FRUITHURST, Ala. (WIAT) — The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) is now involved in the cancer cluster investigation going on in Fruithurst, Alabama.
After eight people, including four children were diagnosed with similar cancers in the small community of Fruithurst, Christy Hiett, a local elementary school principal, started looking for the cause. It led her to a closed rubber compounding facility with a spotty record of reporting to ADEM.
“For 20 years that they were required to report, 10 years they did not report,” explained Hiett. “And we also determined that during that time frame, the reports that they did send to ADEM at times were a thousand times higher than levels the EPA would allow.”
Now, almost two years into the investigation, she’s gotten help from two scientists at Auburn University and another at Alabama, as well as countless volunteers. She finally has something to tell people and proof of groundwater pollution.
But the investigation also revealed more questions. Now she needs help from ADEM.
“I want them to investigate, to look at the data that’s already there. I want them to determine if this can be a Superfund site to be cleaned up,” said Hiett.
After several conversations with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, ADEM had responded only once, so she reached out to Alabama Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, who represents Cleburne County.
“Were very concerned with what’s going on up there,” said Dial. “She’s done a terrific amount of work, doing research and getting people involved. She informed me that she was having difficulty getting any response from ADEM, so I came down and immediately contacted the director at ADEM and got some response from them, fortunately — or unfortunately. They shouldn’t have had to wait until the state senator got involved.”
Still, Hiett says so far to her knowledge ADEM has not visited Fruithurst.
“It’s just time ticking away. We can’t have other people or children to die from the contaminated groundwater,” said Hiett.
In the meantime, she said they’ve armed the people living in Fruithurst with information about how to protect themselves, they’re working to connect more residents to the safe city water, and they’re taking steps to research further.
“We focused on Leukemia and Lymphoma because it’s similar in cancer. But then we start hearing pancreatic, prostate, thyroid, there’s just a ton of cancers,” explained Hiett.
Hiett says she and her volunteers are issuing surveys to the community now that they have information about what contaminants are in the groundwater, so that they can try to find out if there are links to other types of cancer as well.