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A class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Army will likely happen within the next two months, according to a former pastor who has launched a media blitz to bring attention to a potential link between cancer and pollution at Fort Detrick in Frederick.
Retired pastor Randy White of Hawaii, a native of Frederick, sponsored a meeting at Morningside Inn in Mount Pleasant on Saturday for anyone who lived near Detrick and has cancer, or has someone in their family fighting cancer, drawing close to 300 people to hear more about his project, "Fighting for Frederick: Our City, Our Health."
The effort is a project of the Kristen Renee Foundation named after White's daughter, who died from brain cancer in 2008 at the age of 30. Kristen Renee White Hernandez, her sister Angie Pieper and their mother Debbie Cross lived near Detrick's "Area B" for nearly 10 years.
Kristen's sister was diagnosed with stomach tumors, and her mother has renal cancer.
Area B, a 399-acre site on base, was previously used as a dumping ground for solvents and other biological waste. In 2009, Area B was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List, making it a priority for ongoing environmental cleanup efforts.
One of the mission's of the Kristen Renee Foundation is to identify people who have died or are living with cancer and live or lived near Area B.
Baseball legend Daryl Strawberry topped the list of speakers Saturday, saying he is a good friend to White and knows what it is like to deal with cancer. Strawberry was diagnosed twice with colon cancer, once in 1998 and again in 2000. The last time, he had to have a kidney removed.
"Randy [White] does his homework. ... I know and share his pain," Strawberry told the crowed. He added that while he is not familiar with Frederick, he has reviewed some of White's findings, and called the incidences of cancer "very, very strange."
White has said previously that if state and federal agencies don't move fast enough to clean up Area B, a lawsuit is in the offing. After Saturday's meeting, White said his attorney Chris Nidel, who has acted as a consultant on the pending lawsuit, texted him with this message: "We are going forward with the lawsuit."
"We have been posturing for a lawsuit," White said in an interview. "We have enough evidence now, enough names and enough scientific evidence, that if Detrick doesn't want to negotiate and work with us, there's only one direction to go in."
Though he said Saturday that his group had called Detrick officials every day for weeks leading up to Saturday's meeting to invite them, no one showed up to represent the base.
Chuck Gordon, a spokesman for Fort Detrick, did not return an e-mail and phone call on Monday.
The information White's group collected from more than 300 cancer victims and their families will help Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, director of the Frederick County Health Department, work on a cancer cluster study with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Brookmyer was one of several speakers at Saturday's meeting, and told those gathered that the state is looking at those who live or lived within a one-mile radius of Area B for the purposes of the study.
"We will continue to share information with the state to help the investigation," Brookmyer said.
In an interview, White said that his staff is vetting that information to avoid redundancies and to ensure that all data presented to the state is accurate. He also stated that his own scientific experts should have results from their own testing samples of soil, vapor, water and air in two weeks.
"What we are getting so far is astonishing," he said.
Diane Rice, 55, of Myersville is in remission with breast cancer, but the cancer and sickness on her mind at Saturday's meeting wasn't her own.
She married into the Rice family, she said, where nearly 25 people across four generations have either died of a rare leukemia or developed stomach and brain tumors. The Rice family, she said, used to farm just outside Area B.
She said she is trying to piece together what happened in her husband's family to be a voice for those who have died. If White pursues a lawsuit, her family will likely be involved.
"I'd like answers, for one," she said. "And I don't think we should have to pay for testing and related health care. Detrick should have to pay for that."