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In The Pipeline: A clean bill of health for neighborhood

April 04, 2012|By Chris Epting
  • The Ascon site in south Huntington Beach.
The Ascon site in south Huntington Beach. (USGS )

Several weeks ago, I wrote about Machelle Murray, a local mom who is struggling to find answers about her insurance coverage as she battles cancer. The column prompted an outpouring of advice, support and even money for Murray.

It also brought several emails about something Murray referenced in my interview with her — the fact that she wondered if the infamous Ascon oil waste dump, located near her south Huntington Beach neighborhood, may have played a part in what seems like an inordinate amount of cancer cases in the area (which several readers over the years have written me about).

Back in the late 1930s, the site was used as a disposal site for toxic oil sludge from the many oil wells then in operation in Huntington Beach. In later years, it became the dumpsite for asphalt and concrete waste.

Most notable, to me, was this message I received: "I would love to talk to you about your article and HB/Cancer/ASCON. I've done some research to the point of getting a Cancer study done on our area from a Dr.@ USC. I have a copy of it and would like to share it with you."

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That's how I got to know Jennifer Dreesen, who also lives in the area adjacent to Ascon. As she explained to me, when she moved into her neighborhood about five years ago, she, like many others, became concerned and aware that there seemed to be a high amount of brain cancer in the area. First she learned about a young child, then a young dad, and as the stories mounted and she heard about the history of the site, she decided to do something about it.

As she went about her research, someone at the Cancer Research Center suggested she reach out to Dr. Thomas Mack, master of public health and professor at USC.

She told me that her goal was to find some hard evidence about the area, so everyone there would know what they were actually dealing with. Mack offered to perform a scientific analysis, parts of which I will share right now.

Mack's report, dated Oct. 5, 2011, begins: "In response to the concern you have expressed about the occurrence of brain stem malignancy in the children of south Huntington Beach, particularly in respect to the Ascon dumpsite, I have examined the California Cancer Registry (CCR) records of central nervous system malignancies in children in Orange County and Huntington Beach."

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