Laurel Bay study finds that underground tanks 'unlikely' to cause cancer

BEAUFORT, SC (WTOC) - The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center have released the findings of a two-year investigation, studying whether underground storage tanks were causing cancer in more than a dozen children who live in Laurel Bay.

This is a two-part study. They looked at environmental factors by reviewing documents and medical records and evaluating whether there was a possible relationship between the environmental risk factors and the pediatric cancers in the population. The second part of the investigation followed the CDC's guidelines for Investigating Cancer Clusters, which is a spike in cancer cases that occur within a group of people in a geographic location over a defined period of time.

After more than a dozen children were diagnosed with cancer, that's when parents started demanding that health officials take a closer look into whether or not the Laurel Bay Community is an example of a cancer cluster. For the last two years, parents have believed the cancers were linked to environmental exposures, possibly caused by underground storage tanks.

We've been going over the 300-page study, and what was found was that it is 'unlikely' that the cancers are associated with environmental exposure. In fact, there is insufficient evidence to connect the two.

"I could not, in good conscience, stand back knowing that other children were being diagnosed. Our husbands have sacrificed years of their lives serving our country. At the minimum, they should feel safe to leave their families and homes that are safe," said Melanie Stawnyczyj, resident, Laurel Bay.

All of the homes in the military housing area originally used oil from underground tanks to heat their homes. Eventually, the use of the tanks were phased out and removed in 2015, but when several children were diagnosed with cancer, parents started raising questions about whether these old tanks were to blame.

The National Cancer Institute considers there to be a spike in cancer trends when at least 16 children are diagnosed with the same type of cancer. In this study, there were only 15 children with cancer, who were diagnosed with many different types. However, some of them did have cancer that can be related to environmental factors, including Benzene, which can cause Leukemia.

"In recent years, there is accumulating evidence that it can also increase the risk of Leukemia in children," said Dr. Beng Fuh, Pediatric Oncologist.

According to the findings in the report, 'Benzene is not a pathway of concern for residents.'

Some of the cancers in the study can also be triggered by radiation, but researchers did not have enough information about each child to rule out other factors like potential exposure to X-rays and CAT scans that also emit radiation.

Given all of these factors, there were not enough specific cases pointing to a cancer trend in this particular area. In fact, researchers concluded that all 15 cancer cases in this study were consistent with trends found in a general pediatric population.

We reached out to officials at the Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, but they declined to comment any further than what's been released.

Copyright 2017 WTOC. All rights reserved.