Brockovich Investigator: Fridley's 4 Hazardous Waste Sites 'Extremely Unusual'
Brockovich's environmental investigator has four researchers looking into public records related to Fridley's Superfund sites.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) counts four Fridley locations—FMC Corp., Kurt Manufacturing Co., Fridley Commons Park Well Field and the Naval Industrial Reserve Ordnance Plant—on its Superfund National Priorities List (NPL), the agency’s catalogue of the most hazardous of the nation’s hazardous waste sites.
Bob Bowcock, consumer advocate Erin Brockovich’s environmental investigator, has been researching for the past week whether Fridley’s elevated rates of cancer could be due to industrial pollutants. He said it was "extremely unusual" for one small town to have four NPL sites within its borders.
“I’ve never seen a town with four of any size outside of Chicago or New York or L.A.,” he said.
There are 1,302 Superfund sites in the United States that fall under the NPL designation and 25 in the state of Minnesota. (There are more than 40,000 Superfund sites nationally.)
Bowcock has assigned four researchers to Fridley’s NPL sites in an effort to conduct a cumulative analysis of how the contamination plumes have interacted and migrated below the streets of Fridley.
Fridley’s NPL sites seem to have been “evaluated in a vacuum,” Bowcock said: He has been unable to find any state or federal research into the complexities caused by having multiple contamination sites within Fridley’s small geographic area.
He said the variations in the community’s seasonal water usage and the chemical similarities of the Fridley sites’ pollutants are among the challenges his team is facing.
“Pour a glass of water on the table, put about 40 straws in it, and half the straws move at half the rate half the time of the year, and, at the same time, you have the migrating snowmelt and spring rain pushing down into the aquifer, moving the chemicals in various directions,” Bowcock said. “There’s a complexity of all the things going on simultaneously.”
A community response
Bowcock is sorting through public record—the history of the superfund sites, the quantity of the chemicals, the length of the plume, the depth of the plume—and comparing Fridley’s contaminated soil with reports of cancer he receives from Fridley residents.
The Fridley Cancer Cluster Facebook group now has more than 1,800 members, and Bowcock has been leveraging the interest to gather data, asking the group’s members to email him (he gives out his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org) with diagnoses, addresses and family history.
“This community has really amazed me,” Bowcock said. “They have got it together like none I’ve ever worked with before—I’m getting an email data set every three to four minutes, 24 hours a day.”
State of Minnesota epidemiologist John Soler released data last week showing that Fridley’s cancer rates were 10 percent higher than the state average between 2000 and 2009, with lung cancer rates as high as 48 percent among women, according to data from the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System.
Soler said he expects the 10 percent figure may be an overestimate and cautioned that it was difficult to draw a correlation between elevated cancer rates and environmental factors.