The E.P.A. confirmed that the chemicals were present near the Franklin site and said that fewer than 10 of 37 homes it had tested had potential air quality issues. The agency said its testing was continuing and that, if necessary, homes would be fitted with devices to clean the air.
Declaring TCE “carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure,” the Obama administration had sought to restrict two of its riskiest uses, as a stain remover and as a degreaser, and had marked it for further review, potentially to ban the chemical altogether. It had also moved to strengthen cleanup rules for hundreds of sites nationwide believed to be contaminated.
But at the urging of industry groups, the Trump administration has stalled some of those moves. In 2017 it indefinitely postponed the proposed bans on risky uses, leaving as many as 178,000 workers potentially exposed. It also scaled back a broad review of TCE and other chemicals so that it would exclude from its calculations possible exposure from groundwater and other forms of contamination — the problems present in Franklin.
In Johnson County, a parents’ group co-founded by Mrs. Rhinehart, If It Was Your Child, has traced at least 58 childhood cancer cases since 2008. At 21.7 cases of pediatric cancer per 100,000 children, Johnson County’s rate puts it in the 80th percentile among counties nationwide, according to data for 2011-2015 from the National Cancer Institute. Both the national and Indiana average are fewer than 18 pediatric cancers per 100,000 children.
“You don’t expect to see so many cancers in a relatively small community,” said Dr. Paolo Boffetta, professor in environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Even so, he stressed that there was little research linking childhood cancers to TCE. “This doesn’t mean an association doesn’t exist,” he said. “But studies have not been able to confirm it.”
Motria Caudill, a scientist at the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which investigates environmental hazards, said at a community meeting in Franklin in November that it was still too early to draw conclusions. Her agency was still working with others, she said, “just to see what is going on.”