Erin Brockovich to Investigate Area's Elevated Cancer Rates
A representative of the famed subject of an Academy Award-winning movie intends to investigate high cancer rates on the Twin Cities' north side, including Fridley and St. Michael. Meanwhile, the state's cancer expert is also scanning the numbers
Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich is lending her star power to Fridley with an investigation into the city’s elevated cancer rates. Brockovich is known for her case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which led to a $300 million settlement and to her portrayal by Julia Roberts in a 2000 movie dramatization.
Now, according to e-mails exchanged between a St. Michael resident and the staff of the now famous legal assistant, she might be looking into our backyard as well.
St. Michael's Michelle Miller reached out to Brockovich after the death of 16-year-old Luke Letellier last month. Letellier's death was preceeded by the death of a Monticello teen, whose mother worked in the St. Michael-Albertville School District. Other local cancer cases have also rocked STMA neighborhoods, from Michael Talley's long struggle with throat cancer to the new discovery of a St. Michael postal worker's brain tumor.
“I am always saddened by the number of emails I receive from people who have been affected by cancer,” Brockovich wrote in an email. “I am deeply sorry to hear about the situation in St. Michael, Minnesota, and will be investigating this matter further.”
She submitted the same "form" e-mail to citizens in Fridley who asked for her to investigate matters there.
The Fridley Cancer Cluster Facebook group, started by Jason McCarty about two months ago, has ballooned to more than 440 members actively sharing anecdotes about friends, family and neighbors who contracted cancer after living in the city.
Brockovich gets more than 2,500 requests annually, a Fridley resident told Patch last week. However, Fridley's numbers have put that campaign in the "boots on the ground" for Brockovich's group.
On a state level, Minnesota epidemiologist John Soler found that Fridley’s cancer rates were 10 percent higher than the state average between 2000 and 2009, with lung cancer rates significantly higher, according to data from the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System.
The St. Michael area's cancer rate is on par, Soler said, with the rest of the state. That's something that might be hard for the area to fathom, he told a St. Michael resident in his letter, which he also shared with Patch. However, considering nearly half of all Minnesotans will deal with a cancer diagnosis at some point, it's not shocking.
"I recall when I first started working in cancer 15 years ago that I was informed that," Soler said of the 50 percent mark. "It's something you think can't be right. But given today's rates, it is."
Soler, who works for the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System (MCSS), which is a part of the Minnesota Department of Health, did express some surprise to the rate of rhabdomyosacroma cases in the northwest suburbs, particularly in the St. Michael area. With two high-profile cases last year, and only about 300 cases nationally diagnosed on an annual basis, he admitted the rate did seem high.
"It is unusually rare to have two circumstances like this," he said. "In the 22 years of cancer data in Minnesota, we have had 220 of these [rhabdomyosarcoma] diagnoses. Of those 54 of these were in children 0 to 4 years old, 38 in children 5 to 9, 29 in children 10 to 14, 28 in children 15 to 19 and the remainder in adults. Two of these already rare cancers occurring in children in the[neighboring] school district is even less likely. However, determining the cause of a cancer in any individual (or two individuals) is equally unlikely. With the exception of inherited genetic problems, it is nearly impossible to determine why a given individual got cancer," Soler wrote.