FRIDLEY, Minn. - A cancer-concerned Minnesota community has begun the process of finding a new voice.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a meeting to help community members create a Community Advisory Group. The CAG is to act as a connection between the EPA and the community.
"Some people are very, very concerned. Other people just want to get more information about the site," said Nefertiti DiCosmo, USEPA Community Involvement Coordinator. "This particular meeting is only to get the group started. It may take six months for them to really get started."
Some of the 35 Fridley residents and agency representatives on hand were hoping for more specific information about clean up and monitoring activities at six Superfund sites, but that information was not available at the Wednesday meeting.
Across the United States, there are an estimated 1,500 Superfund sites, where industrial pollution was left behind by departed or defunct companies. Six of the sites are in Fridley. The EPA contends that those sites have been cleaned up and are being monitored.
Studies showing a "cancer cluster" in Fridley have led some to conclude there may be a connection between the pollution sites and the cancers.
Former Fridley resident Jason McCarty began a Facebook campaign in January of 2012 that resulted in environmental activist Erin Brockovich paying a visit to Fridley in June of 2012. On Wednesday, McCarty joined Brockovich investigator Bob Bowcock at the CAG information session in the Fridley Community Center.
Thirty-five area residents and agency representatives appeared at the meeting to learn more about the steps necessary to create a CAG and have it recognized by the EPA. McCarty called the meeting a success. Both he and DiCosmo indicated delight at the size of the turnout.
Not everyone in Fridley believes that the cancer cluster rates are the result of exposure to the Superfund site pollution. In June, Minnesota Health Department officials indicated they believed the lung cancer rates in Fridley were likely the result of smoking.
"I remember hearing that and I do not believe that," said John Stefczak, former Fridley resident. "I am really wondering what caused all the cancer in this particular 2-3 block area. We lost many of our friends and neighbors to cancer."
A number of Fridley city officials attended the EPA information meeting including Mayor Scott Lund and Council members Jim Saefke and Bob Barnette.
"About 3-4 months ago, we had a group come in, fronted by Erin Brockovich and they talked about the Fridley Cancer Cluster," said Barnette. "(They were) very concerned with the water safety and the excessive number of cancer deaths, which I did not agree with. I think there has been a little bit of misinformation there because we have some other statistics since then that show that the Fridley water is fine, meets all the requirements of the EPA and the Minnesota Health Department and so on."
Regardless of the disagreements, all present agreed that holding the meeting and forming the CAG was a good idea. Barnette went so far as suggesting that McCarty should be on the resulting CAG, along with Councilmember Saefke, who has a background in water quality studies.
The next step will be an EPA facilitator, who will contact those who indicated an interest and schedule a second meeting to assist the community members in setting up the CAG and determining its mission and rules. DiCosmo indicated it may take as long as 6 months to set up the CAG.
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