Cancer cluster families: 'We're going to get some answers'

Steve Keller choked back tears Wednesday afternoon as he held up a photo of his grandson, Kole Keller, who died of cancer at the age of 6.
Tom Jackson
Nov 15, 2012

"There is a human face on all of this," Keller said. "There are other faces out there. This community has to be made safe."

Kole died in April 2007, a victim of the childhood cancer cluster in Eastern Sandusky County.  
Sitting beside Keller in the Whirlpool Room at Clyde Public Library was Warren Brown, whose daughter, Alexa, died of cancer in 2009 at age 11.     

"I'm not going to make any comments," Brown said, television news cameras trained on him. "I want you to focus in on that."

He somberly picked up a photo of his daughter.

"We're going to get some answers," Brown said. "(When) Alexa lay on her death bed, I told her her death would not be in vain. We are going to get some answers."

Now, for the first time since Alexa was diagnosed with cancer and later died of the disease, her parents suspect answers are beginning to emerge about the Clyde cancer cluster.

“I feel more hopeful we’re going to at least find out the truth,” said Wendy Brown, Alexa's mother.

The Browns and other relatives of local children who have died from cancer attended the news conference in Clyde, alongside two attorneys hired to represent several of the families.

At least four young people in the Clyde area have died of cancer: Alexa in 2009; Shilah Donnersbach, 20, in 2007; Kole in 2007; and Jacob “Bubba” Andrews, 22, in March 2012.

Up to 40 children in the area have contracted cancer.  

Investigators believe they could be zeroing in on real answers.

The families' two attorneys, Alan Mortensen and Dustin Lance of Salt Lake City, reviewed new information about sites in the Clyde area that are contaminated by possible carcinogenic chemicals.

A new U.S. EPA report, posted in late October on a U.S. EPA website, shows the presence of numerous cancer-causing chemicals at the former Whirlpool Park at Township Road 187 and County Road 181 in Green Springs.

The park, built by Whirlpool in the early 1950s, had a swimming pool, playground and other amenities.  

The EPA report indicates testing uncovered a large number of PCBs — believed to be a cancer-causing agent — at the park, along with toxic metals.
Because of the findings, the EPA will have to require a cleanup, Mortensen said.

Whirlpool responds

Jeffrey Noel, Whirlpool’s vice president for communications and public affairs, said Whirlpool is eager to work with the U.S. EPA to carry out additional testing at Whirlpool Park.

The company has not yet reached an agreement with the current owner of the property.

If necessary, the company will pay for a site cleanup, he said.

“It was used as a park parcel when it was purchased,” Noel said. “Whirlpool did not knowingly expand the park on a contaminated site.

“We became aware of the findings when the EPA gave us a copy of the sampling data,” Noel said. “That was the first time we became aware there was contamination on the site.”

Whirlpool bought the park in 1953, and records show the pool had been there since 1930, Whirlpool spokeswoman Kristine Vernier said.

The park closed in 2006 and was sold in 2008, she said.

Whirlpool Clyde plant leader Dan O’Brien wrote a letter to employees, outlining steps the company has taken to carry out further testing at Whirlpool Park.

“Meanwhile, it is important to understand, that we truly believe there is no current exposure risk posed by this substance," O'Brien wrote. "As stated in U.S. EPA materials, PCBs are a very stable substance that does not readily migrate, and the use and disposal of PCBs was a common practice, and within the laws and standards of the 1950s and 1960s."

His email continued: “We continue to work toward gaining access to the site and will continue to work with state and federal agencies to abide by the law, and address the issues on the site until they are satisfactorily resolved in the best interest of the community and its residents."

Mortensen said his law firm knows Whirlpool Park was used by the company as a dump site.

“It was intentionally put there and used to landscape the park,” he said.

Noel said Whirlpool wants to carry out further testing, working with the U.S. EPA to get the facts.

“I simply can’t address a statement or speculation that somebody has provided,” he said.

According to Whirlpool records, the site was used for recreation, he said.

The attorneys also discussed other sites they believe deserve further investigation, including the Clyde city dump, where Mortensen said Whirlpool dumped much of its waste. The site has arsenic, PCBs, Boron and other potentially harmful chemicals, Mortensen said.
Raccoon Creek also goes by the dump.

