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Amid Cancer Concerns, CMS Plans Environmental Tests at Hopewell High

David Boraks
Sue and Kenny Colbert of Huntersville lost their daughter, Kenan, to ocular melanoma in 2014. They spoke to Lake Norman Chamber members Friday.

CMS has hired a Charlotte company to do environmental tests around Hopewell High School in Huntersville. The testing comes as families and local officials puzzle over a large number of cases of eye cancer in recent years.

Ocular melanoma is extremely rare, affecting about 5 of every 1 million people annually. About 2,500 are diagnosed every year in North America. The disease mainly affects older people, more men than women. A dozen cases have been identified in recent years in Huntersville, a town of about 50,000. That includes  several girls who graduated from Hopewell.

Town commissioner Rob Kidwell told families and business leaders about the planned testing Friday at a meeting organized by the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce at Novant Huntersville Medical Center.

Rob Kidwell

“We may not find a smoking gun. I’m not looking to say wow, we’ve found the cause. But what we are collecting for the first time, in the many years that these families have gone through this, is actual data,” Kidwell said.

The firm Hart Hickman will test for toxic materials in air, water, soil, equipment and building materials. They’ll also interview residents and look for clues in historical records about past property uses.

[UPDATE Tuesday, April 19, 2016:  County and CMS officials have clarified that testing will have two phases. Phase I, which has begun, won't include soil, air or water tests, but will include surveys to determine what kinds of testing should be done in a second phase.]  

Families of cancer victims have pushed for the study for years. Kenny Colbert lost his 28-year-old daughter, Kenan, to the disease in 2014. She graduated from Hopewell.

“Kenan was a remarkable young lady. She was a child that every family would yearn to have. And we lost her to a disease that is just a mystery,” Colbert said.

A CMS spokeswoman says initial observations have begun around the school. A  report is expected in about six weeks. 


June 2015, N.C. Department of Health & Human Services, “Ocular melanoma investigation in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.” – State officials reviewed cancer registry data and determined there was no “cancer cluster” in Huntersville. The study included a questionnaire to affected families, but no testing.

2014 “Mecklenburg County Response to Huntersville Families.”

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.