Hank Investigates: Funding cut for DPH studies

The way Ernie Torgerson looks at it, too many people in his East Boston neighborhood are getting cancer.

Ernest Torgersen, East Boston resident:

"It seems like every time you turn around, somebody new has got it or somebody you know knows a neighbor that has it."

The way Valerie D’Amelio sees it, too many children in her Wilmington neighborhood got leukemia –including her son Nick. But she doesn't know why.

Valerie D'Amelio, Wilmington Resident

"We just want to community to be safe, to feel safe."

Valerie wonders if it's something in the water. Ernie suspects pollution form Logan Airport. In 1999, the Mass Department of Public Health was asked to find out what was making people in these two neighborhoods sick.

Valerie D'Amelio, Wilmington Resident

"It is very important, and it is life or death."

Since the studies began–little Nick D’Amelio endured chemotherapy and finally went into remission — he's now 16. Ernie's Uncle Danny died of esophageal cancer and his mother got breast cancer and Ernie got colon and prostate cancer…they still didn't have answers…but at least they knew the DPH studies were underway–and almost completed.

Ernest Torgersen, East Boston resident:

"We have to know what our future is going to be."

But our investigation finds now, they may never get those answers. Using a line item cut to keep the state budget balanced, the governor eliminated the funding for both studies. To worried residents' shock — they're now on hold.

Kathleen Barry, Wilmington Resident

"With the flick of the pen, it’s gone. Its gives the impression that the government is saying–you're not worth it."

What’s more, the DPH has already spent $450,000 taxpayer dollars for the information that could determine whether the cancer in Wilmington is connected with the water. It's already spent $1.3 million taxpayer dollars on research to discover whether proximity to Logan Airport somehow affected East Boston. But DPH says now–it can't afford investigators to do the final analysis.


“The answers are in there somewhere.”

Suzanne Condon, MA Department of Public Health

“We believe that the work that has been done to date will provide a number of answers that people have been asking about.”


“But you don’t have the money to find them.”

Suzanne Condon, MA Department of Public Health

“At this point, the resources are not available.”

And these families aren't the only ones dying to know what’s making them sick, a list we obtained reveals the DPH also stopped on-going cancer studies in Abington, Weymouth, Rockland, Pembroke and Falmouth. Research involving the health of thousands of people is sitting, untouched, in state file cabinets.

Suzanne Condon, MA Department of Public Health

"This is a frustrating situation for everyone."

Is there something in the air, the water, the soil that's making people sick? For now these families can't know if they're victims of the environment — but they do know they're victims of the budget.

Ernest Torgersen, East Boston resident:

“Is it too late for some people, I would say yes. is it too late for the future? Absolutely not.”

Department of Public Health officials are trying to restore the funding for the studies. In fact, they presented lawmakers with a special report on the Logan research.

(Copyright (c) 2010 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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