Three years ago, the Waycross community became the focus of national attention; a number of childhood cancers were reported.
Since then the community has been looking for answers.
“I wish somebody would tell us something,” said Mayor John Knox.
It is an issue that won’t go away and has gripped the heart of many. Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by the dreadful disease.
“If things are out there that need to be addressed to prevent the spread of cancer in children or anyone else, we want to know,’ said Knox.
Summer 2015, four children in the area were diagnosed with a sarcoma within two months of each other.
“I could not pronounce Rhabdomysarcoma,” said Cristy Rice.
It is a cancer so rare, only about 350 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Yet in this community of 15 thousand four cases within a 60 day period.
“I don’t know what caused it. I don’t know where it came from,” said Rice.
The four children are Lexi Crawford, Gage Walker, Harris Lott and Raylee Metts.
All but Metts were diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma. Metts diagnosis was Ewing Sarcoma, a different but related cancer.
“It was very difficult the whole two years,” said Rice, “we were on pure adrenaline the whole time.
Rice is Lexi Crawford’s mother. The family lives in downtown Waycross.
“We had hope that maybe my child is the child that would make it through,” she said, “nothing prepares you for that.”
Lexi fought the cancer into remission. Rice said her daughter was always positive and graceful.
“I just said Lexi how are you so graceful all the time? She said momma everyday that we wake up is a blessing,” said Rice.
The tenth grader had dreams and desires, but the cancer would return.
Her high school made an exception and allowed her to attend prom early. In May 2017 Lexi Crawford lost her fight, two years after her diagnosis.
“Me and her daddy sat there with her, you know we sat there with her until her heart quit, until she took her last breath, nothing prepares you for that, nothing,” said Rice.
Raylee Metts died October 2016. We don’t know the status of Harris Lott, but Gauge Walker’s cancer is in remission.
“They said the cancer he has could come back,’ said Ellen Walker.
Walker said the treatment took a toll on her grandson, seven year old gage.
“He has a hard time riding bikes, he falls a lot,” said Walker.
Gage doesn’t say much, he loves his video games. His favorite is Minecraft.
“I worry about it everyday,” said Walker, “every time he gets sick I worry.”
Since these four cases there have been more. What’s causing these cancers?
“I believe there is something in the air,” she said,” all these kids getting sick.”
There are three known sites with a history of pollution.
– Seven Out – a former waste treatment facility, now an EPA Superfund site.
– CSX Rice Yard complex, where pollution monitoring wells have been used for decades.
– Former Atlanta Gas and Light property toxic coal tar was produced on location.
“Everybody would like to know, ” said Walker, “if there is something to know we would like to know.”
March 2016, The Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry began its investigation, so far nothing.
“I know things go slow in government,” said Knox, “but this is health and life and I haven’t heard a word from anybody.”
The community wants answers.
“I don’t know if these answers that we want will help us or make us angry, we need to know,” said Rice.
The A.T.S.D.R. is specifically looking at the CSX Railyard and the former Atlanta Gas Light Plant.
A spokesperson said via email:
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is working with the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) through our Cooperative Agreement Program to conduct public health activities for two Waycross sites: 1) the CSX Rail Yard and 2) the former Atlanta Gas Light Manufactured Gas Plant.Each site has a draft report undergoing review at ATSDR to ensure the accuracy of the information. Each draft report will be released to the public for comments. All comments received during the comment period will be addressed in a final report for each site. We anticipate the final reports will be released to the public in 2018.
“Three years is a long time to be waiting,” said Walker.
For those who have watched their children endure the pain and the horror of Cancer, they would like to know if there is a problem in the community.
“I really really hope and I pray that no other family has to go through this. It is unfair,” said Rice.