The New York Times Thursday ran a long investigative piece by climate reporter Hiroko Tabuchi, “E.P.A. Retreat Leaves Wound In Small Town.” The online headline made it political: “A Trump County Confronts the Administration Amid a Rash of Child Cancers.” It’s the old “cancer cluster” concept that alarmist reporters use to push business regulations or in this case protect regulations from repeal, with the Times trying to imply a link that isn’t proven or even substantiated, even by the scientists quoted, while keeping the Trump administration (which had nothing to with the underlying pollution) front and center and suggesting hypocrisy by Trump supporters.
The children fell ill, one by one, with cancers that few families in this suburban Indianapolis community had ever heard of. An avid swimmer struck down by glioblastoma, which grew a tumor in her brain. Four children with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. Fifteen children with acute lymphocytic leukemia, including three cases diagnosed in the past year.
At first, families put the illnesses down to misfortune. But as cases mounted, parents started to ask: Could it be something in the air or water?
Their questions led them to an old industrial site in Franklin, the Johnson County seat, that the federal government had ordered cleaned up decades ago. Recent tests have identified a carcinogenic plume spreading underground, releasing vapors into homes.
Now, families in a county that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump are making demands of his administration that collide directly with one of his main agendas: the rolling back of health and environmental regulations.
Note the timelines for the cancer tragedies in this story – they long predate President Trump. Yet the story focuses on his regulatory rollback, while sidelining whatever action or inaction took place during previous administrations.
Families across the political spectrum have also spoken out against the Trump administration’s drive to weaken restrictions on TCE, a colorless fluid with a subtle, sweet odor used by as many as four-fifths of the nation’s 65,000 dry cleaners, as well as about 2,200 factories and other facilities. Decades ago, it was used at the Franklin site.
“We are done begging,” said Kari Rhinehart, the mother of Emma Grace Findley, the 13-year-old swimmer who developed brain cancer and died in 2014. “We are demanding the E.P.A. finish what it started and place these restrictions on TCE and other dangerous toxins.”
But at the urging of industry groups, the Trump administration has stalled some of those moves. In 2017 it indefinitely postponed the proposed bans on risky uses, leaving as many as 178,000 workers potentially exposed. It also scaled back a broad review of TCE and other chemicals so that it would exclude from its calculations possible exposure from groundwater and other forms of contamination -- the problems present in Franklin.
Again, there were more anecdotes than statistical or scientific evidence, and the evidence itself was underwhelming.
In Johnson County, a parents’ group co-founded by Mrs. Rhinehart, If It Was Your Child, has traced at least 58 childhood cancer cases since 2008. At 21.7 cases of pediatric cancer per 100,000 children, Johnson County’s rate puts it in the 80th percentile among counties nationwide, according to data for 2011-2015 from the National Cancer Institute. Both the national and Indiana average are fewer than 18 pediatric cancers per 100,000 children.
The 80th percentile is somewhat toward the right end of of the distribution curve, but hardly a notable outlier. And there were caveats.
“You don’t expect to see so many cancers in a relatively small community,” said Dr. Paolo Boffetta, professor in environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Even so, he stressed that there was little research linking childhood cancers to TCE. “This doesn’t mean an association doesn’t exist,” he said. “But studies have not been able to confirm it.”
The harm to health, if it does exist, is rooted in the far pre-Trump past.
The TCE contamination has been traced to a former factory that, for years, discharged industrial wastewater into a municipal sewer. Amphenol, an electronics maker based in Wallingford, Conn., became responsible for the cleanup after acquiring the site, though it no longer owns the property.
Talking of the Clark family, hit by child cancer:
....over the summer, the Clarks received daunting news. Tests at their home on behalf of the Franklin parents’ group detected TCE levels more than 18 times federal limits.
Again, there were caveats:
Testing is tricky. Results can be affected by the weather or even by doors left open, said Kelly Pennell, associate director of the federally funded Superfund Research Center at the University of Kentucky. Indeed, later tests showed lower levels in the house.
But how much lower? Next came unfair cracks about Trump voters:
There are conflicting views in Johnson County of the administration’s environmental rollbacks. There is talk that the federal government should get out of people’s lives, even as local officials have called on the E.P.A. to take over the response to the contamination.
Many members of If It Was Your Child in the Franklin area play down the politics, noting that both parties have let the cleanup fall by the wayside. Nevertheless, their demands come at a time when the Trump administration has weakened the very rules that could prevent another Franklin.