TALLEVAST -- The procession began Friday night and continued Saturday morning as residents of this tiny community met with Dr. Janvier Gasana to fill out a lengthy health survey and sign releases allowing him to examine their medical records.
Gasana and his team have been gathering the health information for more than a month. He was back in town over the weekend to make sure he gathered as many of the medical releases as possible and to get the last few health surveys from people still living in Tallevast. He said he had a better than 90 percent success rate by Saturday afternoon. He also gathered copies of death certificates and permission from family members to look at the medical records of those who had died.
Gasana said he is still trying to gather information from people who have moved from Tallevast. His goal is to get a thorough health record of everyone who has lived in the community. So far he has completed more than 170 health surveys and gotten the necessary medical releases.
He said so far he has had good luck getting information from families who have moved away from Tallevast.
“They know the things that have affected the community and they want to help,” he said.
The survey includes questions about how long each person has lived in Tallevast, their health conditions, their lifestyle, including physical activities and diet. Once he has those surveys, he’ll gather medical records so he can compare and analyze the information. His team will also compare the data against other similar communities.
Ultimately he will determine whether the health surveys and medical records indicate abnormal rates of cancers or other diseases within Tallevast.
Gasana, a specialist in environmental and occupational medicine, worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago, where he worked on issues relating to children’s exposure to pesticides and other toxins.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is funding the study and approved Gasana’s health study proposal. The analysis must be completed by the end of June.
Because Gasana still has to get medical records from dozens of doctors’ offices, meeting the deadline could be challenging if those offices don’t respond quickly.
“I will do whatever it takes to get the study done by the end of June,” Gasana said Saturday. “If I have to, I will go to the doctors’ offices and beg them for the records because we are running out of time.”
Once he has the records, Gasana said it will not take long to confirm the reported illnesses.
Wanda Washington, vice president for FOCUS, the activist group that sprang up in Tallevast after residents accidentally discovered the contamination three years after it was reported to environmental officials, said they just want to know the truth. Residents there have been frustrated for years and have monitored and challenged proposals for remediation and every aspect of clean-up in an attempt to protect the community from any potential harm.
Their distrust is based on the community’s history with the government and the company that discovered the contamination.
Lockheed Martin found soil and groundwater contamination after it purchased the property from Loral American Beryllium plant on Tallevast Road. While the company reported the contamination to the county and state in 2000, as required by law, it never reported it to the residents drawing drinking water from the community’s contaminated wells. FOCUS activists helped change the law to make sure that never happens to another community in Florida.
Washington and FOCUS President Laura Ward have spent countless hours gathering information about the people who have died of cancer, chronicling the latest hospital stay, surgery and unusual illness.
On Saturday they were on their phones and walking door-to-door to gather the last of the residents who had not yet completed surveys or turned in releases.
The two women want to make sure that no one who was affected by the contamination goes undocumented in the survey.