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FENNVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) - Famed consumer and environmental activist Erin Brockovich told24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday night her team has found an arsenicproblem in the area just outside Fennville where the Birds EyeFoods plant discharges wastewater.
Brockovich said she wants to survey the community to determineif the problem has created any health problems.
The activist - made famous by a 2001 movie that bears her nameand stars Julia Roberts - made the comments before a meeting withresidents at Fennville Elementary School. Hundreds came withconcerns - many with the simple but scary question Jerry Brewerhas.
"What is going into my son? How's it going to affect him?"Brewer asked.
Some in the audience said they have seen health problems intheir families already. Others say they've found tumors in pets.The question: Are there patterns that connect the health problemsto the wastewater Birds Eye discharges from its Fennvilleplant?
24 Hour News 8 first started investigating the issue in Juneafter a family living feet from a Birds Eye water sprayer sharedtest results with us that showed arsenic contamination. Birds Eyewas giving the family bottled water, but a letter from the companystated Birds Eye was not responsible for the arsenic.
That same summer, in contrast to the company's assertion,Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials told 24 HourNews 8 that Birds Eye was responsible. Organic compounds in theplant's wastewater allow heavy metals such as arsenic to get intothe groundwater, the DEQ officials said.
A Birds Eye statement issued Tuesday still does not claimresponsibility for the problem. The statement notes the economicbenefit the plant has to the community: Roughly 140 full-time jobs,the same number of part-time jobs and more than $5 million annuallyin wages and benefits.
But company officials said Birds Eye has a plan before the stateto spend more than $3 million to enhance its water treatmentsystem.
"I think that's a wonderful response," Brockovich said of thestatement. "I don't like to come in and see these litigations drugout."
But Kari Craton wonders why Birds Eye didn't tell residentsabout the plan directly. She told us earlier this year about herwater issues. Craton was so upset she looked for outside help - andmanaged to get Brockovich involved.
"There's one person in a community that keeps at you and keepsat you - and that person happens to be Kari," Brockovich said.
Craton says she is pleased she did get the attention of thefamed activist but "to be honest with you, I wish it wasn'thappening. Because the more doors I knocked on and the more peoplethat I have talked to, the hard reality set in. There aredefinitely issues."
An investigator working with Brockovich, Bob Bowcock, said ifthe discharge issue disappeared today, it still would take 30 yearsto clean up the problems it has caused.
Bowcock said he felt the inclusion of economic impactinformation in Birds Eye's statement amounted to a threat to leavethe community. He said he did not believe that would occur.
Officers from multiple law enforcement agencies worked together Tuesday evening to chase down an alleged van thief, despite slippery roads.
A charity lodge where three people were killed back in September 2013 will likely never open again.
Kalamazoo Township Police are asking for your help in finding a 63-year-old man who told people back in November he was going off to die.