“There is leachate you can still see of toxins going into Raccoon Creek,” he said.

PCBs and arsenic have been found at the Whirlpool manufacturing site, although the EPA concluded nothing needed to be done, Mortensen said.

The two attorneys emphasized they don’t know that the Clyde cancer cluster was caused by chemicals at any of the sites under review, and they do not plan to file a lawsuit unless they're sure they can assign responsibility.

“You don’t want to sue the wrong person," Lance said. "You don’t want to sue someone who’s innocent."

If answers from Whirlpool and other parties aren’t forthcoming, the attorneys said they'd file a lawsuit to give themselves subpoena power, which would force the answers in court.

The attorneys said they'll represent the families in pressing government agencies and Whirlpool Corp. for more information about the findings, and they'll carry out their own investigation as much as possible.

They announced a hotline number, 419-552-1988, which they said local residents can call to offer tips and suggestions for further investigation.

They cautioned, however, they cannot guarantee anonymity and might be forced to reveal who called with any particular bits of information.

When the preliminary results from EPA testing at Whirlpool Park were announced during the summer, Warren Brown, Alexa's father, said he doubted the park was connected to the cancer cluster.

On Wednesday, however, he indicated he wants to wait for all of the facts before expressing an opinion.

Keller, Kole's grandpa, said he was “infuriated” when the Ohio EPA came in and said there was nothing there.

Trina Donnersbach, mother of Shilah Donnersbach, also attended the news conference and held up a photo of her daughter.

The attorneys said a woman who used to live next to Whirlpool Park also contracted cancer. The woman’s dog died of cancer, too, they said.

One man who attended Wednesday's news conference said he lives next to the park — he asked if he is safe.

Mortensen said he can't answer the question, unless testing is carried out. He suggested the man ask the U.S. EPA to do tests on his property.

“I would be concerned,” Mortensen told the man.

Last year, U.S. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson promised she would come to Clyde to meet with the families affected by the Clyde cancer cluster.

Mortensen said his firm has contacted Jackson’s office and asked about the promise, and he hasn’t received a reply yet. While the families believe the U.S. EPA should carry out further testing, there’s been no commitment from the agency.

“They said that everything is finished for the time being,” Mortensen said.

The attorneys said they're experienced in handling disaster litigation.


here in ohio

Well say good by to Whirlpool all for something that happen 50 years ago that no laws were being broke at that time UNREAL !!!!!


Goodbye~They let some of their employees get treated horribly anyway. With their lawyers you stand no chance~even when they KNOW they are guilty of letting some employees bully others until they lose their jobs~I have a hard time feeling bad for Whirlpool ESPECIALLY if they have been covering this up all along~it wouldn't surprise me in the least!


Also, is it true that alot of their employees that work in the machine shop~end up dying of cancer? Just curious.............


These people and kids didn't die 50 years ago. They are dieing NOW!!!! Are you really that ignorant?


I think here in ohio is trying to say that 50 years ago Whirlpool or whoever used this area to dump stuff it was NOT illegal. 50 Years ago there was NO EPA regulations on dumping. Whirlpool wants to do their own investigation and see the land but the present owner says NO. Why? Does the present owner want to pay to clean it? Why not let them in to survey the damage? I find it odd that the present owner does not want to let them in. I understand that something needs to be done and so many are sick....but you cannot charge, blame, or fine someone for doing something that was NOT illegal. There are MANY MANY areas in the vicinity that were dumps at one time. Heck growing up we found out our backyard/neighborhood was a dump at one time.....digging giant holes as children we found all kinds of stuff...the neighbor (who seemed to be as old as the dirt itself) told us that the area was a dump when the town first started out.

