Year in Review – Top Fridley stories, #1: Erin Brockovich comes to town
Pollution discussions ongoing with EPA, Clean Water Action, legislators
It’s not often that a Hollywood name comes to a suburb like Fridley, especially on business.
But consumer advocate Erin Brockovich of California – now a household name thanks to her namesake Hollywood movie – came to town this past summer to talk to residents, business leaders and public officials about long-running pollution concerns.
She held a town hall June 27, 2012, at Fridley High School with Bob Bowcock of Integrated Resource Management Inc. to discuss the area’s superfund sites. Superfund is a program of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created to fund the clean up of the nation’s hazardous waste sites.
The cancer concerns were first aired in early 2012 through a Facebook group page, “Fridley Cancer Cluster” (tinyurl.com/6nkfvp6) which has about 2,896 members as of Dec. 26, 2012. Former Fridley resident Jason McCarty created the page to connect with others who saw high levels of cancer incidents in the area, to help draw attention to the trend and to dig deeper into the issue.
Members frequently use the page to organize and collect individual stories of cancer incidents and evidence of pollution.
The city of Fridley responded to concerns with a message (ci.fridley.mn.us/water-quality) that the water has been regularly tested and is safe to drink. “The city of Fridley has never had a violation of these standards for cancer causing agents,” the announcement said.
The Minnesota Department of Health looked into its records of cancers reported in the area, and announced there’s about a 7.6 percent higher rate of cancer reported in Fridley from 2000 to 2009, compared to those reported on average in Minnesota (tinyurl.com/7bvh2o2).
It’s not unusual to find communities that have a rate of five to 10 percent above the expected rates and as many that are five to 10 percent below, especially when one of the main cancer types is well above or below the state’s average rates, according to John Soler, MDH cancer epidemiologist. Fridley’s elevated overall cancer rate appears to be due largely to its high lung cancer rate, he added, possibly linked to higher smoking rates in the county.
The city of Fridley also hosted a panel discussion with the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to get further information on cancer and environment concerns. The video is posted online (fridleytv.pegcentral.com/index.php).
At the June meeting, Bowcock emphasized that, although water management officials might be correct in saying the water has met standards for minimal pollutants, he thinks that any amount of contaminants is too much.
“The level I can handle is completely different than the level that beautiful baby girl you were just holding out there,” he said and gestured to an audience member. “I would argue that there’s no safe level.” Also, he said contaminants’ effects on different people at different ages can yield different diseases – not only cancers, but neurological and autoimmune disorders.
After the town hall meeting, the city of Fridley organized an open house event at the Fridley Community Center with representatives from various groups, such as the city of Fridley’s Public Works Department, the Minnesota Department of Health, the MPCA and the EPA, to help answer residents’ questions.
In the months since, Fridley Cancer Cluster Facebook group members have had meetings with elected officials including Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and with representatives from groups including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Clean Water Action.
In November 2012, the EPA created a webpage with links and maps about superfund sites in Fridley and the area, plus information on how residents can get involved with a community advisory group. The EPA staff said they intend to hold an action group workshop for Fridley residents in late January or early February 2013.
Community action group members would volunteer to serve for two-year terms, meeting regularly to review and comment on documents and plans related to environmental studies and cleanup activities at the Fridley superfund sites. Members would help EPA and MPCA staff exchange information with the community to obtain views and get feedback. Group meetings would be open to the public and members will be chosen from nominations submitted by individuals and groups in the Fridley area.
In December 2012, the city of Fridley also announced a meeting in January to discuss a review on the possible redevelopment of the former FMC Munitions Facility property, a superfund site. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9, at Fridley City Hall, 6431 University Ave. N.E. More information can be found on the city’s webpage for the topic, available at tinyurl.com/d4yfcnv.