• 28 MAY 07
    • 0

    #734: A Failure To Act; A Failure of Public Health, The History of a Cancer Cluster

    From Lloyd Morgan:

    A History of The Cancer Cluster at La Quinta Middle School in California

    (Also see previous messages 721, 725 and 729)

    The Facts in Brief

    1. There are 18 cancers among the 137 teachers who ever worked in this school since its opening in 1988 through the end of academic years 2005-2006. The expected number of cancers among these teachers, adjusted for age, aging, gender, and race is 6.5. There is a 99.990% confidence that this 2.8-fold higher risk for cancer at LQMS is not due to chance.

    2 Classroom measurements of “dirty power” (AKA “electrical pollution”, “spikes” in the electricity delivery) have shown that within the rooms with the highest measurement values there is a 6.6-fold increased risk of cancers. There is a clear dose-response relationship between the risk of cancer and this cumulative exposure to dirty power. In other words, at LQMS, the higher the cumulative dirty power levels the higher the risk of cancer.

    3 After three (3) years of denial and stonewalling—and the diagnosis of seven (7) more cancers—the School District still refuses to acknowledge to the teachers at LQMS the full extent of the heath problem and risk, as well as take any responsibility for mitigation of the problem—even now reneging on small steps that they claimed they would do.

    A Brief History of the Cancer Cluster

    1. In late 2003, the teachers at LQMS notified management at Desert Sands Unified School District (DSUSD) that they were experiencing an increased number of cancers. Early in 2004, DSUSD had Dr. John Morgan of the Desert Sierra Cancer Surveillance Program meet with the teachers. He concluded in a Desert Sun article that, “the teachers’ cancer rates were not abnormally high.”

    Dr. Sam Milham, a retired occupational epidemiologist and winter resident in Indio, California, read the article and observed that the 11 teachers with cancer were too many for the size of the teaching staff. He contacted the teachers and offered to help investigate their complaint.

    2. March 11, 2004: Dr. Milham wrote to DSUSD Assistant Superintendent Charlene Whitlinger, sending a resume and his consistent message: “The number of cancer cases are higher than expectation. I’d like to walk through the school.” Despite repeated letters, e-mails, and phone messages, the District would not respond to Dr. Milham.

    1. April 22, 2004: A letter from Superintendent Doris Wilson was sent, dismissing Dr. Milham’s concerns: “our investigation and findings are satisfactory.”

    2. Summer and fall, 2004: Teachers began doing their own research, using yearbooks and classroom assignment rosters to determine the historical size of the teaching staff and a beginning correlation of cancer-affected teachers with classrooms. The District continued to deny the existence of any health issues at LQMS.

    3. February 7-8, 2005: Dr. Milham and Lloyd Morgan (an electrical engineer who studied for over a decade the association between electromagnetic fields’ exposure and cancer) are invited, after school hours, into LQMS by a school teacher, Gayle Cohen, to take magnetic field and “dirty power” measurements in seven classrooms. They found that one classroom, room 304, had magnetic field readings as high as 177 milliGauss (mG, when less than 2 mG would be considered normal).

    4. February 27, 2005: Dr. Milham sends Superintendent Doris Wilson a letter reporting his and Lloyd Morgan’s findings of abnormally high magnetic fields at LQMS. He informs Dr. Wilson that these fields, among other health issues, might indicate a possible wiring code violation and a fire hazard.

    5. March 10, 2005: Dr. Wilson sends a response letter to Dr. Milham. She repeats that LQMS presents no health issues, adds that no electrical power problem whatsoever exists at LQMS, and ends with an admonishment to Dr. Milham. She warns Dr. Milham that his measurements of the school’s magnetic and dirty power, although openly invited, conducted by now a known member of the community, and measured at a time that did no interference with school instruction, was nonetheless, tantamount to “unlawfully trespass[ing] on school property” in “clear violation of district policy and state law…especially in light of added Homeland Security concerns.”

    The letter also promised that the District would be “addressing the conditions…cited in your letter” and would “take appropriate measures.” Both of these have yet to happen.

    6. March 21, 2005: The District hires Hygienetics to measure the electromagnetic fields at LQMS. The contractor finds the same problems originally measured by Dr. Milham and Lloyd Morgan—except now there is data of electrical problems in additional rooms that the original team had not initially measured. Once again, the District is silent as to an admission of any problems at LQMS–or a responsibility to fix said problems.

    9. Late 2004-early 2006: Dr. Wilson and Cancer Registry Director Dr. John Morgan engage in an on-going pattern of obfuscation and non-cooperation which thwarts accurate fact-finding for several years: Dr. Wilson refuses to provide names of LQMS employees; Dr. Morgan attempts to erroneously prevent the inclusion in study count of many cancer-diagnosed employees; both refuse to provide pertinent information to occupational health epidemiologist, Dr. Milham.

    10. 2004-2005: LQMS teachers contact The Desert Sands Teachers’ Association, the California Teachers’ Association, the California Department of Health Services (Cal-DHS), and NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] addressing their cancer concerns.

    With the exception of the measurements taken by Cal-DHS on June 8, 2006 (and presented to the District March 20, 2007), no actions were taken by any of these organizations.

    11. May 2, 2005: After the representative of the Desert Sands Teachers’ Association definitively informed the LQMS teachers of his refusal to file a Cal-OSHA [California Occupational Safety and Health Agency] complaint on their behalf, thirty teachers at LQMS file a Cal-OSHA complaint on their own.

    12. May 16, 2006: Dr. Milham and Dr Morgan present their separate findings to the school board.

    There now were 15 cancers in 13 teachers when 4.7 would have been expected, including four malignant melanomas when 0.36 would have been expected.

