Fears of Helensburgh child cancer cluster

A Helensburgh mother has sparked action from health authorities after her son became the sixth child in five years to be diagnosed with a blood cancer.

Diane Young went to NSW Health after her nine-year-old son contracted Burkitt's lymphoma.

"I am very concerned. All the cancers are under the same umbrella and all of them are in a stone's throw of each other," Mrs Young said yesterday.

"We need to have this situation looked into.

"I don't really know what I am looking for, peace of mind perhaps. I understand that children get cancer but I don't understand why so many from Helensburgh get cancer."

Mrs Young's son Matthew was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a rare but aggressive form of cancer, on August 10.

He has had eight operations and heavy bouts of chemotherapy to treat tumours in his kidneys, liver, abdomen and bladder.

"He is the sixth child in five years from Helensburgh to be diagnosed with either leukaemia or lymphoma," Mrs Young said.

"He is the second child to be diagnosed with Burkitt's. The other child was diagnosed

three years ago. The other four children, two passed away, were leukaemias."

Several of the families Ms Young refers to were contacted by the Mercury but preferred to remain anonymous.

Mrs Young said her son's cancer was "highly treatable".

"He most likely will live, however he is left at high risk for secondary cancers and I need to protect him," she said.

"This is not about finger pointing, it's about peace of mind and asking the question.

"There is a lot of fear in my mind and in the minds of hundreds of parents that there is a cause for this cluster of children that have cancer, and we are not sure what the cause is."

Mrs Young contacted NSW Health, other health organisations and politicians.

"I am not alone in my fears. These children attended the same school and we live in a coal mining town. It's a beautiful town with such beautiful, generous people and we want answers," she said.

"There are concerned parents forming a community group in relation to the amount of children being afflicted with cancers."

Yesterday, a NSW Health spokeswoman said the department was "looking into Mrs Young's concerns".

Heathcote MP Lee Evans said NSW Health took "all such health concerns very seriously".

"They are looking into the matter and they will make contact with the boy's mother," Mr Evans said.

Mrs Young also wrote to Peabody Energy, owner of the mine at Helensburgh, urging them to conduct soil and air testing at her property and at Helensburgh Public School.

A NSW Department of Education and Communities spokeswoman said the school was "happy to co-operate with any soil testing or air monitoring on the school grounds".

A Peabody spokeswoman said the company's environment and community manager met yesterday with Mrs Young to "ascertain how we may be able to assist in creating the best environment for Matthew's recovery".

The company was "currently monitoring dust" at the school, she said.

"The NSW Minerals Council is undertaking air studies and we are providing data from the school for that study," the spokeswoman said, adding a review was expected by the end of the year.

"We understand that there is genuine concern in the community about the impact of what we do and we take those concerns very seriously," she said.

"It is difficult to quantify the impact of any one industry in an area because there are so many contributors to our everyday health."

Air quality levels around mine sites were heavily regulated by standards adopted by the NSW government and set nationally under the National Environment Protection Measure, she said.

Air quality in the Illawarra is generally good, with relatively few numbers of exceedences across the region last year, according to an Environment Protection Authority report.

The Peabody spokeswoman said coal dust was not a major contributor to fine particle (2.5 microns and smaller) pollution in the Illawarra.

"There were no PM2.5 exceedences from the Wollongong monitor last year," she said.

Diane Young with son Matthew.

Diane Young with son Matthew.

Diane Young with son Matthew.

Diane Young with son Matthew.

Diane Young with son Matthew, 9.

Diane Young with son Matthew, 9.


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