Westside residents tell Grand Rapids city commission about possible cancer cluster

Posted at 11:51 PM, Jun 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-05 23:51:28-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Residents in a Grand Rapids Westside neighborhood spoke to the Grand Rapids City Commission Tuesday night to express their concerns about a potential cancer cluster surrounding the Butterworth landfill.

The group Westside Cancer Crisis says more than 200 people in their neighborhood have either gotten sick or have died from cancer. The group says 60 people living on Indiana Avenue alone have died from various forms of cancer in the last 20 years. They believe the number is far too high to be a coincidence.

“My son has lost his father, his grandparents; I’ve lost one of my best friends yesterday because of cancer. She was born and raised on that street,” says Westside Cancer Crisis member Donna Smith.

“We just want answers," said group member Shane Smith. "We want to know why they didn’t do any testing in the residential areas. Contaminants can fly up to two miles from where the contaminated soil is. But they decided not to do any testing. And now we are researching and trying to find out on our own why our family and friends are passing away because of cancer."

Old landfills, including the old Butterworth dump, have come under scrutiny, with nearby residents saying harmful chemicals have been leaking out for years. The site at Butterworth is considered a superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency.

A class action lawsuit filed against the shoe company Wolverine Worldwide last year labels the old Butterworth landfill as one of several sites where Wolverine dumped toxic chemicals.

Following Tuesday's city commission meeting, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss spoke to FOX 17 about the residents' concerns.

“This is a serious concern," said Bliss. "I was glad to have folks come here and speak to the full commission. I know we have city staff working with the county health department. Our First Ward commissioners will be looking into following up as to what are the next steps."

Mayor Bliss is requesting regular updates on what’s happening and will look into getting testing done.

The health department says it's gathering more data to see what’s going on.