It looks like any other country road in rural America, but this two-mile dirt track in Minnesota might be one of the deadliest cancer hotspots in the country.
All four of the homes along the County Road B in Dodge County have been touched by the disease, with the area now so notorious other locals call it ‘cancer road’.
Since the 1980s, fifteen people have been diagnosed with tumors, often rarer and more aggressive forms, seven of which have died.
One of the victims — truck driver Brian Bennerotte — claims he developed a cancerous mass that was ‘the size of a basketball’ and wrapped around his heart.
Experts have described the concentration of disease as ‘eyebrow raising’.
Mr Bennerotte told DailyMail.com: ‘We think this was caused by the drinking water and then the nitrates in the water, that is our feeling of what caused this spiral in cancer cases. There is cancer in every family.’
The above shows County Road B in Dodge County, Minnesota. It is a peaceful stretch of road, but has been hit by a cluster of cancer cases
Brian Bennerotte, who grew up on the road, lost his father and three of his five brothers to cancer. Himself, his other brother and his sister were also diagnosed with cancer, but all survived the disease. He had a tumor wrapped around his heart that was so large it was the size of a basketball, reports the StarTribune
Scott Glarner also lived on the road (pictured above at the post office). He later developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer affecting the lymph system, while his mother developed breast cancer
Pictured above is County Road B. The Department of Health in Minnesota said the reports were the first time they had been made aware of the cluster of cases
Commercial fertilizers are being blamed locally for the cluster of cases, with the road running along a major farming area.
Tests conducted by Dodge County officials show the area has high level of nitrates — tiny chemical compounds also linked to cancer — in the water supply.
But the Minnesota Department of Health says the reports are the first time it has been made aware of the cluster.
A spokesman added that for the whole of Dodge County the cancer rates in the area have not been higher than the state’s average.
Mr Bennerotte told environmental news website Circle of Blue: ‘Every family along here was affected. Every one.’
Now aged 60 years old, Mr Bennerotte says he has seen five members of his family die from cancer — three of his brothers, his father and his oldest brother’s wife.
His father Howard died in 1983 after developing kidney cancer at the age of 64 years.
His oldest brother Chuck then took over running the farm, but died of bone cancer in 2000 at the age of 64 years. His wife, Joanne, also died of cancer in 2015.
His brother Gary was diagnosed with colon cancer that led to his death in 2006 from the disease at the age of 65 years. He was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the early 2000s, Mr Bennerotte said, adding that his death was caused by a combination of this and the cancer. Wesley died after a short battle with leukemia — a type of blood cancer — in 2019.
Mr Bennerotte said himself, his sister and his other brother had all also suffered from cancer.
Stuart was diagnosed with a benign tumor on his pancreas in 2003 when he was 57 and, more recently, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He is currently undergoing treatment. His sister Myrna was diagnosed with cancer in her tear ducts.
For Mr Bennerotte, when he was 20 years old doctors diagnosed him with acute lymphoblastic lymphoma — or a type of white blood cell cancer — which he said had triggered a tumor to grow around his heart.
Doctors treated the tumor by firing high doses of radiation at it and through chemotherapy, but in the process also did permanent damage to his lungs and heart.
The truck driver is still going in and out of hospital because of the damage.
Pictured above is Joanne Bennerotte and Wesley Bennerotte. Joanne married into the family but died in 2012 after being diagnosed with bone cancer. Wesley, the second-youngest, died in 2019 after being diagnosed with leukemia, a type of blood cancer
Pictured above is Audrey Serie (left) and LaVonne ‘Bonnie’ Glarner. Audrey died of cancer in 2021 after living on the road, while LaVonne developed breast cancer in the mid-1970s. She survived and died from dementia in 2021
The above map, from the US Geological Survey, shows the risk of groundwater contamination with nitrates. It reveals that southeastern Minnesota, where the road is based, is an area at moderate to high risk of contamination
Mr Bennerotte told DailyMail.com: ‘I have had numerous medical emergencies since then. Tomorrow, for example, I am going to the Mayo Clinic for a heart valve replacement.
‘The cancer has weakened my immune system, my lung capcity and my heart.
‘Everything is more difficult to do. As far as walking and catching my breath, there are numerous issues. Getting around can be a chore from time to time and the older I get, the worse it seems to be getting.’
He blamed the cancer that has stricken himself, his family and others on the road on nitrates from fertilizers that have got into the water supply.
Mr Bennerotte is calling for the legal limit for nitrates in the water — 10 parts per million — to be lowered because of what has happened to his family.
