Grand Rapids — A group of residents is investigating cancer rates in a western Michigan neighborhood that’s near a contaminated landfill classified as a Superfund site.

Muskegon resident Pamela Anderson said that after hearing about numerous cases, she started a Facebook group about cancer deaths among people who live or have lived near the Butterworth landfill site in Grand Rapids. They plan to bring up the issue at a city commission meeting this week, the Grand Rapids Press reported.

The group recently met with Kent County Health Department epidemiologist Brian Hartl, who advised them to collect more information on cancer rates in the area.

“If there are rare forms of cancer, or cancers we’re seeing affect a young population, it might trigger further investigation,” Hartl said.

But he cautioned that cancer is difficult to study, and that it can take years and multiple triggers to emerge.

“Especially in small areas like a neighborhood or a block, it makes it challenging to connect it to environmental exposure,” Hartl said. “Most cancers are due to lifestyle choices, not environmental factors.”

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that theoretical cancer and health risks from the landfill exist, but that they’re limited to regular direct contact with the waste over several decades.

The agency conducted a site cleanup in 1999, and removed material contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl and chromium. The EPA said there is no current exposure at the site.

“A lot of those kids in the ‘60s and ‘70s used to play in the dump,” said Shane Smith, who grew up down the street from Anderson in the Indiana Avenue neighborhood. “It was just starting to alarm to us, because my dad’s entire generation passed away from cancer.”

Anderson said she’s having the soil tested for contaminants at a home in the same neighborhood.

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