From Magda Havas
La Quinta Middle School’s cancer scare
Parents demand answer from district on cluster controversy
Palm SPrings California
The Desert Sun
April 27, 2007
A community meeting Thursday night intended to inform La Quinta Middle School teachers and parents about an alleged cancer cluster at the school turned into a heated exchange with a sole district representative.Parents and La Quinta school staff talked over each other, clamoring for answers from Desert Sands Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Charlene Whitlinger.
An epidemiologist and an electronic engineer claim a cancer cluster exists at the school – 18 cancer diagnoses have been made since the school’s opening in 1988. Superintendent Doris Wilson, who was not present at the meeting, disputed the claim Wednesday.
La Quinta Middle is a school of 895 students in sixth through eighth grades with 64 adult employees, including 31 teachers.
Whitlinger said the district has spent about $100,000 to test the air, water, soil and radioactivity in the school, and officials have come up with nothing significant.
Many of the staff and families at the La Quinta Community Center didn’t buy it Thursday night.
“If something happens to my son, I’m going to come after you. You can bet that,” parent Bertha Estrada yelled, pointing her finger. Her son now is at La Quinta High School. She said she is going to request to transfer her daughter to another school.
“I’m afraid. I’m very afraid,” she said.
Whitlinger eventually walked out, unable to speak without interruption, amidst audience comments of “Sit down!,” “Bye!” and “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
At a news conference before the meeting, Whitlinger said that no one has yet considered the pre-existing health status of the cancer victims at La Quinta Middle nor environmental factors, like the sun, in the Coachella Valley.”We live in a sun belt,” she said, noting her own bout with skin cancer.
Dr. Sam Milham, a part-time Indio resident and epidemiologist who worked for state health departments in Washington and New York for 40 years, said four of the 18 diagnoses are melanoma. That was the highest repeated cancer in all of the diagnoses. The rest include breast, uterine, thyroid, colon, pancreatic and ovarian cancers.
Milham and his colleague, Lloyd Morgan, a retired electrical engineer and director of the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States, blame the incidences of cancer on “dirty power” emitted from modern electrical equipment.
Thirteen of the 51 rooms at the school “maxed out” their meter for “dirty power.” District officials question the validity of that tool.
In an open letter dated April 17 to parents and the community posted on the district’s Web site, the district calls it a “subject of considerable controversy and skepticism in the scientific community.”
Morgan admitted afterward that he cannot pinpoint the exact source or cause of “dirty power,” which can be emitted from computers, printers, modems and other common office equipment.
The California Department of Health Services, which studied the school, should deliver a final report of its findings within the month.
“The batting average on cancer clusters is one that people would not like it to be,” said Ken August, spokesman for the California Department of Health Services. “Cancer is unfortunately much more common than many people believe.”
On average, one of every two men develops some form of cancer in his life, August said. One of out every three women does the same.
It often might be chance – or bad luck – when several cancers pop up in one area, he said.
“It’s extremely difficult to identify a cause even if it is determined that a cancer cluster exists,” August said.
For some teachers, the threat is enough.
Mary Loe, who teaches sixth-grade science at La Quinta Middle, moved her students twice this year to get away from room 304 – a space next to an electrical supply area.
In August 2006, district officials told board members they would build an electrical shield.
That never happened, Loe said.
Whitlinger said Thursday she thought room 304 was used for storage.
Loe went to the emergency room with anxiety and high blood pressure problems April 13. She said she doesn’t plan to return this school year.
“I feel betrayed,” she said.Leave a reply →