One possible source of environmental based contamination is the drinking water. This is a very important possibility to pursue since it helps to explain the localized nature of the Wilms tumor cases. The water from Marine City is from a different source than the rest of the county, Marine City gets its water from the St. Clair River, whereas most of the rest of the county relies on wells. The water is certainly contaminated, although the city claims that the level of contamination is nothing to be alarmed about. This claim seems altogether too confident when critically evaluated.

Chemical Valley

There are two likely sources of chemical contamination of the St. Clair Channel, the first being run-off from surrounding agricultural use of pesticides.  For more information on that topic visit the land section of this site. The second likely source is the area in Canada known as “Chemical Valley.” Chemical Valley is a massive industrial complex in Sarnia, Ontario. Over 40% of the petrochemicals (many of which are carcinogenic, such as benzene) produced in Canada are produced there. It lies about 25 miles upstream from Marine City and over 100 spills a year occur there. A list of prominent recent spills may be found here. There is much more information about the area in general here and here.  Bearing this is mind it is somewhat disturbing that the water utility feels comfortable declaring the water safe when, of the chemicals they test for, none is said to have industrial processes or pesticides as a  likely source. In short, if you get water from a river that is most likely contaminated by agricultural pesticides and/or industrial processes, it seems negligent to not do water quality testing with those sources in mind.  That trobuling report can be found here.

Image Taken from EPA Website

St. Clair River from above.

Furthermore, a major concern with regard to drinking water quality is the information sharing system and its failures. When a spill occurs up river on the Canadian side of the border it can take hours or even days to be reported; worse yet, in some cases, it is never reported.  Even in the cases when it is reported, that information is seldom systematically given to the public. The justification often given for this ineffectiveness is that contaminants do not cross the border within the river.  That is, according to a number of community members who have experienced these frustrations numerous times, the official word is that if something is spilled in Canada, it will not ever enter United States water.  One might reasonably question the motives of officials who take this position, especially in light of a United States Geologic Survey(USGS) report that shows quite clearly that items in the river(in this case buoys) do, in fact, cross border lines. The video which shows that can be found here while the entire supporting report is available here.

While it is clearly impossible at this point to say that Wilms tumor and other cancers in the area are being caused by contaminated water, it is difficult to understand why those officials with the ability to investigate water contaminants further fail to do so. With the reliance on misinformation such as the claim that pollutants cannot cross the river, and the poverty of information in the current water quality reports, the response to this problem seems to be to ignore or obfuscate it. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than on the St. Clair County website (click on Wilms tumor, then Q&A, then “environmental”) where the following question and response occurs:

St. Clair County Website

Despite clear concern from the community over their drinking water standards, little to nothing is being done to at the very least assuage their fears. For more on why this may be the case please visit the sections of our site on media and socio-political  perspectives.


More information on the water quality of the St. Clair River can be found on the EPA’s page about the St. Clair River Area of Concern.  Unfortunately they do not address human health concerns and as such where not engaged in this discussion.

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