CLYDE, Ohio — Soil samples showing high levels of a chemical believed to increase the risk of certain cancers were found at a former park in an area of northern Ohio where cancer has sickened dozens of children for more than a decade, according to environmental regulators.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on the findings, though, doesn’t link the contaminants with the cancer cluster that has been under investigation by state and federal agencies for more than six years. Nearly 40 young people have been diagnosed with cancer since the mid-1990s in the area.
The odds are against coming up with an answer, even with this recent finding, because pinpointing the cause of a cancer cluster rarely happens.
Environmental regulators began testing for contamination in the Clyde area between Cleveland and Toledo earlier this year. State agencies already had conducted a variety of tests, including air and groundwater sampling and radiation checks at homes and schools.
The EPA found that soil samples taken in June near a basketball court showed metals and PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in amounts exceeding what the EPA considers safe levels.
The park in the village of Green Springs was built in the 1950s by Whirlpool Corp., which has a washing machine factory in Clyde. The park closed about five years ago.
A tip left on a hotline indicated the company used a black sludge-like material to fill in the area near the basketball court, the EPA report said.
Whirlpool said in a statement that the current property owner has turned down requests for additional testing. “We are prepared to move forward immediately with the first steps of the evaluation once granted access to the property,” the company said.
Families whose children were among those diagnosed with brain tumors, leukemia, lymphoma and other forms of cancer said they were troubled by the report.
“Obviously it is upsetting to learn that such significant amounts of poison sludge are dumped anywhere, but to either dump it in proximity or cover it over with a children’s park and a swimming pool filled with water coming from the very spot where the dumping occurred, is an outrage,” said Alan Mortensen, an attorney working with some of the families.
Investigators over the past years have been focusing on a 12-mile-wide circle of mostly farmland just south of Lake Erie.
Many of the diagnoses came between 2002 and 2006, leading state health authorities to declare it a cancer cluster because the number and type of diagnoses exceeded what would be expected.