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SEEKING ANSWERS

State officials discuss Mooresville thyroid cancer rates with residents, real estate professionals

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What questions do real estate professionals and residents have for elected officials concerning the elevated thyroid cancer rates in two Mooresville ZIP codes?

A meeting was held Thursday to address those questions.

Hundreds filled a room in the Charles Mack Center at a meeting designed to help local real estate agents understand the issue and know information to share with potential property buyers concerning the elevated rates in ZIP codes 28117 and 28115. However, the public was welcome, and the crowd consisted of elected officials, real estate professionals and residents.

“This meeting is a direct result of realtors reaching out to state and local officials for information to relay to perspective clients,” state Sen. Vickie Sawyer said.

“We plan to host more community meetings in the future to include members of the public with the intention of sharing information and receiving feedback. Our hope is for everyone to work together towards the same goal, and everything we are doing is for the betterment and protection of our community.”

Sawyer, along with Rep. John Fraley and Iredell County Environmental Health Division Manager Brady Freeman, gave a general presentation of the issue and how it was being addressed. The panel then answered questions.

The trio’s efforts, with the help of others in state and local government, have resulted in the creation of two panels and a work group, three studies, a state report on thyroid cancer in Iredell County from 1995 to 2016 and a report recommending further research methods.

There have also been several community meetings for the general populace and the medical community. State and academic experts have been at all of those meetings though they did not attend this one.

Sawyer submitted a bill that passed in state legislature in 2019, creating a panel recommending strategies to implement a research program meant to identify cancer clusters.

Alongside government

efforts, a study by Duke University professors has been funded by community members. The study is exploring the possible causes of the elevated thyroid cancer rates in the area.

Sawyer talked about her experience living behind Lake Norman High School’s ball fields. Across the street from LNHS, coal ash used as fill years ago was uncovered by construction and then again by weather from Hurricane Florence in 2018.

In that time, Sawyer said she learned about how much misinformation about Mooresville’s cancer rates there was available on social media.

Believing at the time that her well was contaminated by coal ash and that water contamination was the root of the elevated cancer rate, Sawyer bought a $3,000 water filtration system. When she got results for environmental tests of the unfiltered water in her well, Sawyer discovered her well was clean.

“Are you really doing the right thing by your constituents if you assume and believe the hearsay, the social media, the attacks?” Sawyer asked. “Is that really responsible?”

From that moment, Sawyer said she, along with her fellow state and local officials and staff, have been working to figure out the cause of the elevated thyroid cancer levels in Mooresville.

Sawyer warned people about blindly believing information presented on social media. She used claims that Duke Energy paid her off, that local and state health departments aren’t doing anything and that researchers won’t look at coal ash as examples of misinformation she had seen on social media, among others.

Sawyer said anyone could look at her financial report and see that Duke has not contributed to her finances. She also listed several collaborations and studies local and state health departments have started with assistance from academics and government. Finally, she said academics from Duke University are exploring many possible causes of the cancer cluster, including coal ash.

Fraley said the study had to be done carefully and follow scientific protocols, which meant it wasn’t as fast as everyone would prefer.

“You don’t get rich doing public health work,” Freeman said. “I’m in a group with 20-some Ph.D.s in a room. They’re pediatricians. They’re surgeons. They’re doctors. They’re statisticians. They’re all in public health because they care about public health. They care about the communities in North Carolina, and it’s amazing to me that these people could make so much more money doing what they do.”

Question and answer sessionThe second half of the meeting consisted of real estate professionals and other community members asking questions of the three-member panel.

There were requests for a disclosure that real estate agents could give potential buyers and questions to clarify information about the elevated cancer rate.

The panel also fielded questions regarding the coal ash fills in Mooresville, the landscapers who have said they used coal ash and the study being done on possible causes.

Sawyer said the state legislation regarding coal ash didn’t require the excavation of fills, and added that was a Department of Environmental Quality issue rather than a local government one.

Freeman said the health department had taken 52 core samples around Mooresville schools and found no coal ash.

The samples ranged from 3 to 5 feet deep, depending on when native soil was found.

The officials couldn’t answer some of the questions on details of the study, though Fraley told the crowd the study had ruled out water in the lake, wells and water system and radon gas as causes.

“The empathy we have for all the families that have been involved with thyroid cancer is immense,” Fraley said. “Everyone is really focused on trying to figure this thing out.”

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