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May 2001 update - compiled by Helane Shields - prepared for WWW by ESRA

Date: November 26, 2001
From: Len Martin

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June 19, 2000 - The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health's attorney Grace R. Schuyler (Senior Counsel) responded to Tony's mother in a letter refusing to release information to her and stating the Department of Health had very limited involvement in the investigation on Tony's death. Ms. Schuyler continued to stress that any further inquirers would have to be directed to PA DEP. Sections of the letter go as follows: "Dear Mrs. Robertson, Your letter of May 16, 2000 and the accompanying consent for release of information addressed to Mr. Joel H. Hersh, Director of the Bureau of Epidemiology has been referred to me for review and response. The Consent for Release of Information is not appropriate in this instance. Typically, the Department of Health requires a consent authorizing Department of Health personnel to release records to the person or their legal representative if the Department of Health has records relating to medical examinations, tests or other health related measures for that particular individual. In this instance, the involvement of the Department of Health and specifically the Bureau of Epidemiology, was very limited and occurred a substantial time after the unfortunate death of your son. The Department of Health was involved in a limited capacity in reviewing materials relating to the investigation conducted by and/or through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection." "The questions that have been presented to Mr. Hersh in the section entitled "Information Requested" are in appropriate for further discussion by him or the Department of Health."

PA DEP apparently based their entire conclusion on the theory that the pathogen that caused Tony's death is not known to be in biosolids. However, EPA microbiologist Dr. David Lewis said "Medical records provided to me by the parents of Tony Behun state that the final diagnosis was "Acute sepsis" with a "questionable etiology." In layman's terms, this means that Tony died from a rapid-onset bacterial infection of his blood, and that doctors could not determine how he picked up the infection. Hospital lab reports identified Staphylococcus aureus as the cause of the infection. This is one of the pathogens listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as posing a public health threat from biosolids." Dr. Lewis said "Tony's strain of Staph appeared to be a mean hospital variety which was resistant to several antibiotics Tony was treated with."

Dr. Lewis sent an E-Mail message to Dr. Joel Hersh of the Pennsylvania Department of Health stating: "An otherwise healthy 11-year-old boy rides his motorbike across a mining area ankle deep in sewage sludge." "Within hours he develops lesions on an arm and a leg, runs a high fever within two days, and is dead in eight days from Staph aureus septicemia. It shouldn't be surprising that covering a child with wet caustic sewage sludge (containing strong irritants to skin, e.g., lime, ammonia, organic amines) is likely to give him a superficial Staph infection that may progress to septicemia. (Some of the Staph comes from what gets flushed down toilets in hospitals where people are being treated for virulent strains of the organism, and what goes into sewer lines from mortuaries where they drain all the bodily fluids.)"


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