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State officials update Otsego on cancer cluster investigation

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State officials update Otsego on cancer cluster investigation. (WWMT/File)

An open house was held by Michigan agencies to update the residents of Otsego about the state investigation into a possible cancer cluster in the area.

There were not a lot of concrete answers Wednesday night during an open house hosted by agencies on the city, county, and state levels. Residents did get a detailed look into how the state is learning if there’s a problem.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said nearly 60 wells in the Otsego area have been tested. The state wrapped up sample collection the week of July 23 and the results will likely be ready by the end of August.

Allegan County Health Department Medical Director Dr. Rick Tooker said, “We’re certainly hoping for good news, but we expect that we may have to deal with bad news and we’re going to be prepared to do that.”

The DEQ, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Allegan County Health Department, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with several other groups met with residents to talk with them about the testing being conducted to determine if there is contamination and if it’s causing any specific health risks.

“We don’t want this to continue, for future generations particularly,” Christina Degrush, Justice for Otsego, said, “That’s our hope. We want things cleaned.”

Degrush believes contamination led to her diagnosis of a disease that caused tumors on her pituitary gland.

A panel made up of state, county, local leaders, and activists are combining efforts to investigate whether Otsego really is a cancer cluster. So far, the state said it can’t prove that.

Deb Mackenzie-Taylor, with the MDHHS, said data shows a spike in cancer cases in 2006, but not just in Otsego. She said the date might be an anomaly, but she can’t say for sure until further research is concluded. Even so, she says the numbers as they are now don’t jump out as anything above average.

Mackenzie-Taylor said, “At this point over that 15-year period, we only saw a slight increase that was not within that variability and uncertainty for total cancers.”

In the meantime, the DEQ is testing the water and soil for contamination.

The immediate concern is water, which is top of mind for many considering the toxic water emergency happening in Parchment.