According to a lawsuit filed last week over brain tumors that have surfaced in recent years among residents of Cameron, Missouri, contaminated sludge provided by a tannery to local farmers for use as an agriculture fertilizer is allegedly to blame for the tumor cluster.
An unusually high number of residents of the small town of Cameron, Missouri have developed brain tumors, with at least 70 cases diagnosed since 1996. According to 2000 census data, the total population for the town was only 8,312.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Missouri Department of Health, Missouri Department of Natural Resources and a state epidemiologist have been investigating whether there is a common cause for the brain tumors, which some epidemiologists have suggested may not be abnormally high.
On April 22, 2009, a new Cameron brain tumor lawsuit was filed in Clinton County Circuit Court in Missouri, on behalf of local residents William Kemper, who lost his wife Karen to a brain tumor last year, and Janet Lasher, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer that spread to her brain.
According to the complaint, Prime Tanning Corp., of St. Joseph, Missouri, used chromium to remove hair from hides between 1983 through early 2009. The waste product from the tanning process was then collected as thousands of tons of sludge that were delivered to farms in Buchanan, DeKalb, Andrew and Clinton counties in Northwest Missouri for use as a free fertilizer.
The lawsuit alleges that the sludge contained high levels of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, that farmers then unknowingly spread across their land.
Prime Tanning and an employee, Rick Beam, have been accused of negligently failing to warn about the high levels of hexavalent chromium contained in the sludge, failing to report test results indicating high levels of metal and failing to adequately test the sludge for the known carcinogen.
Congressman Sam Graves, a Republican from Missouri’s sixth district where Cameron is located, wrote a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking that they investigate the new evidence disclosed in the lawsuit.
“Previous EPA efforts did not investigate the specific sources where hexavelent chromium has been discovered,” wrote Rep. Graves in a letter dated April 22, 2009. “I ask the EPA to move quickly and to use all available resources to examine this evidence and to conduct any additional measures necessary to protect public health.”
The lawsuit was the first indication that the tannery may be the potential cause of the Cameron brain tumors.
A prior Cameron Missouri class action lawsuit filed in August 2008 on behalf of residents of the town, alleged that the problems were caused by high levels of lead and arsenic found in soil samples taken from the land around the Rockwool Industries plant near the town. Arsenic and lead can damage a person’s nervous system and potentially cause cancer.