Indiana mothers take fight over childhood cancer and chemicals to Washington D.C.

Johnson County families spoke out against EPA nominee Michael Dourson in Washington D.C., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (photo courtesy FredWatkins.com)
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WASHINGTON D.C. (WTHR) - Mothers at the center of a 13 Investigates report about childhood cancer are in Washington, D.C. speaking out about sick children in Johnson County and toxic chemicals.

The moms are guests of the Environmental Defense Fund. The group is raising questions about a new EPA nominee and calling him and his record on chemical exposure "frightening."

Kari Rhinehart and Stacie Davidson are hoping to put a face on a national problem - sick and dying children living near contaminated sites.

They first brought their concerns about high childhood cancer rates to 13 Investigates in 2015 and say the numbers are still alarming.

"The numbers are staggering. Forty-two kids since 2010," said Davidson, whose stepson Zane was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2014.

Kari's daughter Emma Grace died in 2014, months after battling a rare brain tumor. She was just 13.

"She fought hard and we're going to continue to fight for her and all of the other kids that have been put in her place because they deserve that," said Rhinehart.

It's why she and the other mothers are taking their stories to the nation's capital.

(Photo: Fred Watkins.com)
(Photo: Fred Watkins.com)
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"When (the Environmental Defense Fund) started looking into everything, they realized there was this connection and we've been dealing with this," Rhinehart added.

The mothers want to make sure a new federal chemical safety act moves forward. The law passed last year with bipartisan support and promises to identify dangerous chemicals and their potential health hazards.

"We are urging the Senate to choose our children over Michael Dourson," said Davidson, speaking from what's known as the "Senate Swamp."

She and top environmentalists fear Dourson of the University of Cincinnati, the new EPA nominee to oversee the chemical program, could set progress back.

"We now have this individual who's going to be overseeing the nation's main chemicals office really, within the EPA that has you know this very frightening track record," said Dr. Jennifer McPartland, PhD.

McPartland is the senior scientist in the health program at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington. She said Dourson's history is frightening because he has worked to promote the cause of the chemical industry, recommending higher levels of exposure for known toxins like the carcinogen TCE. She also pointed to information about Dourson arguing against the health impact of tobacco.

"It's very troubling," said McPartland. She went on to call the appointment the best chance to correct the mistakes of the past when it comes to regulating chemicals in products we all use everyday and to rebuild confidence in the system.

She says having the Indiana moms on their team brings the issue into perspective.

"This is something that truly affects real people everyday in their homes, in their places of work," explained McPartland.

Duorson has yet to respond publicly. His supporters say he deserves full consideration. We are expecting to hear from him Wednesday as his confirmation hearings get underway.

The mothers will remain in Washington for the hearings and say this is the first step. They also plan to push for an appointee to oversee Trevor's Law at Health and Human Services.

Trevor's Law outlines specific procedures to investigate possible cancer clusters.