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Erin Brockovich investigating Fridley's elevated cancer rates

Fridley's elevated cancer rate is among Brockovich's 100 more urgent cases.
Fridley's elevated cancer rate is among Brockovich's 100 more urgent cases.

Erin Brockovich's investigative team is looking into Fridley's elevated cancer rates.

Two months ago, concerns about the cause of Fridley's elevated cancer rates motivated residents to create a "Fridley Cancer Cluster" Facebook group. More than 440 members have used the page to share anecdotes about cancer-afflicted Fridley residents.

State data indicates that rates for certain cancers are indeed elevated in Fridley, and some residents believe it might have something to do with water contamination in the city. Brockovich heard about the issue and wrote to the Facebook group's founder, saying, "I am deeply sorry to hear about the situation in Fridley, Minnesota, and will be investigating this matter further."

From an email written by John Soler, an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health

Some Fridley residents believe the city's elevated cancer rate might have something to do with water contamination.
Some Fridley residents believe the city's elevated cancer rate might have something to do with water contamination.
As you can see, the number of total cancers (1537) is about +10% higher than would be expected if cancer rates in Fridley were like that of Minnesota. Lung cancer (224) jumps out at +30% higher than expected and accounts for a considerable portion of the overall excess. This lung cancer elevation is true for males and females but is especially high in females (+48%). Lung cancer is typically associated with smoking history and past occupational exposures particularly for men. Bladder cancer (+16%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (+14%) and breast cancer (+8%) are higher than the state average. You can see that some of the cancer sites are below the expected number, some above, and quite a few are at the expected number. This is very typical of zip codes. (These seven census tracts approximate 55432.) While +10% is higher than the state average, I will note that 10% (in either direction) is not particularly unusual given the high lung cancer excess.

Of course, pointing out that some cancers occur in Fridley at levels above the statewide norm doesn't necessarily mean there's anything about the city causing those cancers. It could just be the case, for instance, that the smoking rate in Fridley is 30 percent above the statewide norm. But with hundreds of stories connecting Fridley with cancer and fertility problems, Brokovich's team is going to see if there's any fire underneath the smoke.

From Fridley Patch:

Bob Bowcock, Brockovich's environmental investigator, posted a message on the Fridley Cancer Cluster's message board asking Fridley residents to send him information (he included his email address: bbowcock@irmwater.com) and cautioning that the investigation did not mean that there was necessarily any danger.

"I do not have any information that there is any immediate health related concerns, and the community water system is presently in compliance for all drinking water standards," Bowcock wrote

Brockovich, a legal clerk and environmental activist, made a name for herself in the 1990s by leading the effort to pursue legal action against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company after it allegedly contaminated groundwater near Hinkley, California. The case was settled in 1996 for $333 million, and a study released two years ago showed that cancer rates in Hinkley "remained remarkable from 1988 to 2008." Brokovich's role in the legal drama was memorably portrayed by Julia Roberts in the 2000 film, Erin Brockovich.

It remains to be seen whether elevated cancer rates in Fridley have a similar environmental cause, but members of Fridley Cancer Cluster certainly appreciate Brockovich having their collective back. One post, in response to Brockovich's announcement that Fridley is among her 100 most urgent cases, wrote simply: "Rock on Erin thank you and God bless."


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