Contaminants found in homes in Johnson County

FRANKLIN, Ind.-- While parents in Johnson County look for answers in their children's' cancer diagnosis', results from environmental testing in Johnson County show some families had positive results for contaminants in their homes.

"It's horrible because, like, you can't do normal kid stuff," Athena Velasquez said.

The 14-year old had to grow up fast when she received a leukemia diagnosis at just 11-years old. She went through treatment for nearly two and a half years and is still dealing with the effects of it.

"My daughter is not statistically insignificant. The other children that have passed are not statistically insignificant," her mother, Belinda Velasquez, said.

They live near two sites, including a non-priority list EPA Superfund site, called into question by organizations working to figure out what's leading to pediatric cancer diagnosis in their children.

Velasquez is part of the group "If It Was Your Child." It was co-founded by Kari Rhinehart, the mother of Emma Grace Findley who passed away from cancer, and the step-mom of Zane Davidson, who was successfully treated for cancer.  They believe there is a pediatric cancer cluster in Johnson County.

The Indiana State Department of Health writes:

"ISDH thoroughly investigates all suspected cancer cluster concerns reported by the public, and all investigations are done in collaboration with the relevant local health department. ISDH did investigate concerns about pediatric cancers in Johnson County and found no evidence of a cancer cluster. As part of that investigation, we identified a total of 123 cases of cancer in people under age 20 between 2001 and 2015 in Johnson County. It's important to note that this number represents all cancer types and was within the number of cases that would typically be expected for that time frame."

Rhinehart and Davidson helped advocate for Trevor's Law, which affects the way cancer clusters are designated and requires that HHS provide assistance to state and local health departments. It took effect in June 2016.

On its website, ISDH states:

"ISDH’s current guidelines for responding to inquiries related to suspected cancer clusters align with the 2013 guidelines from the CDC and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. These guidelines have not changed since the passage of Trevor’s Law. The ISDH will continue to monitor for new guidance or changes in resources provided by federal partners."

Monday, on what would have been Emma Grace's 17th birthday, they're reaching another step in their fight.

"It's so overwhelming and part of it's validation, because we've been at this for almost three years with no one paying attention," Davidson said.

They're working with the non-profit, Edison Wetlands Association. Prompted by concerns from the two nearby sites, the non-profit coordinated more than $20,000 worth of environmental testing in 14 homes through a contracted third party. The vapor intrusion testing looked for any toxic vapors from migrating from underneath the home due to contaminated groundwater or soil. They also looked for radon gas.

"What's apparent to us is that it may be more of an ambient air problem in that the outside air outside of these homes is contaminated," Shannon Lisa, the programs director for Edison Wetlands Association, said.

According to the results released by EWA, higher levels of radon were found in six homes. Higher levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) were found in three, including two homes which had levels above commercial indoor air screening levels. The same two homes also tested for higher levels of tetrachloroethylene (PCE).

"This is an issue that doesn't only affect Johnson County or Franklin. What we found here potentially could open up a can of worms for the entire state of Indiana in that these pump and treat systems that are installed on these contaminated sites, and they're meant to treat the ground water, they're meant to make conditions on the site better not worse, but what we've found is a lot of these pump and treat systems have never really been looked at before as a potential source for contaminating the surrounding air," Lisa said.

The City of Franklin said it's received the information from EWA. The mayor's office released this statement:

The City of Franklin received information today from the Edison Wetlands Association regarding ground contamination. Mayor Barnett and city officials have a previously scheduled meeting this week to discuss these issues with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH).

Mayor Barnett stated, “The report from IDEM and ISDH will be vital in determining what can and will be done to protect our citizens.”
The City of Franklin also reached out to state and congressional representatives, Todd Young and Trey Hollingsworth, to write a joint letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting them to further their scope of testing in Franklin.

Lisa said they'll begin another round of testing within 30 days.

The Velasquez' s want their home tested, too, and see something done.

"So nobody else has to go through this, because it's horrible," Athena Velasquez said.

This fall Athena will start high school, hoping she's not only known for her battle with cancer.

"I want to be known as Athena," she said.

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