GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Last week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services concluded that the neighborhood surrounding a Grand Rapids medical manufacturing plant did not exhibit high cancer rates.
MDHHS' findings came after the EPA released a report in August 2018 that estimated cancer risks in the neighborhood were four times the national average.
The risk was attributed to Viant, the manufacturing plant, which has been emitting ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing chemical, for the last 30 years. The state has cited the facility on multiple occasions in the last few years for pollution violations.
To evaluate the need for further investigation, MDHHS took 15 years of data from a state cancer registry and compared the neighborhood numbers to state and county numbers.
"What the DEQ and MDHHS concluded was any elevated risk pretty much had to account for about 75 years of constant exposure, which very few people, if any, had that kind of exposure," John Truscott, a Viant spokesperson said. "So, the risk, according to the health officials, is minimal to virtually nil."
Kari Johnson, who grew up around the corner from Viant, said she's not satisfied with that conclusion.
"Is it a problem? Is it not a problem? Us life-longers know it's a problem," Johnson said.
Johnson says it started to become apparent that something else was at play when her loved ones and neighbors began "dropping like flies," she said.
"Anybody that lived here for a long time started to pass away," Johnson said, who lost her brother and father to cancer. "We knew something else was going on."
Johnson and other current and former neighbors have band together in Facebook groups, to continue the discussion.
Previously, the group along with county health officials had looked into the possibility of a 1992 Superfund site having adverse health effects on residents.
Some residents suspect it's a combination of the Superfund site and the emissions from Viant. Truscott said there should perhaps be further investigation into the Superfund site.
"This group and this neighborhood want justice for our family members who should not have had to die so early, and we want justice for the people who are still living here," Johnson said.
Viant has said it will stop using ethylene oxide at the end of 2019.
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