Updated 12/05/2012 07:26 PM
DEC weeks away from testing at Middleville Tannery dump site
People in the Town of Norway in Herkimer County started asking questions when they found out their cancer rate was far higher than the national average. Their search led them to a former dump site, where harmful chemicals were dropped for decades. YNN's Andrew Sorensen tells us if the newest developments in their search will help them find the cause of the cancer or if they could be back to square one.
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NORWAY, N.Y.-- Caroline Barringer and Kim Labombard are both cancer survivors from the Town of Norway in Herkimer County.
"I had cervical and uterine cancer, seven years after that, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I then moved out of the area," Barringer said.
"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003," said Labombard.
And Labombard found from talking to others, it's a trait that's startlingly too common for the town of less than 800 people.
"I've got up to 55 people so far that have told me they've been sick or had cancer," she said.
And she thinks may now know why.
"I typed in toxic waste areas, Herkimer County and Middleville Tannery Dump site came up and that's on Military Road," she explained.
Unbeknownst to many people in the town, a parcel of land on Military Road used to be a dump site for the Middleville Tannery for potentially toxic chemicals, particularly chromium.
"The site was sampled in 1989 by our agency, it was sampled in 2005 by the EPA," DEC Region 6 spokesperson Stephen Litwhiler said.
The report did find high levels of the chemicals, but they said it wouldn't be a problem unless the use of the land changed. At that point, the chemicals were laying undisturbed on an abandoned plot of land.
But somewhere between the 2005 testing and 2008, someone built a cabin on the land and sold it as a camp to new owners, who we're told were left in the dark on the chemicals like most other people in the town.
The land use change has spurred a new round of DEC tests. Labombard and others hope the results bring answers to their illnesses.
"We didn't get all of the chromium metal readings that we wanted to," Litwhiler said.
They plan on testing the surface soil, deeper levels of soil and the water for increasingly toxic variations of chromium salts they couldn't test for before.
But if they do find those variations, the latest EPA report on the site said their "Concern for exposures and the risk for non-cancer health effects would increase."
"That's why I want to try to have this cleaned up, because I want to try to prevent anyone else from getting sick," Labombard said.
But if they don't find those chemicals, the search for why people in Norway are so sick will remain a mystery.
The DEC says they should start testing in a few weeks, depending on the weather.
Lab tests from their sampling will determine if the land qualifies as a Superfund site for cleanup.