The Pain of Maryvale

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A Scottsdale water engineer working for west-siders suing the city says it is possible to get that data.

In a sworn affidavit, William Gookin says computer models can estimate when contamination reached drinking-water wells in Maryvale. When combined with historical information about the city's piping system and pumping records, Gookin says, that modeling can estimate which homes got the most contaminated water--a scientific estimate that the state claims is impossible to compile.

(Similar computer modeling was used by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which released a 1996 study that determined that childhood-leukemia cases in Woburn, Massachusetts, were associated with exposure by pregnant mothers to drinking water laced with TCE.)

Tim Flood is a DHS doctor who inherited the case control study after the former study director left DHS several years ago. Flood is not convinced that sophisticated computer modeling would determine whether TCE-laced water was a cause of some of the Maryvale leukemia cases.

"I would think that would be pretty speculative modeling," he says.
But there can be no speculation about one fact: Water and TCE aside, the Department of Health Services is more than five years late in completing its study. That $600,000 case control study was designed to include families of all 49 Maryvale children who contracted leukemia from 1965 to 1986.

DHS officials have long said one reason for the delay was the difficult, time-consuming task of locating families of victims who'd died years before.

But the agency apparently didn't look particularly hard for those families.
The Guzmans and the Johnsons, who lived near the contaminated wells, were not asked to join the study.

It would have been easy to find them. Neither of the families has changed addresses since their daughters fell ill with leukemia. Both families are listed in the phone book.

Another reason for the delay, per Flood: The study took on too many possible causes.

Flood says he warned the former director of the study "about the study being too ambitious, and he didn't really listen to me."

"I would like to get this thing out. I'm really disappointed in myself for not getting this thing out," he says.

There is another undeniable reason Flood has not completed the Maryvale cancer-cluster study: The state won't pay for a staff to assist him, and he is burdened with other tasks as medical director for DHS' Office of Chronic Disease and Epidemiology.

Flood acknowledges this lack of support with unusual candor.
"From my perspective," says Flood, "they give the minimum needed to say, 'Yeah, someone's working on the study.' But they sure don't give us much more support than that.

"It's mostly lip service."
At least one member of the CDC panel appointed to oversee the study says he hasn't heard from anyone connected with the study for three years.

"Looks like we were out of the picture," says Steve Lagakos, a Harvard University scientist who was one of the first to link the Woburn leukemias to TCE contamination in the early 1980s.

"I don't know whether they abandoned this committee I'm on and never bothered telling us, or what."

Joey's Story
Each day, on her way to work, Bobbie Cabler dropped her infant son, Joey, at her mother's house in Maryvale. Bobbie's mother loved baby-sitting Joey, loved to rock him and hug him and give him his bottle of formula.

The attentive grandmother made sure the formula was not too hot, not too cold, mixed, half-and-half, with canned liquid and water she drew from the kitchen tap.

Bobbie was a kid herself back in 1976, when her son was born. She was 16 years old, proud, tough, sure she could make a doomed marriage survive if she just worked at it.

But Bobbie soon learned there were some things she couldn't fix.
When Joey was a little less than 2 years old, he got leukemia. Bobbie remembers carrying Joey home after the diagnosis, propping him against a pillow on the living-room couch. Her husband took a snapshot of the sleeping child, a photo she carries with her even today.

The leukemia took a particularly rapid course, and Joey died in his 18-year-old mother's arms a few days short of what would have been his third Christmas.

After nearly a decade, Bobbie remarried and had two more children. Outwardly, she's happy.

But inside, she grieves, and will always grieve.
Time passes. Joey would be 18 years old if he were alive. Bobbie is 36, but she remembers Joey playing with pots and pans in the kitchen sink as if it were last week.

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Terry Greene Sterling