Indeed, the story is typical of the genre of scary, but scientifically baseless "public health" stories:
The area 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia is home to several Superfund toxic cleanup sites and a power plant fired by waste coal, though the government report stresses not enough data exists to trace the cancer cluster to a specific source.
Given that "Superfund" sites are just about everywhere, and coal-fired plants (waste coal! even scarier!) are just about everywhere also, it's not surprising that you would find such a coincidence. But use the word "admit," and suddenly it looks like a government cover-up has been exposed, and the hysteria can proceed to transform a coincidence into an Industrialized Conspiracy of Death!
The disease in question, by the way, which the story actually never explains, is polycythemia vera, which, being a cancer, is the result of genetic mutations that can be brought on by all sorts of environmental and genetic factors. Nobody knows the exact mechanism. Maybe it really is brought on by the presence of a power plant, or some other unidentified chemical. I doubt it. (Wouldn't PV be far more common than it is if coal smoke were the cause?) But the existence of a cluster of 131 cases in a nation of 350,000,000 people is such a minute data point as to be absolutely irrelevant and distracting.
This world would be a better place if reporters would stop playing epidemiologist.
Update: The Agency for Toxic Substances And Disease Registry notes that "[the] criteria used to diagnose PV have changed with the discovery of the JAK2 mutation. The JAK2 test has only been available to community physicians since 2006. Also, there is incomplete reporting to the registry because currently PV is only reported by hospitals and not all PV patients are hospitalized." And an article in the journal Blood not long ago noted significant differences in the diagnostic testing for PV in different regions of the country, with the physicians in the northeast "utiliz[ing] commontests in the diagnosis of PV" more commonly than physicians elsewhere. It is entirely possible that these numbers are an artifact of diagnostic practice (perhaps doctors in Pennsylvania, eager to use better PV diagnostic tools, only recently obtained those tools?)
I may be the last person in America who can honestly say that John Milton is my favorite poet. Certainly he is my favorite Christian libertarian. Slate has a very nice article about him and his influence, both political and rhetorical, on American politics:
Milton's genius, and his particular, infectious kind of eloquence, combines two kinds of energy, seemingly alike but explosive together: an individualistic ideal of freedom and the syntactical variety of the Latin language. When Milton imposes that variety on English, which lacks Latin's inflected endings, he introduces new emotional registers, amazing patterns of repetition and vocality.
The new issue of Preservation magazine has a cover story about the reopening of Montpelier, James Madison's home in Orange, Virginia. I was there 15 years ago and saw it before the restoration began; I was horrified by what had been done to the place by subsequent owners, and delighted when the National Trust for Historic Preservation decided to restore it to its Madison-era appearance. Then two years ago I was there to see it under major reconstruction. I'm proud to have contributed to the efforts a little.
To me, this sums up the entire Democratic Party: "Delegates from Michigan and Florida will have full voting rights at the national convention this week, despite violating party rules by holding early primaries. The convention credentials committee voted yesterday to restore full voting rights..." The entire party really is like the parent who constantly threatens the child with discipline, but then never follows through.... Oh, you chose to smoke knowing of the risks? Well, okay, we'll pay your bills anyway. Oh, you chose not to pursue an education and get a job and now you're homeless? Well, okay, we'll make a government program for you. Oh, you got into a mortgage you couldn't afford because you made unwise decisions? That's okay, we'll bail you out. Oh, your country chose to foster terrorism and encourage citizens to murder innocents with suicide bombs? Well, okay, we'll negotiate anyway....