Father Fights to Expose Cancer Cluster in Maryland

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Father Fights to Expose Cancer Cluster in

Dave Thier
Contributor

AOL News (Aug. 21) — Two and a half years ago, Randy White’s daughter Kristen was diagnosed with brain cancer. She went through chemo, radiation and three brain biopsies, but nothing worked. Just 30 years old, she died in his house, in his arms.

“She was never sick a day in her life” before the cancer, White told AOL News.

Just two months after he had buried Kristen, White’s other daughter, Angie, was diagnosed with a highly abnormal stomach cancer, which doctors were able to successfully remove. But six weeks later, his ex-wife took a fall that revealed an advanced renal cell cancer. According to White, the doctors at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., told them that these cases didn’t look genetic — they were environmental.

White Family Photo
This undated photo shows Randy White, upper left, with his daughters Kristen, center, and Angie, son Brandon and ex-wife Debra Cross.
White, a preacher from Tampa, didn’t have to look far. He had raised his children in Frederick, Md., where people have struggled with groundwater contamination for years. Also, some residents remembered nearby Fort Detrick had tested the chemical defoliant known as Agent Orange in the late 1960s and ’70s.

Over the past two years, White has spent more than $250,000 of his own money through the Kristen Renee Foundation, named after his late daughter, researching toxic agents and epidemiological data in the area. He says the data are starting to paint a picture of toxic contamination and cancer flowing from the fort.

Dioxin, the active ingredient in Agent Orange, is a documented carcinogen, and TCE and PCE, two chemical solvents discovered in some wells in Frederick, have also been linked to cancer. White is trying to prove that those chemicals made it into the groundwater in and around Frederick, and that that’s what caused not only his daughters’ and ex-wife’s cancers but also the cancers of 400 residents within two miles of White’s former home in Frederick.

Last week, Frederick residents met with representatives of Fort Detrick to express their concerns. Fort Detrick has appointed a contractor to examine its own history of Agent Orange testing and is cooperating with the Frederick County Health Department’s proceedings to test the possibility of a cancer cluster.

“They’re concerned about the past, they’re concerned about the present and they’re concerned about the future, and whether some of the health conditions they’re experiencing might be related to Fort Detrick,” Dr. Barbara Brookmeyer, the county’s health officer, told AOL News.

For a farmer in town who lost all of his livestock, or numerous others who have lost family members to unexpected cancers, these proceedings could cast light on years of tragedy.

“People are looking for answers,” said Brookmeyer.

Fort Detrick spokesman Rob Sperling has said he was not aware of the Agent Orange testing before White brought it to his attention, but a recent VT article shows that the defoliant testing at the fort was well documented even within the public sphere, pointing to a series of Frederick News-Post articles from the 1970s. The question now becomes how well it was contained, and what particular carcinogenic components of Agent Orange could have leaked into the surrounding environment.

The Army only recently finished capping six old dump sites in Frederick.

White and the Kristen Renee Foundation have begun a class-action lawsuit against Fort Detrick. Cancer clusters are difficult to identify, and it’s even more difficult to prove direct environmental causation. But according to Lemuel Srolovic of the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, where cancer-cluster buster Erin Brockovich works, identifying a cluster is actually not that important when it comes to the courtroom.

“If you can prove exposure to a harmful agent and you can prove that one person, two people, three people have an illness that’s caused by that exposure, then that’s a successful lawsuit,” he told AOL News.

He also warns, however, that many cancers are not uncommon in America, and that when people begin looking for trends they sometimes find what they think are abnormal numbers but actually turn out to be statistical averages.

Legal experts say the Kristen Renee Foundation and other plaintiffs against Fort Detrick will have some advantages. The source of contamination that they’re examining seems pretty clear, and the carcinogenic effects of Agent Orange, PCE and TCE have received the attention of veterans’ organizations for years.

For White’s part, his own personal loss has translated into the rage to take this fight until the end.

“It is an environmental nightmare. It is catastrophic,” he told AOL News. “There’s a long, drawn-out, hard battle, but it’s one that I’m willing to fight for and not just for my daughter but for all the people that don’t have the finances and don’t have the voice.”

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