In 2018, as part of an analysis of the state's cancer registry data, the Iredell, North Carolina County Health Department confirmed that two ZIP codes in the Mooresville, North Carolina area had 110 observed cases of papillary thyroid cancer from 2012 to 2016 — more than double the number expected.
According to the American Cancer Society, thyroid cancer develops in the tiny, butterfly-shaped gland that regulates the body’s metabolism and is typically diagnosed in women in their 40s and 50s. However, in Mooresville, cases of thyroid cancer were being discovered in children as young as 16 years old.
The Iredell County Health Department had begun looking into cancer rates, including for thyroid, in late 2017 after a resident requested a report. In June 2018, after analyzing the data, health officials confirmed that the state’s cancer registry observed 191 cases of thyroid cancer from 2012 to 2016, almost double what was expected. Statewide, 11.6 thyroid cancer cases were diagnosed per 100,000 people, while in Iredell County the rate was 21.8 cases. And in those two Iredell County ZIP codes that include Mooresville, where officials expected about 46 cases of thyroid cancer, they observed 110 cases.
In 2017, a study was published in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention revealing that thyroid cancer, once relatively rare, is now the eighth most commonly diagnosed cancer among women worldwide — as access to testing becomes more common and available. For papillary thyroid cancer, which almost 90 percent of the cases in southern Iredell County fall under, the known risk factors are obesity and childhood exposure to certain radiation.
And while radiation is certainly not the only factor associated with papillary thyroid cancer, what stands out in the Mooresville, North Caroling area, are the two, coal-fired power plants that border the area. One of these plants, the Marshall Steam Station plant, stores 21 percent of North Carolina’s coal ash, including approximately 16.8 million tons in an unlined basin — where it is allowed to seep into the ground and groundwater. In 2018, the state Department of Environmental Quality determined that 1 million cubic yards of coal ash — more than in any other area of the state – was used to fill in roads and commercial development projects in Mooresville over a six year period from 1995 through 2001.
Coal ash is widely understood in the scientific community to contain an extensive list of groundwater, drinking water air “contaminants” - the most highly publicized of which include mercury, lead and arsenic, that can contaminate waterways. But what is less publicized about coal ash is its potential for high radioactivity. A Duke University study in 2015 found levels of radioactivity in samples of coal ash from the largest U.S. coal-producing basins — the Illinois, Appalachian and Powder River basins — five times higher than in normal soil.
While research into a causal link between Mooresville’s coal ash contamination and its outbreak of thyroid cancers continues, Ohio Valley residents should take note that we live in an area that contains one of, if not the highest concentration of coal fired power plants in the country. If you believe that you may have contracted thyroid cancer from exposure to coal ash, you should contact an experienced law firm right away to explore your options.