In a , officials from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sat down with city manager Bill Burns to discuss, in his words, “some of the potential causes of cancer that have been bandied about through electronic media.”
(See the City of Fridley video above or on a bigger online player here.)
The , started in January by a former resident hoping to explore the possibility that Fridley’s could be due to environmental causes, has grown to more than 2,500 members.
In the video conversation, officials acknowledged that as many as 10 percent of cancers statewide could be due to environmental factors. But they mostly threw cold water on residents’ concerns that the have had a severe influence on Fridley’s cancer rates.
John Soler, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System, said a fairly low percentage of cancers in general are caused by environmental factors.
“People say 1 or 2 percent, 10 percent at the most,” he said. “This is not to say that environmental quality is not important—maintaining good controls keeps that number low.”
Sandeep Burman, the supervisor of the Superfund Program at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said while Fridley does have “more than its share of Superfund sites,” ultimately “occurrences [of contamination] are low-level and sporadic.
“These sites in Fridley have been extremely well-characterized and the groundwater flow is well-mapped,” he said. “All of these sites have made great strides and are well on their way to restoring the water to drinking water status.”
Burman said that there is “extensive groundwater and vapor monitoring of the sites” and that contamination has decreased since the early 1990s, specifically at Well No. 9, .
“When the Commons Park Well Field contamination first emerged in the late '80s, it received a lot of attention because you had an actual public water site that was contaminated,” Burman said.
Karla Peterson, the supervisor of the Community Public Water unit at the health department, said that while wells Nos. 8 and 9 have tested the highest for trichloroethylene (TCE)—a volatile organic compound (VOC) known to have been released by area Superfund sites—Fridley’s drinking water has never exceeded federal guidelines for maximum contamination levels.
“Even if you have elevated results at a particular well, by the time you’ve blended it, the drinking water has consistently met drinking water standards,” she said. “When people see results from wells No. 8 and 9, it appears that they’re exceeding the MCL but in fact they’re not.”
She said most tests of Fridley’s drinking water have found contaminants at below one or two parts per billion, a level that registers as “nondetectable.”
“We’ve never found anything in Fridley’s drinking water that would lead to cancer,” she said.
Peterson said radon, a naturally occurring toxic gas that rises through the soil and infiltrates basements, is a bigger concern for health-conscious Fridley residents.
“Anoka County is pretty similar to the rest of Minnesota, but we are one of the highest states in the U.S. when it comes to radon,” she said.
Frank Kohlasch, the manager of air assessment at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said that Fridley’s air quality and the risks posed by it do not appear to be different from neighboring communities.
While there are no air monitoring sites in Fridley, he said the department maintains sites in Blaine and Northeast Minneapolis and uses “advanced analytical tools” to evaluate areas where there is no direct monitoring.
“We believe that our air monitoring network provides us with enough data and ability to extrapolate,” he said.
Kohlasch said the three north-south transportation corridors in Fridley only have a minor influence on public health.
The state health department's Soler said vehicle emissions are not worth talking about when compared with people smoking tobacco product—a habit he called the “elephant in the room.”