CAMERON | Environmental activist Erin Brockovich told several hundred people that she plans to conduct her own investigation into a high number of brain tumors in Cameron and surrounding counties.
Brockovich, a Kansas native, became famous after a 2000 movie about her efforts in a 1996 water pollution case that won residents of a small California desert town a $333 million settlement from a state utility company.
She told area residents Tuesday that she was prompted to start her investigation after receiving several e-mails from people about the brain tumor problems. She said the correspondence came not only from northwest Missouri but from people living in other states who had ties to the area.
"I'm here to investigate and to begin to try and find out what's going on in this community," Brockovich said.
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Her involvement came after people who had either been diagnosed or had a relative diagnosed with brain tumors contacted health officials and the news media about what they considered an abnormally high number of brain tumors in and around the northwest Missouri town of about 6,500.
Earlier this month, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said a five-month investigation had found no central cause for a rise in brain tumor reports in the area. State epidemiologist Sarah Patrick also said that the number of brain tumor cases in a four-county area around the Cameron is not statistically higher than the numbers throughout the state.
But residents and their advocates believe that a former Rockwool Industries insulation plant, which operated in Cameron from 1974 to 1992, may be a cause of the tumors. State health investigators found high levels of lead and arsenic in the water and soil around the plant but not enough to threaten health.
Brockovich said everyone must work together to solve the problem.
"I know the community's been frustrated," she said. "If you don't stick together as a unit, it won't work."
She also pledged to help families receive the best legal representation possible. Peterson and Associates of Kansas City has hired California toxicologist Dr. James Dahlgren to help in investigations of about 40 tumor cases. Dahlgren worked with Brockovich in the 1996 California case depicted in the movie.