Two weeks ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the results of soil tests showing nothing that could explain a string of childhood bone cancer cases in West Salem.
Since, then, the Statesman Journal has received calls, letters and social media comments from dozens of community members suggesting other avenues to pursue.
What about testing for contaminants in the children themselves, some have suggested?
What about radon —a colorless, odorless gas that can cause cancer — in homes, schools and businesses? Arsenic in Chinese drywall?
Pesticides and fertilizers in the former orchards that have been turned into schools and subdivisions? Aerial crop dusting?
Have the old mill ponds at the bottom of 29th Place been tested, asked one longtime resident.
Did the EPA consider electromagnetic field (EMF) pollution as a possible cause?
“When I was on the City Council in 2000 or so we had a subdivision review in West Salem and lots of the testimony and concern at the time was EMF pollution,” resident Anna Braun said.
Many, many readers pointed to fluoridation of the water supply. Some studies have linked fluoridation and osteosarcoma, the cancer in question.
“I believe Salem started fluoridating when these teenagers were born, so they have been drinking and bathing in it since they were babies,” Sandra Ganey, of Portland, wrote to the EPA.
Donna McGee asked, “Is it possible that large doses were accidentally put in and that it wasn’t reported because it wasn’t considered a health hazard?”
Other readers expressed frustration with health officials.
“Can you say cover up?” wrote Richard Ray Cross.
“EPA is bought and paid for,” Joshua Targon wrote. “People need to educate themselves and perhaps consult a third party to test the samples taken.”
Tony Barber, head of EPA’s Oregon office, said he would be glad to talk to community members about the controversy over fluoridation of water supplies.
“For this particular project we’re not planning to look further at the possibility of fluoride being considered a contaminant there,” Barber said. “I know there’s a lot of controversy around water fluoridation. This isn’t the right venue to jump into that fray.”
Salem has fluoridated its water since 1964, said Lacey Goeres-Priest, water quality and treatment supervisor for the city.
In 2001, it changed from sodium silicate fluoride to liquid fluorosilic acid.
In 2008, the city dropped its fluoridation target levels from 1.0 to 0.7 parts per million, following a national recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The city samples fluoride levels daily and never has had a reading at a level that would endanger health, Goeres-Priest said.
“All of the city of Salem receives the same water,” she said. “It’s not different water in West Salem.”
While EPA looked at ionizing radiation, it didn’t examine EMF pollution, Barber said
“It is a non-ionizing form of radiation that there’s quite a bit of controversy about,” he said.
Jae Douglas, of the Oregon Health Authority, said that, without evidence of a clear association between osteosarcoma and any environmental contaminant or exposure, there’s little the state can do.
“It’s hard to know even where to look,” Douglas said.
At least five West Salem children were diagnosed with osteosarcoma between 2008 and 2012. Three have died.
EPA spent more than $100,000 on the 14-month investigation.
It took soil samples at West Salem High and Walker Middle schools, Orchard Heights and Wallace Marine parks, and the field at Seventh and Patterson streets.
In all, 45 samples were analyzed for more than 200 contaminants, including pesticides.
Officials found no contamination that could cause cancer.
State Rep. Vicki Berger, a West Salem resident for more than four decades, said she is continuing to see what resources the state might have to continue investigating.
“I understand my community’s hurting over this. I’m not going to just walk away,” Berger said.
Still, Berger said, an answer may never be found.
“I think people are looking for a movie ending here,” she said. “There may not be one.”