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Erin Brockovich's Fridley Probe Costing Six Figures, Giving Investigator 'Ridiculous Brain Cramps'

Brockovich will tour Fridley's Superfund sites on June 25 or 27, then hold two-hour, townhall-style meeting.

Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich's probe of pollution in Fridley has already spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars," ahead of a local visit that is now set for either June 25 or 27, according to her environmental investigator.

When , she will tour the city’s Superfund sites before holding a two-hour evening town hall meeting, said Bob Bowcock, her environmental investigator.

At that meeting she will hear residents’ concerns about Fridley’s cancer cases and present her interpretation of historical and anecdotal data collected in the last couple months from citizens and regulatory agencies, Bowcock said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Brockovich and Bowcock will visit Fridley on either Monday, June 25, or Wednesday, June 27, Bowcock said.

Six Figures Spent
The trip will cost about $10,000, he said—adding that Brockovich’s organization has already spent “well over a couple hundred thousand dollars” poring through Fridley documents.

“I don’t know that there’s any imminent danger of pollution impacting anybody, but there’s some re-evaluation of historically what happened and perhaps some re-evaluation of what the community can be doing,” Bowcock said.

Bowcock said that regulatory agencies have been extremely cooperative in providing data and documents since late March, when, in response to the momentum of the Fridley Cancer Cluster Facebook group, he started investigating whether environmental causes could be partially responsible for the city’s cancer cases.

In March 2012, the Minnesota Department of Health.

Upon further study, the department later and said the still higher-than-average number of cancer cases in Fridley was nothing more than a statistical anomaly, largely attributable to the .

'Brain Cramps' from Data
“Usually it’s like pulling teeth to get all this stuff together, but the department of health has been great, the water department’s been great, the city’s been great,” Bowcock said. “They’ve actually helped so much that I have ridiculous brain cramps with data.”

Because of the overwhelming governmental cooperation, Bowcock said he plans to invite members of regulatory agencies—including Karla Peterson, the supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Community Public Water Unit—to sit in on the town hall meeting.

At the meeting, Brockovich and Bowcock will speak for 30 to 45 minutes.

“We’ll talk about what we’ve done, the history of why we’re there, what we’ve reviewed, what we’ve looked at and we’ll tell the story of why the investigation is so complex and how we need [citizens’] help to fill in the gaps,” Bowcock said.

Then, they’ll open up the meeting to questions from the community, which can be on the subject of everything from cancer risk to property values to tips for what he termed "muckraking."

The goal of the visit, Bowcock said, was to determine the next step for Brockovich’s organization to take based on input from Fridley residents.

In the future, they may pay to retest soil, working with federal and state agencies to avoid redundant costs.

“On cases like this, I’ve spent as little as $10,000 and as much as $10 million,” Bowcock said.

Blending Water
Bowcock said there are still volatile organic compounds [VOCs] in the community water system today.

“Historically, the TCE migrated around underneath Fridley and there were communities that had their own private drinking water wells before they joined the municipal water system that likely consumed pretty good doses of VOCs and other contaminants,” he said.

While Bowcock said regulatory agencies have mostly done a good job of removing contaminants, he described as antiquated the state’s method of blending polluted water with clean water in order to meet federal guidelines for maximum contamination levels.

“For them to be blending in 2012 is kind of not a good thing; I’d rather be seeing them removing the VOCs from the water,” he said. “The treatment technologies have been out since the ’70s, they’re not difficult, and there are polluters with extremely deep pockets who should have ponied up in the last 30 years at least.”

Mandy Meisner May 31, 2012 at 02:34 AM
I really appreciate that everyone (Brockovich and Department of Health, the Water Department and the City) is working together. Apparently this is rare, and it says a lot about Minnesota and Fridley!

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