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February 24, 2014

Cancer rates in Blackford County raise alarm

-- — HARTFORD CITY, Ind.  — Four natives of Hartford City want to know why Blackford County has so many residents dying of cancer.

Blackford County Concerned Citizens formed in 2011 after state officials reported in 2006 that the county had the highest overall cancer rate in the state. The data showed Blackford ranked highest in breast and lung cancer, second highest in colon/rectal cancer and 22nd in prostate cancer. The county also had a higher rate of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

"Put those two together and it's pretty staggering," said Leah Aubrey, a Hartford City native who now works as a speech and language pathologist in Sebring, Fla.

The Star Press in Muncie reported that Aubrey and three others, including former Hartford city Mayor Joe Castelo, are trying to raise money to fund studies of the death rates. The first goal is to raise pledges for $5,000, which must be done by March 1, with the money in hand by April 1. The group also is seeking grants from the Blackford County Community Foundation and the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Aubrey said the group plans to take the money raised and work with IU's Department of Health to enlist an "outreach coordinator" to organize results of a community survey the group has launched. The information would be provided to medical personnel who could offer tips on how the study should move forward.

Aubrey said the group has already raised about $1,000.

Blackford County was once home to automobile, chemical, gas and glass companies. Aubrey said even people who've moved away and later been diagnosed with cancer are expressing concern.

"What I've heard, they're concerned about the water," Aubrey said. "Are there chemicals that are in the soil and that's running into the water?"

"People would like to have answers, not necessarily to point fingers, but just to have answers," she said.

The group has 600 members on Facebook.

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