Cottage Grove, MN (WorkersCompensation.com) – Four current and former teachers in the South Washington County School District intend to file workers’ compensation claims against the school district over cancer diagnoses.
The teachers are concerned that something in Park High School is causing teachers to get sick.
Megan Diediker, a geometry teacher at Park High School, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that after her breast cancer diagnosis she became concerned that something within the school’s environment caused her cancer. After looking into illnesses at the school, she found that nearly 30 other current and former staff members from Park High had also contracted cancer over the course of two decades.
Two of the staff members who had contracted cancer, she found, had shared the same classroom.
Although an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health concluded that the number of cases did not constitute a cancer cluster, Diediker and a few colleagues found an attorney to represent them and said they intend to file workers’ compensation claims against the school district.
The intent, she told the Star Tribune, is to find out through an investigation into the workers’ compensation claim, whether or not there was some connection between the cancers and the school environment.
An environmental connection is not out of the question, some experts say. Cottage Grove is the bull’s eye for water contamination in Minnesota.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, studies of the area showed elevated rates of per-fluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyls in the water. Known as “forever chemicals,” the PFAs were released into the water by 3M Co., Manufacturing at its Chemobile Plate in Cottage Grove, as well as dumped into four nearby landfills.
Still, the department said that treatment of the water was working, and residents were seeing the incidents of PFAs in their bodies lower.
“In 2008, 2010, and 2014, MDH completed biomonitoring studies of selected residents in Cottage Grove, Lake Elmo, and Oakdale who were known to have been exposed to PFOA and/or PFOS in their drinking water,” a report from the health department said. “The average concentration of PFAS in the participants’ samples were higher than the averages for the general U.S. population. The studies also showed that over time, as the participants drank treated water, the PFAS concentrations in their bodies decreased.”
Several wells that serve the school have been found to have higher than normal PFA levels. But city officials told the Star Tribune that they are confident the school’s water is not an issue, based on the school’s filtration system.
Teachers also thought the cancers could be caused by asbestos. Between 2008 and 2010, the school underwent asbestos abatement that was done while school was in session, and required the installation of a new ventilation system.
Keith Jacobus, South Washington County Schools Superintendent, told the Star Tribune that he is taking the matter seriously, but that he’s relying on the investigation from the Department of Health that found no health risk at the school.
“We have to follow the expertise of people who know this, versus making judgment calls of our own,” he said.
Dean Salita, Diediker’s attorney, said he expects to file the workers’ compensation claims within the next few months.