TALLEVAST — Tallevast leaders stunned state health officials Monday when they unveiled a map showing 86 cases of cancer throughout the historic community.
And that’s just the count so far, based on interviews with 109 residents, said Laura Ward, president of the residents’ advocacy group Family Oriented Community United and Strong, or FOCUS.
One family alone reported 10 brain cancers and four neurological disorders within the same household, Ward said.
Florida Department of Health has only found four cancer cases so far in its three-year health risk assessment of the Tallevast plume of underground toxic waste traced back to the former Loral American Beryllium Co. plant.
The sharp discrepancy was just one of many concerns Tallevast consultant Tim Varney pointed out in a review of the state report with Randy Merchant, head of the DOH team conducting the risk assessment, at Monday’s meeting at Mount Tabor Church.
The most serious: Merchant’s team used the wrong zip code to define Tallevast’s boundaries and population in retrieving data from the Florida Cancer Registry, which has been tracking cancer cases since 1982, Varney said.
Merchant noted the error and said it would be corrected. He attributed the zip-code mistake to the difficulty of finding the right designation for rural communities that do not have home delivery.
Varney stressed that the FOCUS cancer data have not been verified, but nonetheless, the FOCUS tally thus far cannot be dismissed.
“When compared to the DOH report, the FOCUS map leads to considerable concerns,” said Varney, an environmental consultant with more than 30 years experience in health risk assessment.
Varney called for the state to assign an epidemiologist to Tallevast to conduct a door-to-door study to compile the incidence of cancer and other diseases and conditions among residents that may have been related to exposure to the toxic waste.
“Let’s reach a reasoned, scientific agreement on whether there is an excess of cancer cases in Tallevast,” Varney said.
Varney estimated the cost of the project would run close to $125,000.
Varney won the enthusiastic support of state Rep. Bill Galvano, who attended Monday’s meeting.
“This is the most important question we need to answer,” said Galvano, R-Bradenton. “We will find the money somewhere. Let’s get the epidemiologist on the ground. I will be talking about this with the governor this weekend.”
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s office will research federal funding options, said spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts.
Jeanne Zokovitch, an environmental law attorney with WildLaw, Inc. cited other problems with the cancer registry data.
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