Health Department Convenes Expert Panel to Look at Childhood Leukemia

For Immediate Release: January 7, 2004

Contact: Vermont Department of Health
Communications Office

BURLINGTON - A panel of physicians, scientists, and community members convened by the Vermont Department of Health, met recently to review childhood leukemia cases reported in Rutland County during the years 2000 to 2002. Eight cases of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) were reported in Rutland County, which concerned community members. [01/09/04 correction: the number of cases of leukemia from 2000-2002 was seven; the eighth case was diagnosed in February of 2003]

The meeting of the expert panel was attended by representatives from Castleton State College, the University of Vermont, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health, and Clarendon F.I.R.S.T, a local community group formed to bring attention to this issue. The panel reviewed the Department of Health’s investigation of the ALL cases, which included data from the Vermont Cancer Registry and local hospitals.

“Helping the children with leukemia and their families find answers is our first concern. This investigation has been ongoing, and the expert panel is key for recommending how we will proceed,” stated Dr. Cort Lohff, state epidemiologist and expert panel chair.

Leukemia is a rare disease, but it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children. For every 100,000 children aged 0-19, 4.2 cases of leukemia are expected each year. There are few established causes of childhood leukemia, and evaluating and investigating these cases is difficult. Similar expert panels have been convened in leukemia investigations in other states, such as Nevada, New Mexico and Washington.

Along with the expert panel recommendations, the Department of Health is collaborating with the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Agency of Agriculture, to examine the environmental concerns of community and family members. Water and air quality tests have been performed, hazardous waste sites were mapped to look for any patterns or associations, and review of environmental data has been ongoing.

The Department of Health plans to monitor the number of childhood leukemia cases in all Vermont counties over the next year.