The limit was set in the 1970s after the emergence of ‘blue baby syndrome’ where babies were turning blue after being exposed to nitrate-laced water.
This was happening because the nitrates were causing them to suffer an oxygen deficiency.
Monitoring by the US Geological Survey shows that 22 percent of private wells in rural areas still exceed this safe limit of nitrates.
Scientists raise alarm over pesticide-used arsenic contamination
Scientists have raised the alarm over yet another cancer-causing toxin contaminating food and water which they call an ‘urgent health threat’.
Arsenic, a metal naturally found in the Earth’s crust, is used in pesticides and processes like cement manufacturing — but it is increasingly ending up in groundwater, where it ends up in drinking water wells.
Repeated exposure can damage DNA, weaken the immune system and lead to the formation of cancer cells, as well as high blood pressure and heart disease.
While attention has been given to the dangers of lead and PFAS contamination in recent years, scientists at Florida International University warn that arsenic is not commanding the same attention, despite posing a similar risk to health.
Some 31 states had levels of arsenic in drinking water above the legal limit between 2017 and 2019, according to the Environmental Working Group.
A 2019 Consumer Reports investigation even found that bottled water brands sold in America had levels of arsenic that exceeded the legal limit — which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says is 10 parts per billion (ppb).
Other studies of multiple popular baby food brands also found arsenic at levels higher than the legal limit. Some evidence suggests this can lead to lower IQ scores in children.
Tests on water at three of the farms from the 1990s to 2011 conducted by Dodge County officials also showed nitrate levels above safe limits at two of them.
Scott Glarner, who also grew up on the road but now works in the local post office, revealed his family had also suffered a cluster of cancer cases.
He said his mother LaVonne ‘Bonnie’ Glarner was diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid-1970s at the age of 35 years — much earlier than the average of 50 years and above.
She survived the disease but died in 2021 after being diagnosed with dementia.
Mr Glarner was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006 at the age of 43 years, a cancer of the lymph system which helps to drain fluid from the body.
He is now in remission but said he still feels like a cancer ‘time bomb’ because he is so worried the disease will return.
He said, on the cluster of cancer cases on the road: ‘People talked about it. People questioning, what’s up with the water? Because of all the cancer that people had up and down that road.’
Mr Glarner has already received a payment from herbicide company RoundUp after it emerged he was exposed to their cancer-causing chemical glyphosphate.
But, like Mr Bennerotte, he is also convinced that nitrates played a role in the emergence of his disease.
He is also calling for the safe limit on nitrate levels to be lowered. Both men are also urging state and local authorities to take more action to protect residents’ health.
Dodge County — along with eight others in southeastern Minnesota — is the subject of a request from environmental groups for the US Environmental Protection Agency to take emergency action under the safe drinking water act.
The groups say levels of nitrates in the water are still too high which is creating an ‘imminent and substantial endangerment’ to human health.
Several studies have also linked nitrates to a higher risk of cancers including cancers of the colon, prostate and breast — which have all been spotted on this road.
Paul Mathewson, science program director at Clean Wisconsin, said the cluster of cancers in the area with high nitrate levels was ‘eyebrow raising’.
‘In the past decade or so there’s been a lot of new research making a strong, compelling case that even at nitrate levels that are much lower than 10 parts per million you’re seeing these increased risks.
‘There needs to be greater awareness. The science is out there.’
The fertilizer industry is pushing back against this, however, with the trade organization the Fertilizer Institute saying in 2017 that nitrates are not classified by US authorities as a carcinogen.
Locals have blamed commercial fertilizers for the uptick in cases, and some say that pesticides may also have a role
The road is based near the town of Berne in rural Minnesota
The above shows the gravel County Road B in Minnesota where the cluster of cases is located
Also living along the road, the Serie family was also affected.
Their father Larry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1988 which he did not survive, his daughter Lesa told the StarTribune.
His wife Audrey was also reported to have died from cancer in 2021.
Also on the road was the Spreiter family, of which two members have developed cancer.
Irene Spreiter was diagnosed with breast cancer, locals said, while her son Darren was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 11 years. Both survived.
A woman named Christine Hachfel later moved onto the same farm but was later diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
Data on nitrate concentrations in Dodge County, aquired by Circle of Blue, found that nitrate levels in drinking water at the Glarner home were consistently 11ppm from 2002 to 2011 — above the safe limit.
The highest nitrate concentrations, 25 ppm, were detected in 2001 on the road at the Spreiters’ well.
Data showed that the Bennerotte well had a level of 8ppm in 1990 and 7.1 ppm in 2013.