Comments (re original text; as copied below):
1. The Natick Selectmen, last April, did not disband our  Task Force.
    They did disband the link to $50,000 of then-available State funding for our Phase-II work.
2. Dick Miller regretfully returned the title of Dr., awarded to him by Kirk LeMessurier but probably not with official authority. :-)

61 Lake Shore Road, Natick, MA 01760-2099, USA–508/653-6136 (9am-9pm)–

Cancer Study Moves Forward
by Kirk W. LeMessurier, Natick TAB Staff Writer
(From Natick TAB, January 26th, 1999, page 2; reprinted with permission)

Nearly nine months after selectmen disbanded the Natick Cancer Study Task Force, town officials say they are ready to meet with the Massachusetts Department of Health to determine if they will finish its work.

Selectman Jay Ball, who worked with the task force and opposed the decision to shut it down, indicated late last week that he and Public Health Director Roger Wade would meet with state officials to determine if further study were needed.

That action would be a long time coming for some members of the task force, who have been waiting to hear whether the town would finish what they say they started.

"The town made an incredibly bold and brave step in establishing the task force. I wish they'd have the gumption to follow through to the end," said task force member Tom Branham.

The story started anecdotally, with a number of reports from residents that the level of pancreatic cancer in the Wethersfield section of Natick was abnormally high.

After a lengthy interim period, the Department of Health did a study that lent some credence to the stories, and the sense that the state Cancer Registry was underreported for Natick led officials to secure a $50,000 grant to do further study.

Enter the Natick Cancer Study Task Force, a group of volunteers the selectmen convened to use the funds to more extensively determine whether Natick had higher-than-normal incidences of cancer.

"We started out by using state mortality data to plot incidences of cancer-related deaths and comparing it to other communities," said Dr. A. Richard Miller, chairman of the task force.

Miller compared the Natick situation to that portrayed in the novel and newly-released film "A Civil Action," the true story of a lawsuit brought by Woburn families of leukemia victims who suspected the large numbers were more than a coincidence.

"There are some wonderful people at the state level with some good intentions, but the Woburn situation held everything up, including their looking into (the Natick situation)," Miller said.

Miller added the Woburn lawsuit made the state very sensitive about other, similar inquiries, and Ball said it was part of what prompted them to look into it in the first place.

"The state wasn't forthcoming with (data), so it became evident that we should do it ourselves," said Ball, who is also a resident of the Wethersfield area.

But infighting among some task force members and a perception by some selectmen that it wasn't proceeding in its original charge led the board to disband the group in April and demand the return of its research materials.

"We felt the preliminary data didn't indicate anything substantial, and that it was time to wind the study down," said Edward Dlott, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, adding that the reports of discord among task force members was "one of the factors" in their decision.

Miller blamed Rep. Douglas W. Stoddart, who sent a letter to selectmen in April expressing concerns about the direction the task force was taking, and informing them the $50,000 grant would expire at the end of the fiscal year.

"The selectmen took a properly-funded, worthy project and put an abrupt stop to it before it was really finished," Miller said.

Ball disagreed with the decision of his board to disband the task force, and admits he has been "remiss" in not following up with other experts on behalf of the town about finishing the study.

"The Board of Health had no interest in pursuing further analysis of this, which was disappointing to me," Ball said.

Public Health Director Roger Wade said the Board of Health was interested in pursuing the study to ensure no further action was necessary.

"The results are still debatable, and since it's debatable we'd like to have someone at the state health department spend some more time with this," Wade said.

Wade conceded the point of view of those who want further action is "a legitimate one," though he did not share their concerns to the same extent.

Nevertheless, some task force members insist the last steps of their preliminary work should be completed.

"It's entirely possible there's nothing there," Branham said. "But until you finish analyzing the data correctly, you can't make that judgment," he added.

Miller, who was a harsher critic of the selectmen's decision to disband the task force, said their initial findings gave rise to concerns that could potentially be endangering residents unless they are able to draw some conclusions.

"This is a failure of government allowing things to proceed, a fear of what might be true. That's exactly what happened in Woburn," Miller said.

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