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Manatee County Commission wants more answers about suspected ‘cancer cluster’

MANATEE COUNTY — A review of records pertaining to irrigation wells and former fuel tanks at the site of Bayshore High School and the former Manatee Technical Institute campus do not back up many residents’ suspicions that the area is “a cancer cluster” linked to illnesses and deaths among alumni and faculty, county environmental officials say.

Yet county commissioners who heard the report on Tuesday expressed skepticism. Within the next month, they intend to conduct a joint meeting with the School Board and Florida Department of Health-Manatee to determine if more testing should be done.

“The bottom line is we need some answers,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “... I bet there’s more here that we don’t know about.”

Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace wondered if possible groundwater contamination could have come from another source “up stream” and possibly “a quarter of a mile away.”

Cheryl Jozsa, whose sister Terri Jewell attended BHS and died of leukemia, uses a Facebook site to notify alumni and others about the “cancer cluster” concerns. Jozsa said she wonders whether the former Riverside Products, an industrial machinery manufacturer at 4443 30th St. W., could be a source of off-site pollution that reached the campuses. That property is a Superfund environmental clean-up site.

Several weeks ago, after hydrogeologist David Woodhouse raised concerns, county commissioners asked their staff to research what potential contaminants could be at the adjoining campuses on 34th Strreet West – Bayshore High, which was rebuilt in 1999, and the former MTI, which was recently demolished.

“We’ve looked into the issue numerous times over the past 10 years,” said Rob Brown, an environmental specialist for the county’s Parks and Natural Resources Department.