Cancer Concerns Strike Fear in Teacher's Hearts

Tempers flare over what some call a "lack of action" by the school board

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCSanDiego

    Jenifer Jaffe has kept quiet for months because she didn't want to lose her job as a teacher at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad. But on Wednesday, she couldn't hold back any longer at the Carlsbad Unified School District board meeting.

    "In November 2007, I was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer only four in a million people will get," Jaffe told board members.

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    Concerns from Carlsbad residents about what they believe are an unusually high number of cancer cases in one area are now getting attention beyond Carlsbad city limits.

    The Carlsbad teacher believes her rare cancer may have been triggered by the soil at Kelly School where she has taught since 1999.
    Over the years she has seen what she describes as a shocking number of teachers and students who have been diagnosed with different forms of cancer.

    "I found out that the teacher who had taught right next to me for many years had also been diagnosed with a rare, similar cancer to mine," said Jaffe.

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    More than 300 people attended a community forum on cancer at Calavera Hills Middle School Wednesday night. Many of the people came by because they are concerned about the number of cancer cases in Carlsbad.

    She told board members that she had raised $15,000, enough money to conduct environmental soil testing at Kelly School.

    "We are willing to pay for an independent study," Jaffe said.

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    Residents disagree with officials about cancer concerns, so they're taking action.

    She isn't the only teacher who wants the soil tested.

    "I've had 13 chemo sessions and I have five more to go," said Pat Slattery.

    The Pacific Rim Elementary School teacher taught at Kelly for seven years.  A year after she left the school she developed breast cancer.
    "When an adult gets sick, we wonder what's going on," Slattery said.  "But when a child gets sick it just strikes fear into your heart."

    Philip Ziring, a Carlsbad pediatrician and concerned resident, said he has been researching the number of kids who have been diagnosed with cancer since 2000.

    "And here we've got 18 children over a ten year period who have a close association with Kelly," said Dr. Ziring who calls the number unusually high.

    At least four of the children have died from cancer, NBCSanDiego has confirmed.

    Dr. Ziring points out that a few years ago high levels of arsenic were found at Carlsbad High School, where four students have gotten Lymphoma in recent years.

    The field was cordoned off and a foot of topsoil was removed and sent to a Nevada dumpsite in late 2008.

    "Who are we to say that it's not the same kind of soil at Kelly that's been at the high school," said Dr. Ziring, who notes that the schools are only about a mile away from each other.

    During the school board meeting, some people became upset with what they call a "lack of action" by the school board in regards to soil testing at Kelly.

    "This is a serious matter," shouted one man from the audience. 

    Board President Mark Tanner appeared to be visibly annoyed by the commentary from some of the speakers and residents who want the testing.

    When the public comment session was over after 15 minutes he refused to allow one more person to speak for three minutes, the allotted time for each speaker.

    That drew catcalls from the gallery.

    During a break in the meeting, Tanner spoke to reporters about the soil testing.  He said no testing would be done unless state and county investigators deemed it necessary.  Both the state and county are gathering information about the number of cancer cases in Carlsbad to see if there is a possible cluster.

    The results could be released as early as next week.

    "We want to have the subject matter experts who aren't typically the parents to come and tell us you need to have a test," Tanner said.
    But some residents believe the state and county investigation is flawed.  They want the testing done no matter what the outcome of the investigation.

    "We need to do it now," said Jaffe.