FRUITHURST — About 150 residents, researchers, elected officials and cancer patients gathered in the lunchroom at the Fruithurst Elementary School Tuesday night with one thing on their minds: finding answers. Christy Hiett, principal of the elementary school, and researchers from Auburn University and the University of Alabama have been looking for connections to link the eight cases of leukemia and lymphoma in a year’s time.
Hiett leads a local nonprofit called Cleburne Cancer Concerns which is trying to find the cause or causes of cancer in the Fruithurst area by having soil and water tests done in the affected locations.
Hiett and Dr. Ming-Kuo Lee, a hydrology professor from Auburn, gave a very detailed analysis of soil and water samples gathered over the last year. The water was gathered from local wells, standing water and municipal water. The soil samples came from various locations around Fruithurst.
The testing included amounts of arsenic, lead, barium, chromium, radon and other elements. Radon was detected in four out of 13 wells, prompting Lee to advise anyone on well water to change over to municipal water. Radon can be inhaled from the air or ingested from water. Lee said the radon is probably due to the geology of the region which Heflin and Fruithurst are in. Lee said that radon typically causes lung cancer.
Another researcher from Auburn, Kenzley Defler, did not want to link any of the test results to the cancers in the area.
“Radon is definitely a key but it’s hard to tell exactly — there’s nothing conclusive,” Defler said.
“There is not conclusive evidence that all of these diagnoses of different types of cancer are coming from one thing,” Defler said.
“So that’s why we want to do a larger survey and see how much other sickness is out there and figure that out,” Defler said.
A survey, which Hiett endorsed, will include more than 700 residents in the area and will include information like illnesses in the family and whether the resident is on well water or municipal water.
Hiett recommended that residents get a water filter for their water supply. Hiett’s family is on well water and she uses a reverse osmosis filter to filter out contaminants. Everyone in attendance was given a report of all of the testing done and the results of the testing.
Hiett said there’s a grant pending which would allow at-risk residents on well water to get county water.
Janie Riddle sat in the back of the lunchroom taking notes. Like everyone else in the lunchroom, Riddle wanted answers — Riddle lost her husband six months ago due to leukemia.
“We were not aware that he even had it until the month he passed away — it was that sudden,” Riddle said. Riddle said she has relatives in the Fruithurst area and wanted to find out more information.
Lillie Carroll from Fruithurst sat with a friend at table in the rear of the lunchroom. Carroll said she’s a bladder cancer survivor but her husband died from esophageal cancer.
“About two years ago my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He had no sign of cancer until we moved here,” Carroll said. “Need some answers — Why?”