September 17, 2008

Agencies Collect Water Samples in Cameron

By Ray Scherer

CAMERON, Mo. -- Brain tumor patient Steve Helms wants to know the root cause of his continual tiredness and life-threatening condition.

A team of federal and state government employees descended on Cameron Monday in a bid to ascertain an answer for Mr. Helms and others in the area -- both victims of tumors and their family members.

"They haven't really answered anything yet," Mr. Helms said between chores on his 40-acre farm just north of the city. "I'm losing all the feeling in my hands."

Representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Missouri Department of Natural Resources collected samples of tap water from residences in the Cameron area. The samples will be sent to labs in Kansas City and Alabama for analysis, said Don Lininger, an EPA federal on-scene coordinator.

The samples are the latest round in an investigation to uncover the reason why numerous brain tumors have cropped up in Cameron and a handful of surrounding counties. Up to 68 individuals with ties to the Cameron area have reported tumors.

Soil and water tests taken from the city's drinking water supply and site of the former Rockwool Industries insulation plant did not reveal any health threats linked to the tumors. Six Cameron residents have filed lawsuits against companies linked to Rockwool.

The latest water samples will be checked for the presence of such potential health hazards as pesticides, herbicides, dioxins, metals, mercury and radiation, according to Mr. Lininger.

"We're looking for a number of different constituents," he said as the team drew water from Bill Kemper's kitchen sink in a south Cameron subdivision.

The samples will be sent to the labs this week, Mr. Lininger said, with data anticipated two weeks afterward.

More tests are planned this week for the Grindstone Reservoir, one of four lakes that supply Cameron's water.

Meanwhile, residents such as Mr. Kemper continue to wonder what is responsible for the tumors. Officials did not present answers during an Aug. 21 community meeting.

"Everybody wants to find out an answer, if there is one," Mr. Kemper said.

Mr. Helms, 54, was diagnosed this spring with two tumors -- one of which was determined cancerous and removed, the other shrunken through radiation therapy. He at first thought the problem was a sinus infection.

State Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, said he continues to receive inquiry forms from residents throughout his legislative district. He plans to send a sample of Mr. Kemper's water for analysis at a private lab.

"Word is still getting out to residents who once lived here," Mr. Guest said of the inquiries, which now number between 60 and 70.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will organize another community meeting after more data is compiled, he said. He and Mr. Kemper said activist Erin Brockovich intends to visit Cameron sometime in early October.

Ray Scherer can be reached

at [email protected]

Cameron residents reaching for answers to their tumor questions got another step closer to an answer Monday when Eric Sappington from the DNR and Susan Fisher from the EPA began to take residential water samples to be tested.

(c) 2008 St. Joseph News-Press. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.