Sen. Bill Nelson wants federal investigation into cancer cluster
The Palm Beach Post
February 18, 2010
By Paul Quinlan and Mitra Malek
WEST PALM BEACH — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says the state needs federal help to search for the cause of higher rates of brain cancer in girls and teens in the rural western Palm Beach County community of the Acreage.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called Thursday for mustering the "full research capability of the federal government" to find the cause of the childhood cancer cluster in the Acreage.
"People are frustrated, and they have a right to be," Nelson, a Democrat, told reporters before a lunchtime talk hosted by the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches at the Kravis Center. "Now let's get to the bottom of it."
In a letter sent Wednesday to National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, Nelson asked that the National Institutes of Health and their National Cancer Institute, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, support Florida Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros' request for federal help in finding the cause of an elevated rate of brain cancer among girls and teenagers in the rural western Palm Beach County community.
The CDC has been aware of the state Department of Health's investigation since it launched last summer. It has mainly advised the state on its investigation, the agency's typical role. States, not federal agencies, are primarily responsible for cluster investigations.
"What CDC is doing right now is helping Florida figure out its next steps," said CDC Health Communications Specialist Vivi Abrams. CDC and Florida health officials have been talking by phone, and CDC officials are expected to visit with state officials soon for continued discussions, Abrams said.
The National Institutes of Health would not comment on Nelson's letter until Collins had reviewed it and responded, spokeswoman Jenny Haliski said.
Acreage residents first asked Nelson for help last summer, and he said he would ask the CDC and federal Environmental Protection Agency to help.
"I want to see a solution found," said Nelson. "I want to find a cause. And I want all these poor folks who are dealing with the uncertainty and fear to find a cause."
During his comments to the Forum Club, Nelson criticized President Obama's handling of health care legislation, saying he was not fighting hard enough.
"It's my hope that the president is going to get engaged," Nelson said. "He's been aloof. If we're going to pass health care he's got to get in there with a bull whip and brass knuckles."
He also said the public option would not get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate and advocated creating a "nationwide insurance plan," as outlined in the Senate version of a health care bill, to offer coverage to those who aren't already covered by their employer.
Despite the criticism of Obama on health care, Nelson praised the president's pledge of $1.25 billion in stimulus money toward a high-speed rail line running from Tampa to Orlando — a route Nelson said would one day stretch from Orlando to Miami.
Nelson also laid out his priorities: get credit flowing again to small businesses, improve regulation of the financial markets to prevent future crises, end stimulus spending as the economy picks back up, and avoid levying new taxes on small businesses.