Bad Data is Worse Than No Data

Thanks to WCCO/CBS for covering our local community and the health fears families and workers in the White Bear area are facing due to 17 years of excessive pollution by Water Gremlin. We are so thankful for people coming forward sharing such personal and difficult journeys – some of which are still in progress.  

In the May 14, 2019 WCCO story, the MDH is quoted as saying “…can we say that John Smith’s cancer was caused by Water Gremlin emissions? No. But we can’t say it wasn’t either.” 

The MDH answer of “no” comes after they compared cancer rates in the White Bear area to the 7 county Twin Cities metro area. In that study, the MDH reported no increased risk of cancer and; Water Gremlin has been citing that conclusion in their communication to the public.

4. Have any neighbors been impacted by TCE emissions from Water Gremlin?  As of April 2019, the MPCA’s FAQ page about Water Gremlin stated that there was “no information indicating anyone has become sick as a result of TCE exposure related to Water Gremlin emissions”.

From Water Gremlin, FAQ#4, listed under MPCA Fine.  May 15, 2019. 

We have to look behind the curtain and understand what the cancer database is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.

FACT:  The database flags the location the person lives in, when the cancer is reported. If you are a non-resident worker – or if you moved away from the White Bear area – as children would over a period of 17 years – your cancer diagnosis is not attributed to the White Bear area.

FACT:  Minnesota ranks high in number of cases of cancer per 10,000 people. According to a 2015 report from the Center of Disease Control. MN had 475 new cases of cancer reported for every 10,000 people. Only Louisiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey had more cases of cancer reported for every 10,000 people.  We should be comparing White Bear to other states or areas that have more “normal” cancer rates.  

FACT:  Other diseases are caused by TCE exposure and are not included in the MDH database.  

FACT  The database does not include data from years prior to 2006. (Water Gremlin pollution started in 2002).  It also does not include 2018, the year they polluted the most ever. (They were allowed to emit 10 tons in 2018. They emitted 120.456.)

FACT:  This database can not take into consideration the diagnosis of future cancer or diseases.

FACT:  The geographical area studied for White Bear included people who live outside of the estimated impacted zone.

FACT:  This is the MN cancer database used by the MDH to conclude there was no human health impact to East Metro citizens (including school age children) from the 3M toxic emissions. (See article here).  Then Attorney General Lori Swanson had an independent study commissioned to confirm what residents knew to be true – their risk of cancer was seriously elevated over population norms.

Any decision maker will tell you that bad data is worse than no data. 

Representative Karen Clark (recently retired after 38 years in the MN House and, now Executive Director of Women’s Environmental Institute) was very persistent in advocating for changes to the information collected in the cancer database. Adding data points about occupation, past residences and military history would provide more context to this complicated analysis.

The NCCG is concerned the MN Cancer Database is inadequate and does not include data to effectively make a conclusive statement on the impact of the Water Gremlin pollution. However, as referenced above, the study is being used to tell us we should not be concerned about our health. 

NCCG is advocating for a long-term health study to be conducted in the impacted area to provide good data that then can make a conclusive determination if Water Gremlin pollution led to the health issues we have been hearing about and, in some cases, experiencing.  That would be good data that will allow us all to make informed decisions in the health care for our families and for ourselves.

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