John Harville

@ Lynn. The site has been a park with a pond/pool since the 1930s. Whirlpool bought it in 1953 for their employees (Whirlpool came to Clyde in 1952). It closed in 2006.
There are 14 other 'known' dumpsites in the Clyde-Green Springs area (not to mention the backyards of former paint factory employees where barrels of that factory's waste had been buried)
The attorney says he 'knows' Whirlpool dumped at the park... but provided no 'proof' of what he 'knows'.
He also noted 'current' evidence of runoff from the Clyde City Dump into Raccoon Creek. He failed to mention that the creek is the source of water in the Raccoon Creek Reservoir from which Clyde processes water for Clyde and Green Springs residents. Why is no one questioning that?
And what about the sludge from the old Clyde Water Plant that was spread on the ground at the reservoir or on agricultural fields throughout the area.
The attorney says he has no knowledge of whether the waste found at the former Whirlpool Park played any role in the cancer.
If the pond and lake at Whirlpool Park is the/a cause... why only 37-40 cases? Why not the older Brown Children?
I'm more concerned about the girls who were molested by a CHS coach in the 90s... but no one wants to talk about that either.

here in ohio

No but I am thinking you are! looks more like they are looking for someone to blame! I say clean it up and be done with it!

John Harville

@Lynn. Please talk a bit less and listen a bit more to what 'Here' said. He's not talking about children (and all the adult casualties ignored because two families want closure) who contracted cancers in the last 10 years. PCBs were legal until 1977 when that 'worthless' EPA got them outlawed because of their potential to cause cancer. Dumping PCBs - and all other sorts of corporate waste anywhere was not illegal prior to the founding of the 'worthless, over-regulatory' EPA in December 1970.

looking around

Your right John, everyone should pay attention to the dates you pointed out. Do we really want to allow politicians supporting special interests to roll back the clock and do away with regulatory agencies such as the EPA, Labor and OSHA or water down their power to oversee abusers who in the interest of saving a few bucks on their bottom line would jeopardize the community's that they have set up shop in?


“You don’t want to sue the wrong person," Lance said. "You don’t want to sue someone who’s innocent."
That sum's up the entire story, They are fishing for someone to sue.


Yes, I understand that John, and you have posted A LOT of information. My problem is ALL some people are worried about is Whirlpool and how this is going to affect them. My point is we NEED to find out exactly what is causing this. I am not saying it is whirpool and I understand it wasn't illegal then. Yes, I get that, but we do know is that these PCBs have the potential to cause cancer and they were found at this park, but again all some people are worried about is Whirlpool. THAT is what has me so mad!


Lynn-you are exactly right. I'm not connected to this in any way, but the important thing here is to find the root cause and mitigate the problem.

John Harville

@Lynn... don't know how long you've lived in Clyde and Green Springs. No one wants to find out exactly what is causing this because it may affect several non-Whirlpool interests.
ADults today... some the age of parents of Cancer Cluster children... remembering in the 'pretty green and blue' water of the creek by the Paint Factory that dumped waste there. The building now is in ruins and has asbestos that needs to be removed... but no one - including the EPA or City Council - is insisting on cleanup. The rubble still is there. The Creek still is there. Neighborhood children still play there... Are we building a NEW cancer cluster?

John Harville

Why won't the present owner let inspectors onto the property?

here in ohio

worried about Whirlpool LOL NO I am worred more about all them people that would be left WITH OUT JOBS if they were to close up shop for something that may have NOTHING to do with any deaths! Like Randy said they are fishing for someone to sue!


Not looking for someone to sue. Looking for the cause to mitigate it and stop the cluster. NOT looking because your afraid people will lose jobs is just a selfish as NOT looking because you are worried about the company.

John Harville

Related... Residents in Green Springs recently complained about a construction company filling a pond in their back yards with rocks, bricks, etc. - demolition waste - possibly from the Fremont Middle School which the company was involved in demolishing.
That Company? Abdoo Wrecking of Green Springs... a construction and demolition family of businesses. There are suggestions the owners may have been dumping at Whirlpool Park site...


So burying disease causing rubble (asbestos) in peoples' backyards, one of the very excuses...pardon me...reason's to build new schools is this person's livelihood?

John Harville

Lil... I did NOT make any accusation. I simply asked a rather obvious question. Why won't the owner - whose own land is adjacent - allow Whirlpool or other investigators onto the property?


