By: Jeri Packer, Staff Writer
After five children from different families in the Marine City area were stricken with the rare kidney cancer between 2007 and 2011, they went from shock, to grief and then to anger. They demanded research be done to identify the common denominator.
Danielle Williams, whose daughter Erika is now cancer-free, said the St. Clair County Health Department and the U.S. Center for Disease Control have failed to gain the momentum needed for such a task. The group is particularly looking for answers regarding possible environmental causes of the childhood disease, but federal and state monies seem to be running out.
“They say they don’t have enough funds,” Williams said.
To combat this these parents established “Mothers Against Childhood Cancer,” a 501(c)(3), in November; it is still a work in progress. They have a website: mothersagainstchildhoodcancer.org. Williams is the board chair.
Their homepage states: “We strongly believe the environment plays a large role with this and other cancers in our area. We live close to coal-generated power plants and down river from ‘Chemical Valley’ in Sarnia, Ontario, which is home to 62 large, industrial chemical plants located along the St. Clair River.”
MACC is planning on raising the necessary funds for targeted research to get to the heart of the problem. The group will be looking for grants, holding fundraisers and looking for volunteer services to get the job done.
Williams said they already have a toxicologist donating her time for the research needed, but she can only do as much as MACC can fund. Williams said they will need about $45,000 a year to do it right.
The group also raises awareness in the local community by speaking up when needed. They protested when water monitors installed along the riverside communities were not being fully utilized. Currently, all but the city of St. Clair have them up and running. St. Clair is the first community downstream from Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, therefore the most vital location to have operational monitors in place. St. Clair is directly upstream from Marine City.
With her signature directness, Williams said the decision not to have the monitors is beyond belief.
“They just pulled out. Where they live, it shouldn’t even be a question as to whether to have them,” she said. “Did they give their citizens a right to vote on that decision?”
MACC has their own air monitor and dosimeter for detecting unsafe environmental conditions. The air monitor is in Kris Tranchemontagne’s yard. Her daughter, Ashleigh, is a cancer survivor. The air monitor measures wind direction, strength and other atmospheric conditions and collects rain water for testing.
The dosimeter is kept cool in Williams’ refrigerator, ready to measure and record the amount of x-rays or radiation absorbed in a given period.
“If we smell something funny I can collect air samples,” she said.
MACC members know the power of networking. It has aligned itself with two local environmental quality awareness groups, the River Network and St. Clair Channel Keeper (SCCK). Williams sits on the SCCK board. They are also in touch with a formidable force in McCall, Idaho, Charlie Smith.
Smith, like the women in Marine City, fought hard from her small hometown (population 3,000) to get legislation that strengthened efforts to investigate cancer clusters, after her son, Trevor Schaefer, was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 13 in 2002. Eventually, she, Schaefer and Susan Rosser and were able to push “Trevor’s Law” through, which was a big victory for better research for these types of diseases in concentrated areas. For more information on the Idaho cluster, go to trevorstrek.org.
Smith was pleased to report that the Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer-D introduced legislation late last month to help communities determine whether there is a connection between “clusters” of cancer, birth defects and other diseases, and contaminants in the surrounding environment. Senator Mike Crapo-R is co-sponsoring the bi-partisan bill.
The legislation is called the Strengthening Protections for Children and Communities from Disease Clusters Act (S. 50), formerly Trevor’s Law.
Also introduced was S. 53, the Community Disease Cluster Assistance Act. Enabling technical assistance grants to help individuals become better involved with the investigation of reported disease clusters, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works.
“We are not going to let up on this important piece of legislation,” said Smith, after the bills were introduced. “Too many children are needlessly getting sick and dying.”
Click here for more on the Marine City contamination