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Investigation links brain tumors to insulation plant

Monday, October 13, 2008 | 12:16 p.m. CDT; updated 1:16 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 13, 2008

CAMERON — Despite a state report to the contrary, a Kansas City law firm said its five-month investigation shows a larger than expected number of cancer cases in Cameron.

The personal injury law firm, Peterson and Associates, met with about 50 people on Saturday, many of them diagnosed with brain tumors.

A state epidemiologist on Thursday said investigators found no statistical difference between the number of brain tumor cases in the area and statewide.

But James Dahlgren, a California toxicology expert, told the crowd Saturday that the high rate resulted from the former Rockwool Industries insulation plant, which operated in Cameron from 1974 to 1992.

Dahlgren said the law firm is representing about 40 brain tumor cases in Cameron. With a town population of 6,500, he said that number is "higher than it should be."

Dahlgren was portrayed in "Erin Brockovich," a movie focused on how Brockovich led a 1996 water pollution case that won residents of a small California desert town a $333 million settlement from a state utility company.

Brockovich was expected to speak in Cameron on Monday, but organizers said she postponed because of a scheduling conflict.

The meeting came just days after state epidemiologist Sarah Patrick told about 150 people in Cameron that the number of brain tumor cases in a four-county area around the northwest Missouri town is not statistically higher than the numbers throughout the state.

Brain tumor cases are increasing throughout Missouri and the nation, and Cameron is part of that trend, Patrick said.

Patrick said about 70 people in Caldwell, Clinton, Daviess and DeKalb counties met the scientific criteria used by the state during its cancer inquiry. That included 24 with benign tumors since Jan. 1, 2004, and 46 with malignant tumors in the last 11 1/2 years.

But Dahlgren said the number is "higher than it should be" when considering 15 out of 100,000 malignant cancer cases would be a high incidence in any other part of the country.

Dahlgren told the audience that his experience as an expert on numerous toxic exposure cases across the country has been that the state investigates the community in a way that does not compel it to action, so it doesn't run into "a political buzz saw."

He said the town's drinking water doesn't appear to be the cause of the brain tumors.

Attorney Dave Peterson said the firm has been investigating since May.

By using independent water and soil tests as well as multiple interviews, he said the firm has determined that slag, a lavalike by-product of producing mineral wool, tests higher for arsenic and lead in samples taken in Cameron.

State health officials have reported that the levels of lead and arsenic were high, but not enough to threaten health and that they had no proof that the metals reached people through ingestion, inhalation or skin contact.

Attorneys said Saturday that they believe they have uncovered likely legal violations at the Rockwool facility.

Peterson said the company "surreptitiously" burnt materials in violation of environmental laws.


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