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It Would Break Your HeartChristopher  Myers

"It Would Break Your Heart" (continued)

From the front porch of his hilltop house, Bob Roberson can see Area B. The view may be idyllic, but Roberson is worried about what is below the ground, what chemicals may taint the groundwater and make their way into his home’s 500-foot deep well. He says the Army has tested his well water and deemed it safe. Roberson has his doubts, but he drinks it.

“I just hope the day doesn’t come when something down there gets out and we all regret that something wasn’t done before. I firmly believe that’s a possibility, and I don’t want to see that happen,” he says.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be an answer of, yeah, Detrick caused these cancers,” says Frederick resident Bob Roberson.

He was disheartened by the cluster investigation, but he continues to meet with Brookmyer and other TAC members. They are launching a case control study that compares cancer incidence among former students of an elementary school near Area B with those from another school farther away. He’s not optimistic. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be an answer of, yeah, Detrick caused these cancers. I don’t think that ever can be answered,” Roberson says.

In March 2012, a National Academy of Sciences committee essentially agreed with Roberson in its review of the cluster investigation and a 2009 report on Area B’s groundwater by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The committee found there was simply not enough historical data on exposures and cancer incidence to determine whether or not people’s health was harmed by toxins from Area B’s groundwater. Given that lack of data, the experts said, additional studies “would not be useful.” DHMH and FCHD, meanwhile, will continue to examine lymphoma and total cancer rates in Frederick as more recent data are added to the Maryland Cancer Registry.

Existing data may not be conclusive for government experts, but personal experience suffices for Bill Krantz. He bitterly recalls his family’s and his neighbors’ losses. “I’m telling you they’ve lost their families and their loved ones and their children. To see this happen, and I did, it would break your heart,” he says.

As he walks among the high grass on the land his family once owned, Krantz mulls over the past and future at the same time. “You can’t bring people back to life, your loved ones. You can’t do that. And how many more are going to die, I don’t know.”

Editor’s note: This article is based on research conducted for “Fort Detrick, Maryland: A Case Study of Disease Cluster Investigations,” by principal investigator Beth Resnick, MPH; MPH student Brian W. Simpson; and PhD student Patti Truant, MPH.

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Frederick Voices

Frederick Voices

People from Frederick, Md. and public health professionals talk about a possible cancer cluster and whether it can be linked to nearby Fort Detrick.

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