This is Part Two of a MintPress series about a cluster of rare illnesses in a Minneapolis, Minn. suburb. Click here to read Part One. (MintPress) – On a map that spans across her dining room table, Kim Hutchens takes a blue highlighter and traces along an unassuming creek that flows through Brooklyn Park, Minn. – […]
This is Part Two of a MintPress series about a cluster of rare illnesses in a Minneapolis, Minn. suburb. Click here to read Part One.
(MintPress) – On a map that spans across her dining room table, Kim Hutchens takes a blue highlighter and traces along an unassuming creek that flows through Brooklyn Park, Minn. – a northern suburb of Minneapolis. Hutchens speculates that Shingle Creek could be contributing to a cluster of illnesses in the city that vary from rare auto-immune disorders, various forms of cancer and neurological diseases. Hutchens has now taken it upon herself to aggregate information relating to the illnesses, and in less than two weeks has been approached by more than 300 people with ties to Brooklyn Park who are affected with rare conditions.
Hutchens, 42 and a mother of two, struggles a great deal on her own. She is currently battling conditions that have left her with blood clots and a pituitary tumor while staying on top of her most serious condition – Myasthenia Gravis – a neuromuscular disorder that that causes weakness of voluntary muscles. Hutchens said the condition has resulted in torn tendons in her legs and multiple broken bones that have resulted from falls.
Doctors at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and Mayo Clinic have no reasoning or justifications for her illnesses, only mounting diagnoses.
But Hutchens makes one thing clear: The work she has put into researching and accruing all of the cases of people who have come forward is not about her. It’s about her brother, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 30 and stage 3 colon cancer by the time he was 38. And it’s about her dad, who battled his share of complications while the family grew up in Brooklyn Park near the creek. And she puts first everyone else who has disclosed their conditions with her.
“I keep thinking, ‘There’s no way that a group of us could have that bad of luck,’” she said. “There has to be a link somehow. You can’t have this many people have these many problems without there being some link.”
Years in the making
Hutchens now relies on Facebook as the catalyst for her investigation, creating a group that connects all of those afflicted and allows them to share their very different, but often similar stories. Hutchens originally joined Facebook three years ago as a way to keep her family updated on her health.
But her updates on Facebook quickly turned into lengthy threads of her old neighbors and friends sharing similar conditions and knowing people from the area who passed before they were 50. Soon after, Hutchens was getting reports of others’ conditions, ranging from lupus, pancreatic disease, multiple sclerosis, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and pemphigus.
That’s when Hutchens began to notice an alarming trend: All of the conditions and deaths were occurring in people who were aged 35-45. And nearly all of them attended the city’s public high school, Park Center Senior High School. The cases were also clustered to particular areas of the city, oftentimes in neighborhoods that saddled up next to Shingle Creek.
On Hutchens’ Facebook group, Brooklyn Park Illness Suspicions, she wrote that the data she has collected thus far is unprecedented in other areas across the United States.
“I have not heard of any other place that has this many people, of my age group, hit with this broad spectrum of disease and illness, as it is here,” Hutchens wrote. “At the age that most of us are at now, the previous generation and the generation prior to that, did not have the ailments, diseases, syndromes, etc., along with the large number of people who have these illnesses.”
So began a mission to collect evidence and find answers that would explain the illness cluster along the small creek and specific areas throughout the city. She detailed one street in Brooklyn Park, Idaho Ave. N., where she has collected information of 11 people currently dying or who have already passed in one small neighborhood on the road, which sits on the south end of the creek.
“Every day someone new comes up with addresses in that area,” Hutchens told MintPress. “It’s very sad.”
Putting a plan to action
In a suburb seven miles east of Brooklyn Park, environmental activist Erin Brockovich listened to evidence that suggested a cancer cluster in Fridley, Minn. Hutchens was in attendance and approached investigator Robert Bowcock of Integrated Resource Management about her findings in Brooklyn Park. To Hutchens’ surprise, Bowcock said the group had information on Brooklyn Park and hoped to do a preliminary investigation in the future.
For Hutchens, that acknowledgement was relief. She genuinely feels she is on to something, and knowing that another group feels strong enough to investigate as well gives her hope.
With a ringing endorsement, Hutchens has researched Brooklyn Park and its land zoning. As a resident of the city for all but three years of her life, she has seen the city evolve. She recalls sets of apartments and townhomes built on brownfield land that was once off limits to residential housing because of the industrial chemicals used by the firm that once sat on the lot.
She also recalls an incident around 20 years ago where a chemical began to seep from the ground at the city’s Central Park. After the chemical was reported, the park was closed off and men in hazardous materials suits began pulling buckets of toxic chemicals from the ground.
With stories in the city’s history such as those, Hutchens fears that residents were not informed of the risks of the chemicals from the leak. She also fears the city’s water supply may contribute to the problems. Her family now only drinks filtered or bottled water as a precautionary measure.
Hutchens admits she has a lot to learn and continues to research every day. She said the hardest part of leading her independent investigation is not having answers for those who come forward to her about their suspicions as well. And under a swath of medical bills for her treatments and clinic visits, she said she has struggled with staying grounded.
“It’s overwhelming,” Hutchens said. “There’s a lot of anxiety because I know that there’s something and I can’t answer a lot of the questions. It’s also really sad every time I read the stories of two of the city’s main street where people are dying or have recently died.”
She said she is not ready to point fingers and isn’t anywhere near filing lawsuits or looking to the court system. But she fears for her children’s health and wants answers for Minneapolis’ north metro illness clusters that include Brooklyn Park, Fridley and New Brighton.
“My kids are here. I don’t want them to go through anything like what I’ve been through; my brother, my friends,” Hutchens lamented. “I can’t put them through that without knowing if where we live is going to kill them. I can’t do that.”