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This week, the Environment Report is taking an in-depth look at the connections between cancer and the environment.When somebody gets cancer, one of the first questions is usually "why?"Does this kind of cancer run in my family?Was it something in the water, or in the air around me?Did I get exposed to something?What would you do, or where would you go to answer these questions? We'll explore how much we really know about the connections between cancer and the chemicals in our environment.We'll also meet both regular people and scientists trying to figure out if certain towns around Michigan are struggling with more cancer cases than other places because of current or past pollution.You'll hear about whether or not turning to the courts makes sense when it seems a company might to be blame for putting people at risk of cancer or other illnesses.Finally, we'll look at where we go from here. What do researchers know, and where are they looking next?

West Michigan's White Lake sees cleanup progress

A map of the White Lake Area of Concern (shown in orange)
Michigan DEQ
A map of the White Lake Area of Concern (shown in orange)

The cleanup of one of Michigan's environmental "Areas of Concern" (AOC)  is now a step closer to being finished.

White Lake in Muskegon County is one of 43 sites around the Great Lakes region (14 are in Michigan) that have been designated for special cleanup because of heavy pollution that impairs their use.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says White Lake has a history of contamination "with industrial discharges from leather processing and chemical companies."

But according toa statement released today by the DEQ, a major item on the lake's restoration checklist has been crossed off. Historically, White Lake  has had extremely high levels of "undesirable," phosphorous-producing algae, but environmental authorities have confirmed that current levels are low enough to no longer be considered a problem.

From the DEQ:

Phosphorus concentrations have decreased from consistently high levels in the 1970s to more moderate levels today. However, resource users could still see occasional algae blooms and abundant submerged aquatic vegetation. "This improvement will benefit not only the people who live and work in the White Lake AOC but all the residents of Michigan and the Great Lakes Basin as well," wrote Chris Korleski, Director of EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office.

With the algae problem largely solved, six more "Beneficial Use Impairments" need to be remedied before White Lake can be removed from the list if AOC's. These include fish and wildlife population loss, destruction of habitat and drinking water restrictions.

White Lake has been on the AOC list since the late 1980's, according to the DEQ, but the cleanup is expected to be completed soon.

As part of Michigan Radio's "Cancer and the Environment" series earlier this year, Sarah Alvarez spoke with some residents in the White Lake area who wonder whether decades of pollution have increased their chances of getting cancer. There is no conclusive information showing elevated cancer rates in the area, Alvarez says, but residents are working to map cancer cases in hopes of getting the health department to look into it.


-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom


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