FRUITHURST, Ala. (WIAT) — Eight people including four children in the Fruithurst community in Cleburn County were diagnosed with cancer, and the community believed the cases were related. Now, researchers have found something.
With the help of a rural sociologist and a geochemist at Auburn University and a geological scientist at the University of Alabama, Christy Hiett, the principal of Fruithurst Elementary School, and a host of volunteers tested 26 water samples and 16 soil samples. In the process, they discovered connections between the cancer cases and the environment.
“One of the patients did pass away in August, so of course that was very difficult,” said Hiett.
William Alred, one of the four boys diagnosed with leukemia in Fruithurst died on August 17, 2017. He was a recent graduate of Fruithurst Elementary and Hiett said losing him was difficult.
“I’ve dealt with the emotional aspect of this by immersing myself in the research,” she said.
Hiett has led the charge to find out why Alred and seven others in her community were diagnosed with cancer in the first place.
“Every spare minute that I have, I’m emailing with the professors, talking to them on the phone, planning out our next test. There’s people in the community that have helped tremendously with the testing too. We talk a lot through text, email, phone calls. It’s a constant,” she explained. “This research takes extensive amounts of time.”
Now, they want to share what they’ve found with the community.
“The point of the community meeting is to educate the community on EPA standards, what’s allowed in water, what shouldn’t be in water, what the levels mean, the things that we have discovered that made the connections,” said Hiett.
She said they want to present everything at once in person to the community so that the people who live here can ask questions directly and learn how to protect themselves.
Then the research will continue.
“It’s not the end just to make some discoveries … How do we correct it? And what do we do next to help prevent so much cancer in our area? Because there’s more than just 8 cases. Like I said, there’s other types of cancer. A lot. So are there any connections to those cancers also?” she explained.
Hiett plans to present the findings at a community meeting at Fruithurst Elementary School on January 30 at 6:00 p.m.