Tuesday, 27 June 2017 15:55

OM research pool expands, so does search for cause

Written by  Lee Sullivan
Two engineers are focusing on the Charlotte Douglas International Airport weather radar tower in association with ocular melanoma cases in the area. Two engineers are focusing on the Charlotte Douglas International Airport weather radar tower in association with ocular melanoma cases in the area.


HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Information gathering, counseling and lab work involved in the multi-pronged medical field search for clues concerning the statistically high occurrence rate of ocular melanoma (OM) in the Huntersville area are continuing, and now a separate scientific report stemming from months of on-site measurements and calculations has identified another possible path for further investigation.

Current research

Next month, at the Huntersville Town Board’s July 17 meeting, Dr. Michael Brennan plans to deliver a thorough update on the progress of the geospatial analysis, genetic counseling and blood test phases of the town-authorized, grant-funded medical research he and a steadily expanding national network of cancer and eye care specialists identified as the most efficient and potentially enlightening first layer of local OM exploration. Brennan’s report to town commissioners will also include the fact that the local research pool now includes 19 patients, representing more than a 50 percent increase in the number of cases since the Huntersville Task Force’s research began in April.

“People have reached out to us,” Brennan said. “Through the articles in the newspaper, social media discussions and other avenues, they learned about the research and made contact to tell us about their own cases or other people they knew.”

As a result, one of the new chores for Brennan — a retired ophthalmologist from Burlington who volunteered to take a look at the Huntersville situation in 2015 and has become the primary Task Force spokesman and organizer — is to determine which cases fall within the research parameters.

“We have turned away people from Statesville and Hickory because we have to draw the line somewhere,” Brennan said, adding that establishing timeline and geographical boundaries — cases dating back to 2000 with some type of link to a 15-mile circle around Huntersville — is necessary to keep the research properly focused. He added that a 20th patient may be added, but that soon the patient list must be finalized.

“It reaches a point where we have to say ‘this is it’ and move on with the research,” Brennan said. “We don’t want to compile information without the chance to analyze what we’ve got. We have a window established, and we have to be able to close the window, examine what we’ve found and determine the best next step.”

The ongoing efforts include the gathering of geographical data and background information about patients and families to incorporate into an intertwined geospatial analysis of all patients being prepared by John Cassels of Geodesy, Inc., in Pennsylvania. As part of that work — which with the additional patients may now take the rest of the year to complete — Brennan and an intern assisting Cassels were in town this week to help some patients complete their individual biographies.

Also, Brennan said that more than half of the current patient pool has completed or made appointments for genetic counseling sessions offered by the Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Cancer Center and blood/serum analysis performed by Invitae in Charlotte. And he added that tissue analysis and comparison studies conducted by Dr. Richard Carvajal at Columbia University are still scheduled to begin later this year.

Brennan said patients and families in the original research pool, as well as those added in recent weeks, have been cooperative in making and keeping appointments with the medical teams. And while he said some are struggling with the biographical assignments related to Cassels’ geospatial analysis, all have expressed a willingness to be active participants in all phases of the research.

Brennan said Rita Haus, a former Mt. Holly resident diagnosed with OM 10 years ago, is the latest addition to the patient cohort. She joins Michael Lowery, Stephen Durant, Alfred “Trey” Wills, Teresa Melvin, Ann Horn and Sue Hunt as those added to the pool since the local research efforts began.

Others included in the research are the families of the late Kenan Colbert Koll, Meredith Legg Stapleton, Bill Turbyfill and Joe King — four area residents who died as a result of OM — and OM patients Summer Heath, Vicki Kerecman, Courtney Benson, Brandon Mallory, Joe Wagner, Grace Grenga, Crystal Pridgen and Christy Jay.

Brennan added that efforts are also being made to learn more about Lawrence David Hall, a Davidson resident who died as a result of OM in 2007 at age 49 and whose case would fit the research parameters. Anyone with information about Hall or ways to reach Hall’s relatives (his wife was Kristi Hill Hall) is encouraged to send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Old theory, new data

While the mapped-out OM medical research methodology has been progressing, two engineers have spent months collecting readings and comparing analytics to explore the possibility that the impact of electromagnetic radiation in southwestern Huntersville — specifically the area in the vicinity of Hopewell High School and along Beatties Ford Road where many of the local OM patients had daily interactions — may warrant a closer examination.

Stewart Simonson, a chemical and environmental engineer from Georgia, has been engaged in the study of wildlife and human diseases linked to radiation from pulse microwave radar stations since 2012. And in August 2015, his theory that signals from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 20-year-old Charlotte Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) tower, located off Miranda Road just south of I-485 and west of Beatties Ford Road, could be contributing to the medical mystery in Huntersville was included in a series of Lake Norman Citizen articles about the local OM cases.

