OTSEGO, Mich. — Theresa Rogers walked around the health meeting at the United Methodist Church with a stack of papers in her hand regarding her health. She’s been battling non-alcoholic liver cancer and her doctors don’t know why, she said.
“I don’t know how long I have to live,” Rogers said with tears in her eyes. “I have two babies at home. It’s a little stressful.”
Her mother has had cancer, she said. Roger's herself has had ovarian cysts since she was child when she lived in Otsego. Like many, she attended the meeting looking for answers.
“We are here and we are listening,” said Kory Groetsch, director of environmental health with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Their concerns that they raised on March 10, we are taking very seriously.”
The MDHHS is meeting with the residents of Otsego for the second time in over a month about their health concerns. Over 150 people packed the church's back room to meet with the representatives from the county, Department of Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency, to discuss their illnesses.
“I come here because I’m real concerned about my water after I came down with a rare cancer and my one dog has come down with cancer also,” said Hope Stevens. “So I want to find out why.”
Her only dog Sassy was diagnosed with seven tumors of breast cancer. She too had questions about the cancers, diseases and environment they once lived in.
“Was there historic disposal practices that are of concern? Are there chemicals of concern?” asked Groetsch rhetorically during a presentation about cancer. “It takes time. We apologize that it takes time.”
Groetsch said it’ll be another few months before people get the answers they’re looking for. They’ve taken the data from Mary Zack’s surveys — the founder of the Justice For Otsego group — and will now break down the data to see the genesis behind some of the survey's results.
“To go a step further than this you got to say ‘Where are the people that were exposed to a group of chemicals at a high enough level that it resulted in a particular disease?'” said Groetsch. “So we got to know where there [are] some concentrated, some chemicals left behind. And then who are the people that might have been in contact with it.”
Other officials spoke at the podium about their research ranging from water sampling and testing to landfill clean-up to the impact of the old paper mill, Manesha.
“We see they had 47 private farms where they applied roughly 18 million pounds of this sludge,” said Dan Peabody with the Michigan DEQ.
Some in attendance, including Rogers, talked about the sludge and mother-liquor they saw around town and how they feared it, in some way, impacted the wells and drinking water in both the city and township. However most cared about implementing preventive measures to protect future generations from the illnesses many are now facing.
“Our grandchildren, our great grandchildren, those to come after us, we need to care for them,” said former resident Loree Bagley. “And that’s my goal.”