Environmental testing possible at school after eye cancer cluster

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — After months of public pressure for action, it appears environmental testing for possible links to a rare cancer is coming for Hopewell High School in Huntersville.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the Mecklenburg County Health Department, Huntersville leaders and County Commissioner Jim Puckett recently met to discuss ongoing concerns about possible causes of a rare eye cancer that Eyewitness News has been investigating for nearly two years.

Puckett says all parties agreed to pursue testing on and around the Hopewell campus. Nearly a dozen people who attended Hopewell or lived or worked nearby have been diagnosed with ocular melanoma, which normally strikes just five people in a million.

“We all came to an understanding that it is in the community’s best interest for us to do testing,” Puckett said. “CMS has agreed to allow us to do that. CMS has even said they would be willing to pay for that.”

Commissioner Rob Kidwell, who also attended the meeting, has been pushing for an independent third party to test air, water and soil around the Hopewell campus. He too said there was consensus in the meeting to move ahead with testing and allow County Health Director Marcus Plescia to help identify potential laboratories to conduct the tests.

Plescia said he’s already working on that and also trying to identify what, specifically, any environmental testing would involve.

“Ocular melanoma, we don’t know a lot about what causes it.  So one of the things we’re challenged by is what do we test for?” Plescia said. “I would think this will move along pretty quickly.”

CMS told Channel 9 that it took part in a meeting with elected officials and public health leaders to collaborate on appropriate next steps and will take direction from state and county health officials.

Vicki Kerecman, who has lost the sight in one eye after being diagnosed with ocular melanoma five years ago, said she’s happy to see action.

“It definitely makes me feel better to know that the community is trying to step up to find out if there’s anything contributing to our disease,” she said.

Huntersville leaders said they plan to meet with local families impacted by ocular melanoma to get input on what testing should look for.

Puckett said even if nothing is found, testing is still important to the community.

“We do not anticipate finding anything, but we at least want to confirm there is nothing and mark that off the list,” he said.

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