DHEC says no cancer cluster despite no current data; Sanford urges further investigation

Ethen Richardson died of a rare brain cancer in 2013. His mother and other Lowcountry parents are pushing for answers from DHEC about the possibility of a cancer cluster in Mount Pleasant after several more cases - including the same rare brain tumors - have been diagnosed. (Courtesy Brandy Richardson)

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) - South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control says its data does not show a “true” cancer cluster in the Mount Pleasant area, but the agency admits the data is only based on numbers through 2014.

According to DHEC’s policy for investigating cancer clusters, there is a two-year time lag in reporting, so data for 2015-2017 is not available.

It’s cases diagnosed in that most recent time frame that prompted two Lowcountry mothers of cancer victims to share their fears about the possibility of a cluster.

Brandy Richardson’s son, Ethen, was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2013. Marie Price’s son, Nick, was diagnosed in 2015. Another child, Jett Goldberg, was diagnosed in 2017.


DHEC says the time lag in its data availability is due to “extensive quality control and de-duplication of the cases that must take place during this interval to ensure cancer data are reported and counted correctly.”

Congressman Mark Sanford said Friday further investigation should be conducted regardless. He spoke with ABC News 4 on Friday and said his "heart goes out to the families involved.”

“I know DHEC says at this point there isn't a cancer cluster, but if you're to watch the movie 'Erin Brockovich' it’s about the fact that there can be correlation between what's under the ground and what's above the ground and cancer,” he said. “That was the whole purpose of Trevor's Law.”

Trevor Schaefer, the 27-year-old Idaho brain cancer survivor whom the law is named after, spoke with ABC News 4 on Thursday about the legislation aimed at investigating cancer clusters.

He said the main goal is to get answers, and now he wants to help Price and Richardson get the answers they are searching for.

“That’s the bottom line,” Schaefer said. “If there's nothing wrong there, that very well could be the case, but we need to know that for sure. As Americans, we have a right to know that.”

Sanford said he supported Trevor’s Law, which allows anyone to petition the EPA to study potential clusters of diseases.

Schaefer said he was worried about the law actually being implemented, but Sanford believes it won’t have any issue.

“I think this is one of those issues that goes to the core of what people care about,” Sanford said. “Cancer with a kid is about as tragic as it gets. When you have an advocate like Trevor or a long list of advocates with families who have been impacted by the tragedy of cancer at an early age, I think you're going to have really loud voices pushing for implementation on this front and I think you'll see it.”

Sanford advises families in the Mt. Pleasant area who believe the number of cancer cases is too high to push their local and state leaders to reach out to federal agencies in order to apply Trevor’s Law.

Meanwhile, DHEC is providing further insight into how it researches and determines possible cancer clusters. The agency says it follows a four-step process.

  • Step 1 – Initial Contact and Response with the requestor to fully understand the concern
  • Step 2 – Assessment (statistical testing)
  • Step 3 – Determining Feasibility to Conduct Study (if excess found)
  • Step 4 – Conducting an Epidemiologic Investigation

View full details on the process DHEC uses for cancer cluster verification in the embedded document below (mobile users can click HERE).

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