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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 . 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 last month. Letellier's death was preceeded by the death of a Monticello teen, whose mother worked in the . 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 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.

Gina B March 26, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Wow. That's incredible! She's such an amazing woman.
Rita V March 26, 2012 at 03:20 PM
I hope she comes to investigate! That would be incredible.. I have always been worried about the Nuclear Plant's affects on all Monticello/St.Michael citizens and am curious to know if that could be related in some way. I have personally known too many cancer victims in the area and those that have gone so young are the hardest to hit home.
Mike March 26, 2012 at 04:16 PM
From the article: " 'The St. Michael area's cancer rate is on part [sic],' Soler said, 'with the rest of the state.' " If this indeed a fact, there is no reason to investigate here! An unnecessary investigation would make St. Michael out to be synonymous with cancer.
Carrie March 27, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Wow! Very scary, especially considering I grew up in Fridley, and now reside in St. Michael!
Bill March 27, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I wouldn't be so worried about the nuclear plant but more about the coal plant. The nuclear plant has almost no emissions. Not so with the coal plant. http://e360.yale.edu/feature/shunning_new_nuclear_power_plants_will_lead_to_warmer_world/2510/
Mike March 27, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Carrie, St. Michael is fine! Normal for our state, the article says. And there's hundreds of possibilities as to why Fridley differs from the rest of the state by 10%. Could be that a large portion of their population worked for a particular offending industry... perhaps asbestos or some other substance is involved that leads to lung cancer. Demographic studies need to be done to find out if there is commonality between lung cancer victims before high-profile publicity campaigns. The offending cause might even be gone already, since lung cancer takes years to form. And if the offending industry/source/or demographic phenomenon is already gone, wouldn't it be a shame to attach the word "cancer" to "Fridley" if it isn't something about Fridley that has caused it?
Michelle Miller March 27, 2012 at 09:14 PM
John Soler is running numbers for me that will be similar to the numbers he ran for Fridley (including all age groups, not just children age 0-19). He stated for children, the rate is 'within range' for St. Michael but didn't give exact numbers.
Stacie March 28, 2012 at 01:26 PM
It does seem odd how 4 children within a 30 mile radius die of a cancer that only has 350 new cases a year for the whole country. It is worth looking into. I do however agree with Mike that we need to be careful to not jump to conclusions or create a big media alarm without the facts. Saw Fridley is on all the news channels this morning. People see that and might think "wow I am never moving to Fridley" We don't want our community unfairly labeled as unsafe for our children.
Jenifer April 01, 2012 at 06:56 PM
I have been very concerned about this for so many years. I lived here since 1987 on Edgewood Drive. I could list 9 people on my street alone that have all died from cancer. My parents had always been believers that there was something with the water here. Therefore, we were raised up on Reverse Osmosis water. I test water at various places and it is unbelievable, the TDS found in the standard tap water as well as cheaper filtered fridge water. (Not all filtered water is safe, you must know how to test it and what is best. I have done this for several years and could tell you what is ok and not.) From witnessing my neighbors die from cancer and not to mention the alarming increase happening here, I have told many people to not drink the water. I want to be involved in this 100% to get some answers and to educate people about the water.
Crys s April 08, 2012 at 04:01 PM
So how do you test your own and sure boughten water correctly?
Julie M May 27, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Something I heard years ago on a radio program about cancer rates in certain areas has stuck with me ever since I heard it. I can't remember exactly, but I assume it was NPR Science Friday, but I can't be sure. The person being interviewed was saying, they have to take a lot of things into consideration when thinking about conducting studies on cancer rates in certain areas due to some factor. He said, take a large cardboard box base, like for a flat of soda. Take and count out some dry beans that each bean represents one case of cancer. Toss the beans in the box. When you see where they land, that is the randomness of cancer. In some areas, you will see a cluster of beans, in some areas, it is really spread out. He said basically cancer strikes in that random manner. And unless there is a known outside factor that could be causing cancer, like the Pacific Gas & Electric case, it may just be the randomness at work. And that is so sad when it is anyone, but kids are hardest to watch. I wish I could remember who it was they were interviewing. It was really an insightful show on why there can be groupings of cancer, and there is no other reason other than it being that is how the beans fell and landed in a box. Granted that is a simplified version of how it works, but it made it understandable for the common person, like me.
Mike Schoemer (Editor) May 29, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Great use of imagery.
Mike May 29, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Thanks for this Julie... Very very helpful
allan June 05, 2012 at 02:40 AM
I think a couple post's back, Mr. mike must be running for office. i work for the city of mpls, sewer and water by the way, The things that are used to purify your water are cancer causing in itself, why are we suprised? past industry, Dumps, river water, that is just junk, is just 30-90 feet below your homeand paper mills from the north side of this state. get a grip. Until ya get people in positions that can actually make a difference, people will die, kids will be sick and you will not be able to drink your water in the 7 county metro area safely. Period!!!! Trust me, we make that choice everytime we are at a voting booth. being part of the solution is much better then being behind a computer Bitchin about it. GET INVOLVED....... just saying.
allan June 05, 2012 at 02:53 AM
Agreed, however, somewhere like St. louis Park which had a creosote plant, which actually had the substance coming out of ditches during the 70's and 80's would not be a handful of beans. all ya have to do is look at the St. louis Park memorial page on Facebook, and not just a few people, but many people got brain tumors, and all kinds of cancer. way before there golden years. many have passed at the ages of 30's to 50's really? the beans just fall into a corner? not buying it. follow the money and you will see how things work in industry, politics, pollution and dead people. its not rocket science. hell ya can google the actual facts. just try it for yourself. dont take my word for it.

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