Researchers share results of investigation into Iredell County cancer cluster

Questions are lingering for hundreds of neighbors in Iredell County who want to know the reason behind a cancer cluster.

Researchers from Virginia Tech tested water samples from almost 800 homes, and presented their findings on Thursday. 

It's important to note the results personalized to each home, but generally speaking researchers found nothing out of the ordinary. But the question remains: Why is there a cancer cluster?

“I was diagnosed with a tumor in my lung about a year ago,” said Barbara Megendy. Her doctors said the cancer was not from cigarettes, so she wants to know where it came from. “That’s my concern, is it related to water?” 

RELATED: Iredell County leaders support Senate bill to research 'cancer clusters'

Megendy is one of 786 people who sent water samples to researchers investigating what’s in the well water in Iredell County. The area has seen an alarming spike in thyroid cancer cases, about twice the rate in North Carolina. 

Researchers from Virginia Tech and UNC Chapel Hill sent personalized results to neighbors in the mail. Thursday night they held a meeting to answer questions and discuss treatment options, such as getting a filter. 

“The goal of the meeting was to get information into our citizen’s hands so they can be empowered and informed on their own health,” said NC Senator for Iredell and Yadkin County, Vickie Sawyer. “It was just a focus on, ‘what is the water quality in our area?’” 

Researchers emphasized each result is different but overall there was nothing out of the ordinary with the elements found in Iredell County water samples they tested. 

“Most of the ones they found that were elevated were vanadium and chromium-6,” said Brady Freeman, Iredell County Environmental Health Director.  “There’s no color or texture or anything like that. When you run the water, it’s not like you would see red or brown which would be iron. You cannot see those two things.” 

“We see those elements elevated all over North Carolina, not just in areas that have coal ash,” Sawyer added. 

As far as treatment options, Barbara Megendy says she is looking at different filers: “We are getting a filter system put in but I’m wondering if the filter system is going to handle the C-6 and the vanadium.” 

Board of Health member Rob Bundy says the study saved the county a lot of money: “They did it all for free, saved the county thousands and thousands of dollars.” 

But still, leaders don’t know what’s causing the cancer cluster. “Please don’t think just because there’s not an answer that we are giving up,” said Sawyer. “because this is just one of the beginning steps in a long journey we are going to continue to pursue to get our answers.”

Another meeting is set for May 9th at South Iredell High School to discuss thyroid cancer cases and coal ash facilities.