Hampden officials continue to press for cancer answers

Posted Feb. 03, 2014, at 10:40 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Nearly four months after meeting with the director of the Maine Cancer Registry, local officials and residents are still waiting for follow-up information on residents’ concerns about cancer cases on Coldbrook Road.

During a council meeting on Monday night, Mayor Carol Duprey provided a brief status report on what local officials have been doing in their efforts to get answers from state health officials.

Town councilors voted in October to ask the Maine Center for Disease Control to investigate resident Jim Barrows’ concern about what he believes is a higher than normal rate of cancer on a roughly mile-long stretch of Coldbrook Road, near the former 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.

He said in October that 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 a former landfill and several large transportation companies.

Barrows’ list of people diagnosed with cancer since then has grown to more than 40, he said late last week.

Dr. Molly Schwenn, director of the Maine Cancer Registry, attended a council meeting in November to provide an update on her findings so far and to assure the community that she will continue to look into the matter.

At that time, she said that her research into cancer cases in Hampden so far did not indicate the existence of a cancer cluster among former and current Coldbrook Road residents.

She found that the rates of cancer overall and for the major types were not higher than those for Penobscot County or the state. She said that for 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.

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

Since then, however, Town Manager Susan Lessard’s requests for additional information — including a copy of a slideshow Schwenn shared at the meeting — have gone unanswered.

At the request of his wife, the mayor, Rep. Brian Duprey contacted Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, last week in the hope of eliciting some action.

In an email to Pinette, he noted that Schwenn had met with town councilors in November and that the town manager had requested additional information shortly thereafter. He further said that Barrows “has been requesting information for years from Dr. Schwenn without satisfactorily getting answers.

“This citizen has been telling me he has been getting stonewalled by the Cancer Registry for years, and considering the treatment we are getting, we know this is true. Why are we being ignored? What does she not want us to find out?” Duprey said. “The Federal CDC told our resident that they would get involved if asked by Maine officials. I would like to see them take over the case, as I feel we are not getting accurate information.”

Duprey wrote that he wanted to give Pinette an opportunity to provide the information town officials are seeking before taking the matter up with Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

On Monday, Duprey received an email from Pinette saying she will set up a meeting with Schwenn and other state health officials to discuss the matter.

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