Old industrial practices fuel health concerns as officials look into cancer cases

Old industrial practices fuel health concerns as officials look into Cancer concerns. (File - WWMT)

Many people are still coming forward around Otsego to express concern about what some describe as a disproportionate amount of cancer cases and health problems.

Less than one week after the group Justice For Otsego gathered with health officials to vent frustrations, the Allegan County Health Department announced that it would begin the process of looking into the concerns and other state and federal health agencies would be assisting.

"The health agencies are in the process of reviewing the reportable health information for the Otsego area that was provided by concerned citizens," read a news release issued by the Allegan County Health Department.

Some current and former residents of Otsego say the industrial practices of several companies no longer in the area may be to blame.

Tim Brewster lived near the now-defunct RockTenn paper factory in Otsego for his entire life and shares the concerns of many others.

"I had a brain tumor back in 2010, I had lymphoma in 2012, and three years ago I had skin cancer," he said, pointing to the fenced off area of the closed plant.

Brewster says he distinctly recalls how the RockTenn plant would routinely dispose of waste on nearby land, which is now fenced off.

"They put a lot of sludge just on top of the surface and in the corner they had two deep pits," he said.

Brewster added that the closed down plant is no stranger to controversy, and has had history of problems involving waste disposal ever since it closed.

Former Otsego resident Chris Newland lived outside Otsego on farmland that he described as being adjacent to a landfill once used by Menasha, a packaging manufacturer.

"My dad died of pancreatic cancer and my neighbors across the road had lymphoma," he said.

Newland said he almost took Menasha to court after a dispute over the landfill that affected his property.

EPA documents show that Menasha used to dispose of waste created during the manufacturing of its products such as "black liquor", and Newland says he believes that and other items disposed of could be contributing to health problems.

"I believe it's dioxins, I really believe it's dioxins and we didn't know what dioxins were back then," he said.

The Allegan County Health Department says it plans to announce another meeting with Justice For Otsego within 30 days to share information about next steps to be taken with hopes of addressing health concerns and potential sources of health problems.

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