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.


Robert Banks

I hope someone reads this.

There is GREINER'S LAGOON on W Shaw rd (41.269485,-83.139474) west of Green Springs that was contaminating the ground water in and around Green Springs. Before the area got water from Clyde, all Green Springs area residents got water from the springs which were fed by the ground water. Several years ago Green Springs drilled two additional wells for drinking water as the original flow was not enough to handle all the new residents and drilled deeper into the contaminated layer of ground water. Just soon after the additional deeper wells were drilled residents complain of nasty water and the decision was made to get water from Clyde. The lady that owns the property where GREINER'S LAGOON is located lives in Florida. County records will provide you with her name. The lagoon was a dumping ground for all sorts of chemicals for many years starting in the 50's. 27 years of dumping before the EPA took action. I believe one of the cancer families even lived in Green Springs before the decision to get water from Clyde. People, its not Whirlpool like the politicians would want you to believe. Get Erin Brockovitch to test the water from the two newer wells in Green springs and any deep well drilled recently in the area.

Read about the lagoon.

nosey rosey

This whole thing is getting ridiculous! There is no one thing that caused anyone in Clyde to get cancer. No one will ever be able to prove what caused anyone's illness. John Harville, I agree with everything you have said EXCEPT that someone should monetary help anyone involved. Why does our society think that anyone else should help pay for our problems. My husband was diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia 2 years ago. We are still paying medical bills. But I don't expect nor want any help from anyone. It is our life and we will handle our problems. Life can be a real b whether you are 6 years old or 60. Deal with it and move on.

John Harville

nosey. sorry for your husband. The most important help families can receive is a gasoline card. Most treatments are covered... but you have to get to the treatment. A small gift card for gas and something to eat is a blessing... been there done that - from both perspectives.

called out

John or anyone with good information, do you know where I could find a map of where the radius is along with possibly where the kids lived? I just moved to the out skirts of Clyde Green Springs and I'm a little concerned. Any information would be great.

John Harville

called out.. just search "Whirlpool Park Ohio" and you'll be able to get a map, photo of the site and then figure the radius... 12 miles is arbitrary since the children may have lived there when contracted or may have contracted then moved. You're going to range from Bellevue and beyond on the east, Fremont and beyond on the west maybe Castalia north and Lowell on the south.


Nosey, what makes you such an expert that no one will ever be able to connect the cancer cluster to carcinogens? I am sure that's exactly what PG & E thought before Erin Brokovich went to town on them.
Are you seriously comparing an elderly person getting chronic leukemia, which is fairly common and many people live with for 20 years or more with minimal problems with a 6-year-old dying of cancer? It's not uncommon for older people to get's very uncommon for children to get serious illnesses. I am sorry for your husband but telling these parents to just deal with it and move on is obnoxious!


:) there is my like button for that...


Can someone give me more information about where the "old paint factory" everyone is referring to in Clyde is located? Any more info? I've never heard of it.


The old paint factory that has the rainbow sludge is on the curve at the bottom of the hill on Mulberry Street. Google map 440 mulberry Clyde 43410. You will see the factory and the creek that goes along side it. Follow the creek north, hmmmmm, then south to Gus Wolf Park; another playground for kids.


Are you talking about where the old water works factory was? Around the community pond?


No. The water works factory was South St and Mulberry. Take Mulberry towards the old Vine St School direction towards Woodland. At the curve between Hill St. and Stokes Pond.

John Harville

Stokes Pond could be another interesting site.... how many kids swam there for years.... and then played on the grounds?

looking around

@Informed I wish there was a like button for that! I was thinking the same thing.


For argument sake lets say there are cancer causing agents in the soil at Whirlpool Park. So now what? Whirlpool cleans it up. Will that make those who lost family members happy?

Bet that's not the end of the story. I'm sure someone will want monetary compensation. If you have lawyers involved it will come to that. What's the value of a family member? The net worth of the Whirlpool Corporation? Now what? Families receive compensation, which will never be enough to eliminate their grief, and the city will lose it's major business and the loss of jobs.

So what have we solved. Corporations are liable for deeds considered harmless at the time. The city of Clyde dies from lack of employment rather than a possible cancer link.


how many of the children that died lived on, in or near the whirlpool park? it is obvious that they were to young to have played or swam there. just because the park is tainted does not mean these children died from it.

it is sad but please make sure that there is a direct connection. if not, you are wasting precious time and resources.

John Harville

THE LATEST... Jonathan Abdoo, who with his father Robert is involved in ownership of the land (bought in '08 by their LLC for $212,000) which, incidentally is adjacent or nearly so to their company property - Robert Abdoo Construction - wants Whirlpool to restore the property to 'residential grade'. Whirlpool - if found they did the dumping - will clean it to industrial grade.
Jonathan Abdoo is part of Abdoo Wrecking which was key player in demolition of Fremont Middle School and in dispute with Village of Green Springs where they allegedly dumped a lot of FMS rubble to fill a pond in Green Springs surrounded by a neighborhood.

the office cat

What about:
The Clyde Dump that was 'cleaned up' under EPA direction in 2009/10 and had all sorts of chemicals leeching into the Creek?

Nagy Auto Body which was in the Clyde Paint and Supply Co. bkdg on Mulberry Street next to the same creek... where, in the time of Clyde Paint, parents of today's cancer cluster, as kids, played in the 'pretty blue and green' water in the creek?

the office cat

It would seem the Cancer Cluster would be much more affected by the Clyde Dump and Paint Factory sites - the Paint Factory has asbestos issues that could be contributing to a 'new' cluster???