'No cancer cluster' in Mt. Laurel, officials say The state Health Department reported on Countryside Farms after residents began documenting cases of illness.

Posted: October 14, 2006

The state Department of Health told officials in Mount Laurel yesterday that the Countryside Farms residential development is not a cancer cluster.

While residents in the 274-home community reported about two dozen cases of cancer as well as gastrointestinal or neurological diseases in 11 homes along Schoolhouse Lane by current or former residents, the state focused on the occurrences of cancer. It determined that the cancer rates at Countryside were 25 percent lower than in the rest of the state, said Eddy Bresnitz, department commissioner and epidemiologist.

"We already knew that," said Paul Klco, who has lived in the development since 1971. His family helped bring the issue to light at a recent Town Council meeting.

Klco said he found out that the neighborhood was not a cluster when county health department officials visited him Thursday. The health officials asked about a survey of the neighborhood that the family initiated two weeks ago, documenting illnesses.

As of yesterday, surveys were still coming in, a few more than 50 so far, said Cheryl Klco, Paul's wife. Of those, 33 reported cases of cancer.

Cheryl and Paul's 28-year-old daughter, Kathryn Klco, who lives with them, has ovarian cancer.

Kathryn Klco said she never thought a cancer cluster existed. "That was something the media came up with," she said. "I know what a cancer cluster needs to be. We see this more as a cluster of diseases."

Of the 33 survey respondents with cancer, 20 were women and 13 were men. And out of all the respondents, there were 15 cases of gastrointestinal disease, nine cases of neurological or auto-immune diseases, and seven pets have been diagnosed with cancers, allergies and auto-immune diseases.

"We are just looking for someone to say it's one thing or other and this is not in our heads," Kathryn Klco said.

In a letter sent yesterday to Mount Laurel Mayor Peter McCaffrey, state health department officials say the distribution of cancers in Mount Laurel, and the Countryside Farms residential development, was similar to those seen throughout the state and the nation.

"Cancer, unfortunately is very common," state Commissioner Fred Jacobs said. "The National Cancer Institute estimates that men have a 45 percent chance, and women, a 38 percent chance of being diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. We estimate that over time, most households will be affected by cancer."

Most of the occurrences of cancer cited in the survey were from families that live near Pennsauken Creek, which occasionally floods onto properties on Schoolhouse Lane.

Residents were concerned that ground contaminants or pesticidal remnants from the parcel's days as a farm before the houses were built in the 1970s may have contributed to the cancers.

They want the soil and water tested. State officials said the state's news from the health department should not prevent that from happening.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) yesterday called on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to test the area.

EPA spokesman Ben Barry said the agency has received the letter and will start looking into the matter. As for Menendez's gesture, residents are skeptical.

"I don't know - it's an election year," said Paul Klco. "The issue seems to be snowballing, and everyone wants in on the issue. I just hope he follows through with it."

Contact staff writer Toni Callas at 856-779-3912 or tcallas@phillynews.com.

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