Simonson has been involved in radar signal impact studies in New York, Hawaii, Australia and elsewhere, and early this year he partnered with retired electrical engineer and Huntersville resident Pellervo Kaskinen to conduct a Huntersville-focused analysis of the pulsed signals from the powerful Charlotte TDWR.

The result of their collaboration is a 21-page abstract (Simonson is working on “Revision 10” of the report that has already experienced heavy readership on the website) that highlights the detection of reflected signals from the TDWR at ground level in multiple locations throughout southwestern Huntersville, including Hopewell High School, Long Creek Elementary and the Food Lion grocery store near the Beatties Ford Road/Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road intersection.

The stated goal of the research — initiated through e-mail correspondence early this year and conducted by Simonson and Kaskinen on their own time and at their own expense — is to “aid other researchers and the public investigating the high rate of ocular melanoma in the region.” The primary finding from their months-long effort, which involved an extensive e-mail exchange of insights and ideas, and plenty of failed experiments before Kaskinen acquired a spectrum analyzer and directional and omnidirectional antennas, is that the hundreds-of-times-per-second pulsed signals from the Charlotte TDWR — three-dimensional beams used to detect all-altitude weather conditions related to operations at Charlotte Douglas International Airport — are bouncing off of buildings, communication towers, trees, power lines and poles, athletic field light poles and possibly even passing airplanes and reflecting back toward the ground.

“Only a small percentage of the signal travels back to the tower,” Simonson said last week during a telephone conversation about his and Kaskinen’s report. “The signals go everywhere, they get scattered in all directions.

“The end result,” he continued, “is that there is a lot of power being put up in the atmosphere, and nobody really knows the long-term impact of it.”

His theory is that the erratic nature of the reflected signals contacting humans is a factor worth evaluating as part of the search for clues about the much higher-than-normal occurrence rate of the rare eye cancer in and around Huntersville.

“This is about the eyes,” Simonson said. “And, in my opinion, I think the eyes are especially susceptible to radiation exposure.”

To help explain the findings in the report,  titled “Areas of High Levels of 5.6 GHz Microwave Radiation Pollution in Huntersville, North Carolina,”  Simonson said it helps to think of the powerful, invisible pulses from the TDWR as tightly-focused, 1,000-foot-long light beams traveling at the speed of light 50 to 80 feet above your head. And then imagine how that light might bounce back off towers, buildings and everything else in its path.

“The radiation in the radar signal can’t be seen, but it reacts the same way,” he said. “And since light is a form of radiation, and eyes are  designed to detect light, the reflected signals could have a particular impact on the eyes.”

And the strength of the TDWR signal, Simonson said, is also a factor to consider.

“It’s designed to cover an area of up to 290 miles,” he said. “It has a maximum pulsed power of about 250,000 watts — that’s about 2,500 microwave ovens. The signal is pulsed, but if they left it on it would cook things.”

Simonson said the report is designed to raise awareness about the reflected signals, which he hopes will motivate the FAA and, perhaps, other agencies (such as the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees communications tower operations) to examine the TDWR’s current situation.

“The FAA’s own guidelines state that changes within a tower’s coverage area may trigger the need for a study to evaluate how the signal is impacted,” Simonson said. “And I’m pretty sure there are more towers, bigger buildings, taller trees and more people in that area than there were 20 years ago. The signals are there, Pellervo found them. Now we just hope to get someone — the FAA, the FCC, the town, the county, somebody — to check for themselves. See what they find.”

As for the medical research value of the report, Simonson said that is not his area of expertise.

“I can’t, I don’t want to, overstep my bounds on this,” he said. “We are engineers, not doctors or medical researchers. But I do believe this is an aspect worth studying.”

Brennan shared a similar point of view from a medical perspective.

“I can’t pretend to understand everything about it,” he said referencing the report. “It seems like they would want to get their findings corroborated, and if the agencies decide to do that, I can’t see how it would be a bad thing. It can’t hurt, not at all.”

1 comment

  • Comment Link Steve Runnion Saturday, 01 July 2017 07:49 posted by Steve Runnion

    How about someone just destroy the tower?? The government will NEVER accept responsibility and lawyers will drag it out for DECADES to make more money for themselves and none of the injured will ever receive compensation. If we the people ever want a solution, we will have to take matters into our own hands!!! The definition of insanity is waiting on the government or the legal system to fix the problem.


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