State reverses itself, decides it won't release results of Salem cancer study
SALEM, Ore. (AP) In a reversal, the Oregon Health Authority now says it won't release the results of a statewide analysis of bone cancer cases.
A state representative had sought the analysis to provide context to five cancer cases among West Salem children between 2008 and 2012.
The cancers were osteosarcoma, and parents wondered whether there was a cancer cluster that could be traced to a common cause.
The agency was preparing to make the analysis public but determined that releasing it would violate federal privacy laws protecting individually identifiable health information, spokeswoman Susan Wickstrom said in an email.
Even a related analysis of bone cancer cases in four Salem census districts that the state had previously made public is now considered covered by the 1996 Health Insurance Portability Act, or HIPAA, Wickstrom said.
"It wasn't exactly what I was looking for," Rep. Vicki Berger said Monday. "The only thing I can say is I'm still asking questions, and I'll continue to."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spent 14 months and more than $100,000 looking for soil contaminants but said last month it had found no explanation for the cancer cases, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.
State officials then cited the lack of a common environmental exposure among the children.
"Posing the question, is this a cancer cluster or not? It is not really an answerable question at this point," said Jae Douglas, head of OHA's Center for Prevention and Health Promotion.
On Friday, the agency sent Berger a letter summing up the investigation, but not including any information about the statewide analysis.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick of Portland, chair of the House Health Care Committee, said he had demanded a copy of the analysis, and the lack of a known cause shouldn't stall the investigation.
"They've just sort of thrown up their hands because of that. I would like them to continue trying to puzzle this thing out," Greenlick said. "I just don't think that cluster could have happened by chance."