THEA is on a mission to reach 500 Health Survey responses by the end of May, and if you are a resident of Cypress, Texas near the Jones Road Ground Water Plume Superfund Site, we need your help.

This coming May, we are writing to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) requesting data on the incidence rates for all types of cancer present within the seven census tracts impacted by the groundwater plume. 

Back in 2017, DSHS responded to community concerns regarding what felt like an unusual frequency of childhood leukemia in the Cypress community. Children were getting sick, and local residents were determined to figure out what was going on. DSHS conducted an investigation into rates of childhood leukemia from 2010 to 2016 in the seven census tracts affected by contamination from the groundwater plume. The investigation revealed that rates of childhood leukemia were 2.2 times higher than expected in the selected neighborhoods compared to the rest of the state. These results were shocking–yet not surprising to the families living through the stress and heartbreak of childhood cancer.

Although we are grateful to DSHS for looking into these cancer rates, we believe this information is only the tip of the iceberg. If the only cancer type investigated showed abnormally high incidence rates, we are left wondering what that means for the countless other cancer types present in the community that were not investigated. Additionally, we only have data for the years 2010-2016. Exposure pathways and other conditions change over time, so rates today and closer to the time the dumping took place (1988-2002) likely look significantly different than they did when this investigation was conducted. 

Making sure we have the most current and comprehensive information available is a vital part of understanding the full scope of the problem facing the Jones Road community. We need DSHS to conduct an updated investigation that includes all types of cancer present within the community.

Unfortunately, we cannot simply ask DSHS to investigate all types of cancer for all years up to the present–they don’t have access to that information. Instead, we have to compile a list of every type of cancer known to be prevalent in the community. Then, we’ll present DSHS with the list and ask them to investigate the rates for those specific types. To ensure that all types of cancer affecting the Jones Road community are accounted for on our list, we are asking residents to complete our community health survey.

The survey should only take about five minutes of your time, and it’s completely confidential. We will not share your name or any contact information with the state, we simply want to know which types of cancer you and your family members have experienced, if any, so that we know what to ask the state to investigate.

Comprehensive, up-to-date data that illustrates the extent to which each cancer type is afflicting the community is crucial information that will help us move forward in the process of advocating for a solution to the childhood cancer cluster the Cypress area currently faces. Those of us who live in cancer cluster communities are acutely aware of the devastating effects an unhealthy environment can have on our families. But in order to capture the attention of government agencies, we need to back up our personal experiences with data. If we can collect information that demonstrates the abnormally high rates of cancer concentrated in close proximity to the groundwater plume contamination, it’s harder for polluters and agencies to brush our stories off as mere coincidence. 

Additionally, robust datasets that can demonstrate trends such as changes in cancer rates over time or a type of cancer that affects a certain group within the population more than others provide us with insights into where potential exposure pathways might be located, who may be at risk currently, and what we should advocate for to protect public health going forward. 

For example, contaminants from the Jones Road Groundwater Plume Superfund Site was first detected by a local gymnastics facility in 2000. The facility owners tested the water supplied to their property by a local well and discovered unsafe levels of tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene, PCE, or perc. Tetrachloroethylene is a likely human carcinogen.

The contamination of this local well means the children who drank water at the gymnastics school before the tetrachloroethylene was detected were at risk for exposure. Diagnosable cases of cancer, however, often don’t develop until years after exposure to a carcinogen occurs. As such, we must look at rates of cancer not just in children (as was done in the previous investigation for one cancer type), but also in adults that could have been exposed several years ago at places like the gymnastics facility and are only now developing cancer as a result. To understand the full impact of the gymnastics school exposure pathway, we need to know the cancer history of those children–now adults–who attended the gymnastics school 21 years ago before the contamination was discovered and filters were installed.

This is just one example of the kind of puzzle pieces we can get from having complete data about the cancer rates across all households within the community. That’s why we are asking everyone to fill out the survey.

It is our sole priority to protect local public health by holding government agencies and polluters accountable for cleaning up toxic waste in our communities. So rest assured that the data we collect in our health survey will be applied directly to our strategy to bring about positive change for public health in the Cypress community. 

To help us gain access to this critical information, you can fill out the survey here: www.txhea.org/community-health-survey

If you’ve already filled it out, thank you so much. We would be honored if you’d consider sharing the link on your Facebook or with a neighbor so that we can reach as many local residents as possible in the next month.