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Health department: No cancer cluster in Johnson County

Laura Kennedy - Franklin, Ind. (WISH) -- The Indiana State Department of Health said an investigation shows there is no cancer cluster in Johnson County and that the water is safe.

Families of children who have battled cancer in the county have been raising concerns to health officials after what they felt were an abnormal number of cases.

The health department joined with other agencies to address the public Monday night in Franklin.

There have been 111 cases of cancer in people under the age of 20 between 1999 and 2013 in Johnson county, Indiana State Department of Health Deputy Health Commissioner Jennifer Walthall said.

Walthall told the parents there is nothing she can say to ease their pain after having a child with cancer, but that the investigation that began Nov. 17 doesn't show any specific cause, with the water supply or any other known factor in Johnson County.

Walthall said no cause was found and that the cases don't qualify as a cluster.

She said that's because a cluster is usually one type of cancer, which isn't the case here.

"Despite the fact that they are all tragic, they really do reflect the full breadth of how cancer manifests itself in children," Walthall said.

That was her message, along with other officials, for the more than 100 people who turned up for answers Monday night.

"We need to do something for sure if there really is a problem," Greenwood resident Judy DeGroot said.

"Well, I think with pediatric cancers it's probably hard to define what actually is the cause, and I think doctors would say the same thing... they don't really know what causes it, but if there's an environmental impact we definitely want to know about it," Johnson County resident Denise Strait said.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management reported that no known carcinogens are in the water near this area, which was a concern for residents.

"My biggest concern is the children that are growing up; we need good water for the kids," DeGroot said.

Walthall applauded the community for speaking up and asking for the investigation.

But she said the work into finding a cause for these pediatric cancers will be ongoing and that these cases didn't reveal any links.

"This isn't a cluster, and it won't be the thing that if we put all of our resources into it we're going to find the cure for all or the cure for any of these other cancers we have found, but it doesn't mean that our work is finished -- not even remotely," she said.

There has never been a known cancer cluster in the state of Indiana, despite 30 investigations into possible clusters.

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