The Coast News Group
Not That You Asked

What are the odds we’ve no cause for concern?

I’m siding these days with John and Stacy Quartarone, the Carlsbad couple who lost their 16-year-old son, Chase, to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December and who theorize that tests of the air, soil and water in and around the schools might lend a clue as to why.
This goes against what I understand the fundamental line of reasoning of authorities and experts to be, which is that we should all move along, because there’s nothing more to see here.
For not one but two well-attended public forums, the county of San Diego assembled a group of highly credentialed specialists from around here and from Sacramento to show us that, no matter how many cases of cancer have been recorded in Carlsbad over the years, the numbers, types, geographical patterns, time frames and any ratios you might want to apply pretty much add up to this: the city looks not all that different from any such given area around the region and the state. The one caveat you’ll hear is that more cases of melanoma, a form of skin cancer, are found in Carlsbad than in, say, Rochester, N.Y., mainly because we just get more sun here. 
They proclaim that Carlsbad cannot be said to have a “cancer cluster” and my question is, so what?
The mass of data the Quartarones have collected for their own local cancer registry lists at least 250 cases of cancer, some exotic and unusual, within three square miles of their son’s alma mater, the Kelly Elementary School.
What would we find if we compared schools of the same size built around the same time as Kelly, which came on line in the 1970s before laws were passed to require environmental testing of potential school building sites?
What would we find if we then looked only at schools, such as Kelly, that lie in bee lines from the smoke stacks of power plants and down hill from rich farm land that’s been productive far longer than now-banned chemicals like DDT?
You’d almost rather not know, or at least want to indulge in enough statistical legerdemain to be comfortable buying into the notion that the patterns the Quartarones are documenting add up to nothing but the proverbial tempest in a teapot. How about making the assumption that we know hardly anything, and we’d rather find out than not; get a clearer view of the situation and what, if anything, must be done about it?        Otherwise, it all feels too much like a roll of the statistical dice. 
Before he died, Chase Quartarone asked his mother not to let this happen to anybody else, and she’s since been sifting through just what to zero in on. The name “benzene” has surfaced. It’s a known and widely studied carcinogen formed by the combustion of oil, just like they burn (along with natural gas) at the Encina plant.
Let’s find out if the emission levels are safe. Let’s find out what, if anything, has seeped into the soil and groundwater from farm runoff and from the waste residue and byproducts left over from generating electricity.
The school board meets July 28 and it could make a good start toward finding answers by approving an item officials have assured citizens will be on the agenda. It would designate a sum to test the air, soil and water at least in and around the Kelly School.