You seem to know quite a bit and I am reading all your replies because they seem knowledgeable with legitimate substance. I also wonder what motivation the owner has to not let the investigators on his property. Only speculation but, is he hiding something? Waiting for a bigger offer for purcha$e; is he being advised by his lawyers to hold out for legal reasons or monetary reasons? Surely a businessman has lawyered up over this.


Thank you John again for your USEFUL information! Also, thank you for actually doing some research and not just posting ignorant comments. Whirlpool may not be responsible, it may very well be this construction company. It may not even be this site that is the cause, but as mother, believe me, I would be hunting for answers as well. Trust me, in this case I wouldn't stop until I got them.

John Harville

Lynn... and I'm a father. And I've watched these families contend with the cancers - including at least three 40-something victims of the same cancer who don't get included in the 'childhood cluster'.
I also remember a few years ago when the deep-well injection nuclear waste dump in Vickery emitted a large orange chemical cloud that floated on the wind over Clyde and into Green Springs. People reported orange flakes dropping on them. The company said they often have accidental emissions weekly - though not as large. If you follow the orange cloud, it drifted in the windflow right over much of the cancer cluster... The same location - then referred to a O.L.D. 25 years ago - paid large settlements to landowners in the northern and eastern parts of the county and even into Clyde for ground water contamination.

Isnt that Special's picture
Isnt that Special

Erin Brockovich....... thats all I got to say

John Harville

Isn't... Steve Keller Sr OR someone else contacted Erin Brockovitch but her people declined to come.
There are a coupla 'Erin' types in Clyde but its not healthy. Years ago the local editor was driven from office by the School Board and City Council. That was a coupla years after the FBI came to investigate a mailed threat against the editor's young children. A councilmember constantly was derided for insisting the City needed to be concerned about Mercury levels. Another 'Erin' endured egging, petty vandalism, notes tied to rocks. One 'Erin' found her dog dead next to a pan of antifreeze placed by someone who knew animals like the deadly stuff.\
Children had been sick, dying or recovering several years before the Browns - god bless 'em - was able to convince WTOL to make it their cause.


YES, Ohio, I am sure that you are right. All that they are concerned about is who to sue. I am sure it has nothing to do with losing a 6 and 11 year old child, or the MANY others that have or are suffering right now. Sarcasm, just in case you cannot read between the lines. I am sure it has nothing to with finding out WHAT is going on so that others do not have to suffer in the future. I'm done now, I will leave you all to your past-time.

John Harville

@Lynn... the parties involved have not sought these lawyers for money. They want someone with legal background to force information.

The point is they have covered this up for almost 20 years, The only thing to get this moving at all is lawsuits and the promise of money rolling in to feed the lawyers. If left to those who are supposed to look into clusters such as this it would be a non-story.

John Harville

@Randy... it's not really a coverup. Sadly, Clyde has been extremely remiss on its treatment of these children. ALL of the families have extreme expenses of fighting the battle but only SOME of the families have benefitted from dinners and other fundraisers.
After all the fundraising, NOBODY has established any sort of fund from which to draw for ANY family facing a health crisis. Some of the children were 'connected': Steve Keller was the basketball coach. Warren Brown is a politician/county official with contacts and his wife Wendy is daughter of a former Clyde High School principal. Bubba Andrews' aunt is Food Service director for the schools (there were no other large meal fundraisers for children). But there were no benefits for the woman in the story whose 20-year-old daughter died - nor even now as she tries to rear her grandson. MOST of the victims are faceless and nameless - especially the adult victims.
Clyde and Green Springs need to focus less on assessing blame and more on assisting the victims who don't have connections or money or support systems.
After all, now there are attorneys to 'get' the 'bad guys'.


They have known this was going on for at least 20 years, How could they not have? Sadly this same thing has went on in multiple areas around the country and has been over looked until money is involved and then the lawyers start pushing. It should have been done long before now.


I actually am not connected with Clyde in anyway John. I am a mother and my heart aches for these families. I hope they find the answers that they are looking for. I am sure that they are met with MUCH resistance. I don't get a lot of time to read the SR but every now and then I get on, I should however know better than to read the comments. Sometimes people actually post something useful, like you. Most of the time it is just trash, and usually by the same people.