Auburn University investigating Fruithurst cancer cases where 6 kids diagnosed in 14 months
March 7, 2017
From WIAT CBS-42

The work continues to find out what is causing cancer in Fruithurst and last week an eighth case of cancer was diagnosed in this small Cleburne County community of a few hundred people.

Every one of those eight cases was diagnosed over the span of about fourteen months. People in the community are fed up with the constant string of bad news.

“It’s been devastating. Not as devastating as a lot of people we’ve met through this time,” said Kelly Clay, whose son, Michael, has leukemia.

Among the eight cases, several cases are children, six have leukemia. These common threads, all in a small community, made Auburn University researchers take a look at the case.

“The first thing I did was I communicated with some colleagues who are epidemiologists across the country, specifically one who has worked on ACL, and this is a very strong case for a cancer cluster,” said Dr. Loka Ashwood, a rural sociologist with Auburn University.

Last month, the university helped train community volunteers on how to take water samples, then ran tests to see if there were abnormal levels of hazardous metals. On Tuesday, researchers said those tests had been negative.

More testing will be done on potential toxins, and grants will help with the costs of the environmental testing. Dr. Ashwood says they are also trying another technique–surveying the people of Fruithurst, trying to find the common thread that ties the cancer cases together.

“Are there environmental exposures, are there occupational exposures, those kinds questions can all kind of give a summary of information to show where should the community be looking next,” said Dr. Ashwood.

As for why so many community members remain so committed to finding out what could be behind the cancer in Fruithurst, Kelly Clay says, it’s something they all feel.

“It’s hard on everybody. The child has leukemia, but the whole family does, too, the community and their friends. It doesn’t just affect that child. It affects everyone around them,” she said.