State investigates cancer rates in Blackford County


BLACKFORD COUNTY - The Indiana Department of Health is investigating fears of a cancer cluster in the east central Indiana region. Several residents of Blackford County, a small, rural county, have expressed concerns about who's getting cancer and why.

"From what I've heard over the years I'm not surprised," said Sandy Langdon.

Langdon, who lives on a farm, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She says 15 of her neighbors within a two-mile radius have also battled some form of cancer over the past 15 years.

"I think we want to blame someone or something. You just want to know," said Langdon.

The concerns led to the formation of the Blackford County Concerned Citizens BCCC. Former Hartford City Mayor Joe Castelo helped found that group, pressing the state to investigate. Early findings indicate slightly higher than expected cancer rates not just in Blackford County but much of the east Central Indiana region.

A statistical analysis found elevated rates in cancers of the bladder, lung and bronchus, colon/rectum/anus, thyroid and endocrine glands and malignant lymphoma.

Castelo said, "We are concerned now about finding out where the hot spots are, where the higher incidents of cancer are."

A century ago, Blackford County was home to hundreds of oil and gas fields and several window glass factories, including the largest in the world. It burned down in the mid 1920s and is now home to an elementary school and ball park.

"We know the glass industry used arsenic lead and other chemicals. We don't know the latency in the soil or environment," said Castelo.

Health officials caution it's too early to link higher cancer rates to old industrial sites. They say it could be that more people in the affected area smoke or are overweight. Perhaps too, it's exposure to radon or pesticides.

John Adams said, "is there a connection or a reason? I don't know, but I'd like to know."

Adams lost his wife Donna to cancer 10 years ago.

He said not a day goes by when he doesn't think of her. And now he wonders could her death somehow be linked to some of the others in their hometown.

He wants answers.

"When you lose someone you love very much, who's a total part of your life (you want to know) and maybe (the environmental suspicions) had nothing to do with it," he said.

"We don't want to point fingers, prosecute or sue anyone. We just want to know how to avoid health hazards," said Castelo.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is helping the health department investigate by reviewing the environmental issues.

But a health official said pinpointing a cause is extremely difficult, noting they've never identified a cancer cluster attributable to a single source or exposure.

They hope to have further study results by year's end.

The Hoosier Environmental Council, meantime, is working with BCCC to keep residents informed. The two groups will co-host a public health workshop May 21 at the Lake Placid Conference Center in Hartford City at 1pm Registration is free.