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Health officials say they'll begin looking into cancer, disease clusters in Otsego area

Both federal and state health officials met with concerned Allegan residents this morning in regards to worries about a possible cancer and disease cluster plaguing the greater Otsego area. (FILE)

Both federal and state health officials met with concerned Allegan residents this morning in regards to worries about a possible cancer and disease cluster plaguing the greater Otsego area.

Concerned locals packed the Otsego United Methodist Church for a 10 a.m. meeting with health officials consisting of those from the Allegan County Health Department, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Health officials announced that they would be making the initiative to take a closer look at the reported number of cancer cases and other diseases reported in the findings. They also mentioned how they would be diving into environmental records from former area paper mills and other possible sources of contamination, including testing of private wells to better their understanding of the source of contamination, if any.

"People have suffered chronic disease and loss; they want answers and we at the health department would like to give them that answer, but there will be limitations," Kory Groetsch, environmental public health director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said.

Although the health department's newly engaged efforts are welcomed to residents, some are still suffering from the ailments that brought the concerns to light in the first place.

"My doctors could not figure out what was going on until I explained to them what was going on down here and I am dealing with a cancer specialist, and he even said it's the toxins that could be the cause of my non-alcoholic liver disease," Theresa Rogers, who grew up in the Otsego/Plainwell area, said.

Casey Amidon , whose daughter was born with a rare birth defect, expressed how she was unaware with how the possible chemical contamination could have caused her daughter's condition.

"They never gave me a reason her birth defect happened and I'm learning chemicals and PCBs can be a cause of it," Amidon said.

Groetsch wanted residents to know that although the departments are looking into the potential causes of illness and disease, there may not be an immediate answer available.

"We will bring every science that we can to this, but we do not want to leave people with the impression that we can answer that difficult question in a quick and simple way," Groetsch said.


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