    Dr. Morgan reports that “one-third of the new cases…were skin melanomas” and that this number of cases, in this size population, represents an “excess”.

    Dr. Milham reported that there was a statistically significant excess of both total cancers and malignant melanoma in the teachers at LQMS. He also found a serious wiring problem at LQMS with high levels of both magnetic fields and “dirty power”. He recommended that experienced “net current” contractors be hired to resolve the magnetic field problem and that plug-in capacitor filters be purchased by the District to substantially mitigate the “dirty power” problem.

    This information and advice was ignored.

    13. June 8, 2006: Once again measurements are taken of the magnetic fields and the “dirty power” at LQMS. This time representatives of FBA Engineering, Field Management Services, and Cal-OSHA (Dr. Neutra), were involved.

    14. August 18, 2006: A preliminary report of the June 8 data collection is disseminated to the School Board by Terry Parker, Director of Maintenance. No copy is ever given to the teachers.

    This report concludes that the “electrical distribution system…has no apparent signs of defects or code violations”, ignores the fact that Dr. Neutra’s “dirty power” information is missing, and admits to “elevated ELF magnetic field levels” in room 304, and a net current problem in room 404. It recommends that yet another firm (Electrical Reliability Services) measure the “dirty power” (to be completed by October 2006), that the District shield room 304 (by December 2006), and that the net current issue of room 404 be resolved.

    To our knowledge none of these things have yet been accomplished.

    13. August 23, 2006: Despite the far from completely reassuring report by the District’s Terry Parker (and far from complete report because all information as to “dirty power” was not yet available), the Desert Sands Unified School District sent out press releases to all media outlets (three picked up this story with the below language), announcing that the June 8, 2006 testing found “no environmental or occupational issues” at LQMS.

    Discounting the teachers’ objections, the District refuses to correct the misstatements disseminated.

    14. Fall 2006 and Spring 2007: Dr. Milham and Lloyd Morgan share their LQMS teachers’ data and analysis with Dr. Neutra of Cal-DHS to facilitate both his report to Cal-OSHA and his report to the School District. Their data showed significant—and growing—excess of cancers correlated with excess of “dirty power” in the corresponding schoolrooms.

    15. March 20, 2007: Teleconference held to discuss findings of “dirty power” measurements by Dr. Neutra and Dr. Milham, and recommendations for mitigating the health and safety concerns that these findings engender. Participants included Dr. Neutra (Cal-DHS), Dr. Daniel Smith (Cal-DHS), Dr. Milham, Lloyd Morgan, Dr. Wilson, C. Whittlinger, Terry Parker (District), and Gayle Cohen (teacher representative).

    Dr. Neutra stated that the “dirty power” levels at LQMS are “unusual.” He recommended that the LQMS teachers be allowed to purchase filters with their own funds to reduce classroom exposures.

    Dr Milham reported that there now were 18 cancers in 16 teachers and that this represented a “significant” excess. Too, cancer cases were over represented in long-term teachers with high-level exposure to dirty power. That is, seven percent of the teachers had 33% of the cancers in the LQMS group. There also was a positive correlation between cancer incidence and dirty power meter readings. Dr. Milham recommended that the District purchase and install dirty power filters, and search for the cause of the problem.

    Gayle Cohen asked if the District had made the oft-recommended and oft-promised repairs to room 304. She was told that the District had now decided not to do the repair work on room 304, as the cost would be between $30,000 and $40,000. Ms. Cohen was assured not to worry, as, Dr. Wilson informed her, the room was now only being used as a storeroom.

    13. March 21, 2007: Gayle Cohen verified that, contrary to Dr. Wilson’s word, room 304 was indeed still being used as a classroom. When she asked the LQMS school administration about the room usage they told her that the District had never given them instructions to shut the room down.

    14. March 30, 2007: Dr. Wilson held a community meeting with the LQMS teachers. The focus of the meeting was to present as “fact” information as to the complete safety of EMF exposure—this despite scientific studies firmly (and alarmingly) establishing a causal connection between EMF exposure and health issues.

    15. April 3, 2007: Dr. Neutra’s report is sent to the School District affirming what was said in the teleconference but also containing additional alarming evidence of health concerns:

    · “[S]eventy-five percent of the La Quinta rooms had [dirty power] readings above 295 MSII units”, as opposed to 21% of rooms in a comparable workplace. [Note: the median maximum “dirty power” found in LQMS classrooms, as measured on June 8, 2006, was 937 units.]
    · Five percent of the 51 rooms have measurements so high that they are beyond levels that can be measured by the meter (over 2000 units).
    · “[T]he higher prevalence of rooms with [dirty power] MSII readings at or above 2000 is unlikely to be due to chance.”
    · “You should consider…allowing [teachers] to purchase capacitive filters.”

    16. April, 2007: In spite of 18 cancers (plus five among non-teachers) and the incontrovertible evidence that the electrical environment at the school is highly “unusual”—there still has been no admission of health risk nor efforts to make the school environment safe by the District, nor any other agency who is, or ought to be, in charge of this matter.

    The District has now spent far more on its various electrical and legal consultants, in an attempt to “make the problem go away”, than it ever would have needed to pay for the cost of simply reducing the dirty power levels through filtering. If, instead of wasting over three years through steadfast denial (while the cancer diagnoses—and deaths—have continued to accrue), they had rather faced the problem and tried to fix it, in all probability the cost might have been a fraction of what the District has paid (not to mention the enormous human costs that could have been “saved”).

    We are now at an historical impasse with the health and safety of all who attend LQMS at stake. Who will step forward with the leadership needed to finally provide a healthy and safe LQMS school community?

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