Feds Find No Cancer Link to Carolina Campground

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November 11, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

A federal agency agrees with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) finding that cancer cases in a Spartanburg County community near a former polyester fiber manufacturing plant do not represent a greater-than-normal incidence of the disease.

DHEC asked the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to scrutinize DHEC’s conclusions, which were made in a report released earlier this year. The study was in response to concerns raised by residents of the Cannon’s Campground community. Some residents think there is a link between dozens of cancer cases in the area and past dumping of environmental contaminants at the former Hoechst Celanese site, the Spartanburg Herald Journal reported.

“We wanted to make sure that we had another set of eyes look at our information,” DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said.

ATSDR, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stated in a letter to DHEC late last month that it concurred with the state agency’s conclusion that the cancer cases were not out of the ordinary for the years examined.

“ATSDR concurs with DHEC’s conclusion that there were no increases in cancer incidence or mortality among residents of the 29307 ZIP code between 1996 and 2007,” the letter states.

Advocate Disagrees with Findings

But an advocate for the community continues to take issue with the agencies’ finding.

Greenville resident Lisa Nielsen, who spent much of her life in Cannon’s Campground and has become an advocate for community members affected by cancer, maintains that the methodology used by DHEC in reaching its conclusions was flawed. She said the area examined by DHEC is much too large to provide a true picture of cancer rates in Cannon’s Campground.

“They took a 47-square-mile area to look at an area that’s about five square miles,” she said.

DHEC examined cancer incidence data and cancer mortality for the 29307 ZIP code, which includes the former plant site and Cannon’s Campground. The study used the most recent five-year period of available data, 2003-07, and all available data from the South Carolina Central Cancer Registry for 1996-2007.

Using the entire ZIP code for the study followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for responding to community cancer concerns, according to DHEC.

The American Cancer Society estimates that one in two men and one in three women will have cancer throughout his or her lifetime.

DHEC’s testing began following inquiries from Nielsen.


For decades, contaminants used in the polyester manufacturing process were dumped on the plant site off Hoechst Drive and Interstate 85 by the company after the plant opened in the mid-1960s. A DHEC spokesman has said the dumping occurred before the onset of most environmental regulations.

Cleanup of the groundwater contamination by Celanese — with DHEC oversight — began around 1980 and is expected to continue for decades to come.

American Hoechst owned the plant in the years when much of the dumping occurred. That company merged with Celanese in 1987, and Celanese sold the plant in 1998, a company spokesman has said.

Celanese was spun off from Hoechst a year later.

In the letter to DHEC, an ATSDR epidemiologist stated that the federal agency “supports DHEC’s ongoing efforts to monitor the progress and effectiveness of the environmental cleanup currently taking place at the former Hoechst Celanese site.”

DHEC first presented the results of its study of the cancer cases in Cannon’s Campground at an August public meeting in Spartanburg.

DHEC last week announced a project to look for evidence of historical or ongoing environmental contamination along the Pacolet River and Kelsey Creek in Spartanburg County. The project is scheduled to start later this month and will entail collection of sediment and surface water samples along 15 miles of stream along the Pacolet. The Environmental Protection Agency will assist DHEC with the testing.

Nielsen said the timing of the project is suspicious.

“I am of the feeling and absolute belief that yes there is a cancer cluster in the community based on the fact that the EPA announced testing,” she said.

Firm Represents 70 Families

The law firm of Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian, who after the August DHEC community meeting called for the state Attorney General’s Office to launch a criminal probe into groundwater contamination near Cannon’s Campground, is developing a civil lawsuit against Hoechst and Celanese.

Harpootlian’s firm is representing more than 70 families from Cannon’s Campground.

Harpootlian, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, stated in an August letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office that he has spoken with several former plant employees who said it was company policy to illegally dispose of chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

A Celanese spokesman has said that the company is unaware of any facts that support Harpootlian’s claims.

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