'Fridley Cancer Cluster' Roundup: New Media Interest as Brockovich Visit Nears
KARE 11 interviewed state Rep. Carolyn Laine, and Fridley residents responded to Star Tribune story.
With consumer advocate Erin Brockovich planning a visit to Fridley a week from Wednesday, Twin Cities media outlets are again turning their spotlights on the city and to residents’ concerns about a possible linkage between cancer cases and environmental factors.
In a front page Sunday story, the Star Tribune cited state officials and national experts who said scientific proof is elusive. And at least one local TV network (KARE 11) is preparing a followup story by interviewing state Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL-50A) and Jason McCarty, the Fridley Cancer Cluster Facebook group founder.
Laine said she is pushing the state Department of Health to provide more data about Minnesotans who contract cancer in order to better track environmental risks.
“I cannot believe the statement that less than 10 percent of our cancers are related to environmental toxins,” Laine wrote on the Facebook group’s discussion board, alluding to a statement made by John Soler, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System. “I think that statement needs to be: ‘We only have scientific proof regarding 10 percent, but we learn everyday about the toxicity of something else.’”
Some members of the Facebook group took issue with the Star Tribune story, which they said they saw as throwing cold water on Fridley citizens’ concerns.
“The entire tone of the article seems to be all about deflating the ‘Hollywood Superstar’ claim to fame and fortune,” one member wrote in an 850-word post that argued the newspaper is missing the point. “Many Fridley folks are dying at young ages (many before age 50) with rare cancers and diseases, many with no smoking history or family history of cancer! This is why we are trying to track the actual people affected, where they lived, when they lived there, when they got cancer, what type of cancer, family history [and] lifestyle factors.”
McCarty, the Facebook group founder, said Monday at the Fridley Patch Facebook page that he was interviewed along with three other current and former Fridley residents for a KARE 11 story to air next week.
"One got a rare cancer at 23, the other's husband just passed [about a month ago] from a rare liver cancer and the other, a long time Fridley resident, saw pretty much her whole block become affected by cancer," McCarty wrote on Facebook.
McCarty said he looked forward to hearing the findings Brockovich presents at the June 27 town hall meeting.
“We press on for the truth—the good, the bad and even the ugly—so that those of us left may have a better chance to our own Fight Against Cancer’ battle, should we find ourselves in the same position in the future,” he wrote.
As of Monday at 4:30 p.m., more than 80 people had responded to a Facebook event that McCarty created to say they are planning to attend the town hall meeting.
In March 2012, the Minnesota Department of Health reported the official number of cancer cases in Fridley was 10 percent higher than the state average.
Upon further study, the department later revised that number to 7.6 percent and said the still higher-than-average number of cancer cases in Fridley was nothing more than a statistical anomaly, largely attributable to the area’s heightened smoking rates.
Here’s the full text of Laine’s post on the Fridley Cancer Cluster Facebook page:
Yesterday KARE 11 came over to my home and recorded an interview that will be a part of the piece they run (interviewing Jason and others) just before Erin Brockovich comes. My focus in that interview was on the need for more data to go into the MN Cancer Surveillance System. I am getting push-back from the Dept of Health, and I understand their concerns. Right now the basic data (including where the person lives at the time of diagnosis of cancer) is submitted by the doctor or the lab doing the diagnosis. When I ask for some additional information re occupational and residential data over time, it means the patients themselves will have to be engaged. Yet I think we ought to be able to figure this out. Let’s seek some basic data voluntarily on what city and state they have lived in and where they have worked.
My other hope is that we all become more aware of the effect chemicals can have on our well-being. No need for fear or blame. I don't see how there can be blame in this Fridley situation because no one knew, for instance, that TCE was dangerous when they degreased their hands in it after working on machinery. We just want enough awareness that steps are taken to deal with circumstances once we do know, and that we as a society consider the trade-offs to the use of chemicals we see as beneficial, staying awake to the impact they will have on our water, food, air, etc. and hence on the health of ourselves and our families.
I cannot just accept that it is okay that 50% of us will have a close encounter of some sort with cancer in our lifetimes. Or that it is our own fault somehow because we did not have a strong enough immune system to prevent it. I cannot believe the statement that less than 10% of our cancers are related to environmental toxins. I think that statement needs to be: we only have scientific proof regarding 10%, but we learn everyday about the toxicity of something else. And, yes, it is a complicated issue with many extenuating factors, but that does not mean we don't move ahead in paying attention, collecting more data, and doing ongoing research.
I will not be able to be at the June 27 meeting with Erin and Bob; I will be out of town. But my campaign manager John Haluska should be there; I look forward to a good report!
MN Representative Carolyn Laine