Cluster information must go public

The State Senate and House recently passed SB 235, a bill that would disclose specific information about the eight “cancer clusters” in the state recently identified by the Division of Public Health. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner has reportedly disagreed with releasing this information because she feels it violates confidentiality and privacy issues.

The governor makes a strong argument here. Releasing specific information about individuals stricken with cancer would be a violation of confidentiality. And it’s tricky for the government to release information on the clusters without getting into individual identifications.

However, this is information that needs to be made available to people.

State Rep. Bill Oberle said it is difficult to link the evidence of cancer in a geographical area to a cause — citing demographics, lifestyle and “the transient nature of many Delawareans” as factors. That’s true. But the argument could also be made that seeing a specific cluster of people afflicted with cancer should put up some warning bells.

Even though he was skeptical about the correlatation, Oberle is in favor of SB 235.

“Perhaps as an end result there will more emphasis placed ... at trying to get to the root cause [of these cancer clusters] in a factual way,” he said.

We, too, are in favor of releasing this information to the public — particularly with the solution authored by State Rep. Greg Hastings.

Hastings added an amendment to the bill that required color-coded information on a map to identify the clusters. This would show the clusters clearly, without focusing attention on an individual who would rather protect his or her right to privacy.

“When this information is released, I wanted people to be able to be able to easily identify the areas where they live, work and go to school,” explained Hastings.

And that’s what information is supposed to provide — data for individuals or groups to make up their own minds. We’re delighted that state lawmakers decided to push this bill forward, and hope the information helps someone.