SALEM - The Environmental Protection Agency regional office in Seattle has accepted a petition with more than 700 names asking the agency to investigate what caused at least four cases of a rare bone cancer in West Salem.
"Our immediate goal is to get a clearer picture of what's happening locally," said Mark MacIntyre with the EPA. He said the EPA was beginning a process that would include "arranging interviews, identifying possible places to investigate, reviewing existing data and contacting state health officials for more background on the concerns."
Residents in the West Salem area signed the petition asking for the EPA to investigate after a series of deaths from a rare type of cancer rocked their community.
More than 1,000 people turned out for a celebration of life for Lisa Harder earlier this month. She was a senior at West Salem high school, and the homecoming queen. She was the third person from the West Salem area to recently die from osteosarcoma.
The others include 21-year-old Randy Bultena, and 5-year old Darian King. Another teen, Tyler Prosser is battling the same cancer at West Salem High.
The cancer is quite rare and school leaders want answers.
”I think the prudent thing is to have some sort of an investigation so that we can put people's minds at ease,” said principal Ed John.
Students at the high school started several petitions but the most organized is an online petition started by Lynnette Miller. She has a daughter at West Salem High School and said kids are worried. She sees that in the petition comments too.
“The comments that people are writing, you just hear the pleas. 'Please, please do something,' 'Find out what it is,' Miller said.
State health leaders warn there are no simple answers to describe the root of the cancer.
“At this point we cannot answer that question,” said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, Oregon’s state epidemiologist.
In the meantime, many in the Salem area want the scientists to at least try to find a cause. A school counselor said it will help the community deal with the deaths of Lisa Harder and the two others.
“There's the science and preventative aspect, let’s ask the right questions. But also its part of our grief as a community to want to know answers to these things,” said David Hamlin.