung and bronchus and colorectal — were slightly below what the directory would expect to find. “It doesn’t mean that that’s where you want it to be,” she said. “You want it to be lower, but there’s no suggestion of [anomalies] in that data.”

She also said there were not any usual occurrences of rare cancers or cancers found in unusually young victims.

“On Coldbrook Road, I’m still using some of the data to get a better idea of the location of where some of the people with cancer live or lived. But at this point in time, I do not find a specific kind of cancer that’s implicated as you would expect with a cancer cluster,” she said.

During a meeting in early October, town councilors unanimously agreed to ask the Maine Center for Disease Control to investigate what resident Jim Barrows believes is a higher than normal rate of cancer on a roughly mile-long stretch of Coldbrook Road, near the now closed Pine Tree Landfill.

Barrows, who said he and several members of his family have been diagnosed with cancer, first brought the matter to the attention of town officials in July 2002.

At that time, Barrows said, he knew of 15 people with some form of cancer living on the section of Coldbrook Road that runs from H.O. Bouchard Inc. to Coldbrook Equestrian. There are 20 households within that span, he said. Nearby are the landfill and several large transportation companies.

On Monday night, Barrows said he now knows of nearly 40 cases.

Barrows, who also attended Monday’s meeting, said he remains frustrated by the lack of answers he’s received.

“I’m real disappointed. I was hoping that she would have answers directed toward the issue she was brought here for, which was to tell us what is going on on the Coldbrook Road,” he said after Schwenn’s presentation.

“I’m real frustrated. People are sick. We’ve discovered five more people just since the Oct. 7 council meeting,” he said, adding that as he sees it, town officials have been “dragging their feet” since 2002.

“For some reason, somebody doesn’t want to know what’s going on,” he said.

While town officials said they sympathized with Barrows and others in town who have been dealing with cancer, they also noted that they lack the expertise to conduct the survey of current and former Coldbrook Road residents that Barrows believes needs to be conducted.

Schwenn said she would continue to research cancer cases in Hampden “because I wouldn’t want to leave any stone unturned.”

Dr. Tom Openshaw, an oncologist who lives in Hampden, said that many types of cancer are related to factors that residents can do something about, such as smoking and obesity. The concerns being discussed, he said, provided an opportunity for the community to take some proactive measures.

Council members said they will continue discussing the issue, likely at the committee level.

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