Fridley Facebook Group Founder: I’m at Risk for Cancer
His 450-member Facebook group has drawn Erin Brockovich's interest.
Jason McCarty—the man behind the "Fridley Cancer Cluster" Facebook group that impressed environmental activist Erin Brockovich—moved to Fridley as a toddler, and spent his childhood in a home near East River Road and Mississippi Street NE.
“As kids, me and all my buddies would tube down [Rice Creek] from Old Central [Avenue] to Locke Lake, and we’d find 80-gallon drums, down there in the mud, who knows what they were,” he said. “I used to go fishing down in Rice Creek and the Mississippi in the ‘70s and find deformed carp with two tails, multiple fins.”
Now 42, McCarty is the organizer of the Fridley Cancer Cluster Facebook group and is convinced of a link between the heavy industry, pollution and Superfund sites that surrounded his youthful stomping grounds and the numerous cases of cancer that have afflicted his family, friends and neighbors.
He started the Facebook group in January after he noticed that seemingly everyone he knew either had cancer or knew someone with a diagnosis.
“One of my friends, 50 years old, perfectly healthy, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs—brain cancer, died," he said. "So I got thinking, my mom was diagnosed in, I believe, ‘01 with breast cancer with no history in the family, so I’m like, ‘That’s a little weird.’”
McCarty, who now lives in Blaine and works for Costco, started asking around his old neighborhood.
"My neighbor behind me—thyroid cancer in his 20s, father developed prostate and colon cancer,” he said. “When it was all said and done, I added it up: I got about 25 people out of my old neighborhood with different forms of cancer within a two block radius—and that’s just that I know of.”
McCarty’s Facebook group now has more than 450 members, and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich is launching an investigation.
State epidemiologist John Soler found that Fridley’s cancer rates were 10 percent higher than the state average between 2000 and 2009, with lung cancer rates significantly higher, according to data from the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System.
McCarty said he is certain the elevated cancer rates are due to environmental causes.
“I know what the cause is: It’s from all the different manufacturers,” he said. “You have FMC [now BAE Systems in Fridley], who used to use TCE and dump it in the ground—that’s a superfund cleanup site.
“Kurt Manufacturing used TCE to degrease their machines. I have several people whose parents worked there and [contracted] cancers.
“We have the old telephone pole treatment facilities that used to be on Old Central and Rice Creek that used to treat their poles with [creosote and pentachlorophenol].”
While Soler said some of the elevated figures are “statistically significant,” he also said he does not believe there is proof environmental factors are to blame and that resident relocation can make drawing conclusions difficult.
“We’re not going to be able to tell you whether the cancers in this community are caused by polluted waters or not,” Soler said. “We have a person’s address at the date where they’re diagnosed, nothing else.”
Going Back Further in Time
McCarty said that Soler’s data does not tell the whole story.
“[Soler’s] data is correct for the time period he’s using, but it’s not correct for the time period that is actually affected,” McCarty said. “Let’s go back to the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and find out how many of those people are actually affected who may not live there anymore.”
McCarty said he is working with Erin Brockovich’s office to gather detailed data, and Bob Bowcock, Brockovich’s environmental investigator, has asked residents to email him at email@example.com.
“I don’t want any, ‘So-and-so across the street got this,’” McCarty said. “I want specifics: What was the address? What was the year of diagnosis? Who was it? And what type?”
Doesn't Want to Scare Current Residents
McCarty said he didn’t think the current danger of exposure was particularly high.
“I don’t want to scare the current residents that there’s an issue,” he said. “This is stuff that happened 20 years ago.”
But he said seeking more information had a great personal importance.
“Everyone will say, ‘You’re litigious’ and everything. But no, I want to see people who grew up there being made aware of what actually happened, how we were impacted, because I’m at risk to develop a cancer I probably shouldn’t have now.”