had been looking into for only about 24 hours as of early Friday afternoon.
But already Bob Bowcock said he had identified several underground “contamination plumes”—the result of pollutants released decades ago by industrial companies, spreading below the streets of Fridley.
“There are chemical plumes migrating like clouds of fog underground," Bowcock said. "They are moving and they are subject to weather conditions. They’re dynamic, they change, they offgas—that I’ve already verified.”
In the coming weeks, Bowcock plans to sort 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 compare Fridley’s contaminated soil with reports of cancer he receives from Fridley residents.
'Swamped' by Local Group's Work
“I’ve been swamped—we’ve never actually done it like this where you got that’s been up for a few months,” Bowcock said. “It’s going to take me 10 days just to get through all the documents I’ve got so far.”
State of Minnesota epidemiologist John Soler found that 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.
“Any time we see a 30 percent higher than average cancer rate, we question as to what might be going on,” Bowcock said.
Keep up with this issue by signing up for the Fridley Patch newsletter.
Bowcock said that while he had not found evidence that pollutants are causing cancer in Fridley, he was impressed by the community’s level of organization and struck by the large number of industrial waste sites in and around the city.
He said that Brockovich receives more than 2,500 requests for help a year and that Fridley has been placed among Brockovich's 100 most urgent “feet on the ground” cases.
Add a case you are familiar with to our .
“This one went straight to the level of the 100 because ... they’re well-organized, they’re very forthcoming with their data, there are several superfund sites and cleanup sites—all the things lined up,” he said. “Every time we have a community that’s as well-organized as this one, we’ll help them.”
Bowcock said that while he was not particularly worried about polluted drinking water in Fridley, his experience with other communities near Superfund sites led him to believe that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) could accumulate in the soil and later seep out as vapors, contaminating indoor air supplies.
“There’re a lot of basements in the community, and those are pathways for the volatile organic compounds and the other volatiles that were discharged in the area,” Bowcock said.
Bowcock said Brockovich’s organization will be reaching out to regulatory agencies to fill “data gaps” on the contamination plumes and cancer rates, and may do its own research.
In several weeks, Bowcock or Brockovich will visit Fridley to walk the streets for a first meeting with residents. (Bowcock said Brockovich will likely not be visiting Fridley for the first meeting—she is in Australia and has a busy travel schedule.)
“I’ll have a ton of notes from everything I’ve found in the public record, Bowcock said. “I’ll come out and meet in a hall or a restaurant, and we’ll all just sit there, and I will express to them what I’ve found, what questions that I’ve developed from the initial research, and we’ll map out a testing protocol.”