Delaware House Approves Bill to Release Cancer Data

June 20, 2008

Delware lawmakers on Tuesday blasted Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s administration for withholding cancer data from the public, unanimously passing a bill directing state officials to provide more information.

Cancer information would be made available to health professionals and to the public as census tract data, which supporters said would allow people to determine the prevalence of cancer in areas where they live and work.

The legislation was introduced in response to the administration’s refusal to make detailed cancer data available to the public or outside researchers, despite the discovery of several cancer clusters scattered throughout the state.

State health officials last year confirmed the existence of a cancer cluster near the Indian River power plant in Millsboro, a coal-fired facility that is one of the Delaware’s worst polluters. In April, officials announced high incidences of cancer had been found in eight of Delaware’s 27 census county divisions, areas that range in size from about 6,100 people to 84,000 people.

The state has said that the county divisions with cancer clusters include Millsboro in Sussex County, six areas in New Castle County, and one in Kent County, but residents have been stymied in their attempts to get more detailed information.

“For people in state government to make it difficult for people in Delaware to get this information, to me is just inexcusable,” said House Minority Leader Robert Gilligan, D-Wilmington, a cancer survivor.

Administration officials have cited privacy concerns as the reason for the secrecy, even though the attorney general’s office has said more detailed information could be released.

House Majority Leader Richard Cathcart, D-Middletown, said the administration’s refusal to release information just makes citizens more suspicious of state government.

“We shouldn’t need this legislation, quite frankly,” said Cathcart, adding that anyone blocking the release of the information “should be ashamed of themselves.”

Minner, a Democrat, declined to respond, saying she needed to read the legislation — which is being championed by her own lieutenant governor and would-be successor, John Carney Jr. — before commenting.

The Democratic-led Senate unanimously passed the bill last month, but must approve a House amendment directing that census tract maps with cancer data be posted on the Internet before the legislation can be sent to Minner.

Under the bill, information by census tract and cancer type would be part of the public record, unless the information would identify any individual. In such an instance, state officials could combine data among contiguous census tracts, but only as needed to protect patient confidentiality.

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