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ATSDR Press Room

Federal Agency Releases Results of Polycythemia Vera Investigation


Schuylkill, Luzerne, and Carbo County, Hazelton, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

For Immediate Release: October 24, 2007

ATLANTA - The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) confirmed 38 cases of polycythemia vera (PV) in Schuylkill, Luzerne, and Carbon counties.  ATSDR found no link between environmental factors and PV in this area.

ATSDR scientists confirmed 38 cases of PV using a recently discovered genetic marker known as JAK2. JAK2 is used to identify and diagnose PV. The individuals diagnosed with PV did not share common occupations, water sources, or other identifiable environmental exposures. ATSDR found that groups of cases were scattered throughout the tri-county area in no predictable pattern. 

ATSDR scientists surveyed 72 residents in the three counties. The participant pool included 38 persons in the state cancer registry and 34 persons who were not in the registry. ATSDR asked participants questions related to their residence, employment, and lifestyle. In addition to the surveys, ATSDR performed blood tests and reviewed participants' medical records.

PV is a rare blood disorder characterized by the overproduction of red blood cells.  It is classified as a cancer because stem cells in the bone marrow do not respond to the normal signals to stop reproducing red blood cells.

ATSDR has provided general updates on this investigation to the local medical community, and has given case specific information to the medical providers of the patients included in the investigation.  "We will continue to monitor trends of PV and work with our partners to better understand the disease and its impact on residents in this area of the state,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, Dr. Calvin B. Johnson.   ATSDR will further evaluate the spatial distribution of cases and review available environmental data.  Further scientific research is needed to determine the cause of the PV.

ATSDR's work began in August 2006.  The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PADOH) asked for assistance in determining the number of PV cases in the tri-county area and their geographic distribution.  "We wanted to partner with ATSDR to better address the needs and concerns of the medical community and residents in this area,” said Dr. Johnson.  PADOH asked ATSDR to better describe these cases and to look for possible environmental factors in common among them. States began reporting PV to cancer registries in 2001.

Community members who have questions about the investigation may contact ATSDR staff Steve Dearwent at 404-498-0488 or Lora Werner at 215-814-3141. 

ATSDR, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evaluates the human health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.

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Members of the news media can request an interview with ATSDR staff by calling the NCEH/ATSDR Office of Communication at 770-488-0700.

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