A new analysis of the cancer rate in Fridley shows that it's still higher than the state average, but by 7.6 percent, not the 10 percent previously reported.

The inquiry, released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health, was prompted by concerns raised on Facebook about a possible link between cancer and toxic chemicals in the northern suburb.

The analysis suggests that smoking rates, which are historically high in Anoka County, may be largely to blame for the additional cancers.

"Fridley's elevated overall cancer rate appears to be due largely to its high lung cancer rate," the Health Department said in a news release.

Officials said that a "closer, more thorough analysis of the data" found that Fridley has an average of 153 cancer cases every year, compared with 142 that would be "expected" in the population. They said it's not unusual to find that kind of variation.

They also said that tests of Fridley's drinking water "found no evidence of contaminants exceeding levels of health concern."

In January, former resident Jason McCarty started a Facebook site called "Fridley Cancer Cluster" to share concerns about cancer in the suburb and its history of toxic pollution at several Superfund sites.

The Facebook group has since grown to more than 2,600 members, and prompted investigator Erin Brockovich, of Hollywood fame, to start an inquiry.

McCarty said the new health department numbers won't put the concerns to rest, because they count only current residents. He wants to know how many people grew up in Fridley and developed cancer after moving away.

"Maybe there is nothing in Fridley, but maybe there is," he said.

"Until we can definitively find out what's going on, we're never going to get an answer."

But tracking down everyone who left Fridley, and finding out whether they had cancer, would be virtually impossible, said John Soler, who runs the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System at the Health Department.

He noted that it's extremely difficult to prove that any resident's cancer was caused by environmental exposure, especially when nearly half of Minnesotans can expect to develop cancer in their lifetime. "You can't know for sure, is the real honest answer," he said.

A statement explaining the data is posted online at www.health. state.mn.us.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384