Agencies investigating cancer cluster in Hawaii firefighters' kids

Agencies investigating cancer cluster in Hawaii firefighters' kids
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Multiple state and county agencies are now investigating after three children whose fathers work at the same Waipahu fire house fell ill with bone cancer.

A cancer specialist, hazardous materials team, the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and the state Department of Health are all conducting various tests.

Hawaii News Now first reported on the cancer cluster last month, and at the time the state Health Department said it appeared to be a coincidence.

But after that report, DOH says officials visited station 12 with a hazardous materials team to gather information.

"They carry a number of different types of testing equipment so they went down, on their own, to test the environment, test the station, for different chemicals and radiation," said Bobby Lee, of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

The Health Department also says they are working with the UH Cancer Center to compile statistics and research.

And the state Industrial, Safety and Worker's Compensation Division and the Board of Water Supply have also been asked to join in the efforts to determine if station 12 poses any risks to the firefighters or their families.

Dr. Darryl Glaser, a pediatric oncologist at Kapiolani Medical Center, treated some of the children affected. Glaser also visited the fire house this past weekend to answer questions from those connected to station 12.

"To talk about the signs and symptoms and what the family should be worried about and what's normal pain," Glaser said.

He said most children have growing pains, but adds pain as a result of bone cancer is different. Pain from a tumor is much more localized and is consistent, while growing pains are worse at night but often disappear in the morning.

Glaser says cancer clusters happen all the time, but three from one work site is a concern.

"It'd be good to, no. 1, to make sure there's nothing there to link to it and, no. 2, to tell the families that there's nothing to find that would be causing this. You'd hate to say this is a coincidence and you certainly don't want to say that without checking it out," he said.

A decade ago, on Maui, two firefighters from the Paia station had children battling Ewing's sarcoma — a type of bone cancer — at the same time.

One of them, Jacquline Steves, died. The other, Jarren Patao, survived and has been in remission.

"I never made the connection," said Patao. "Our parents worked at the same station. It almost seems too difficult to believe that it's coincidence.  I personally think there's some kind of connection and it's worth looking into."

His father, Vernon Patao, said the kids were at the Ronald McDonald House together while they were undergoing treatment.

He said it was tough watching the children suffer.

The Pataos are now offering any help to the agencies researching this latest Waipahu cluster.

"Hopefully we can provide any type of information," said Vernon Patao. "That's the main focus of all of this is to bring light to something.  Maybe we can avoid later on."

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