Families of children who became mysteriously sick in the so-called "cancer cluster" of Clyde, Ohio, have hired a private environmental engineer to test for toxic residue in their homes. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation previously found dangerous compounds in the soil of a nearby area, but a direct link to the children's illnesses has not been established.

Like other cancer cluster areas, Clyde has an unusually high rate of cancer diagnoses. Since 1996, at least 37 children in the area have been diagnosed -- and all live within 12 miles of each other. According to local news outlet Toledo Blade, four of these children have died.

In the fall of 2012, the EPA found high levels of toxic, possibly cancer-causing chemical compounds in soil samples from Whirlpool Park, formerly a residential area owned by home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool Corp from the 1950s until 2008. Locals told Fox Cleveland affiliate WJW that "black sludge" had been dumped in the area during that time.

While tests of non-residential sites in the Clyde area continue, some families with sick children are ordering private tests. Joel Hebdon, a specialist in hazardous waste who previously worked under the direction of the EPA, has been hired to analyze dust particles in the attics of the families' homes.

Alan Mortensen, a lawyer for the families, told The Huffington Post in a phone interview that nine area homes will split the cost of Hebdon's tests. All nine families have children who have been diagnosed with or died from cancer in recent years.

"The one thing that everyone has shared is the same air," Mortensen said, referring to the high number of cancer cases in the small town. "If [the results are] reassuring, that's one thing they can check off the list."

Whirlpool Corp. in April will conduct an EPA-led assessment of soil and groundwater in Whirlpool Park. The company has said it had no idea there was contamination at the site until the EPA released its report in December 2012, the local Sandusky Register reported in November. Whirlpool has also offered to finance cleanup costs.

As recently as 2009, state agencies had conducted tests in the area and found that levels of contamination were not high enough to endanger the lives of nearby residents.

There have been no definitive answers as to what is causing such a high number of cancer cases among the area's children in the past 17 years.

Hebdon told HuffPost he started collecting dust samples in Clyde on Monday, and that he plans to send those samples to a lab by Thursday. He said he expects to hear results within two weeks.

People with tips or information relating to the investigation in Clyde should call the EPA's hotline at (312) 886 4359.

clyde cancer cluster

Environmental engineer Joel Hebdon taking dust samples from the attic of Warren Brown on Monday. Brown, who lives in Clyde, lost his 11-year-old daughter to cancer in 2009. (photo credit: Michael Wise)

clyde cancer cluster
Donna Hisey and her son, Tanner, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia two years after his sister Tyler contracted acute myeloid leukemia. Tanner's cancer went into remission in Dec. 2011. (photo credit: AP)

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