'Profits Over People' hits the classroom

Written on 12/01/2023
Edwin Faunce

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Sherry Roe lost both parents to cancer and is a cancer survivor herself. A registered nurse, Roe started researching local cases of cancer, finding that many she and other medical professionals were seeing in the Kokomo area had connections to particular chemicals used in factories around Kokomo.

Those connections led her to bring a lawsuit against a major chemical corporation, winning a settlement for local victims and their families. She wrote a book about her experiences fighting large corporations, “Profits Over People.” That book is now being used as a textbook for college students in the Michigan State University Department of Community Sustainability.

"My book is giving students the chance to see the loss this (corporation’s) greed caused my family," says Roe. "I hope these students get excited about making a difference in the lives of people in future generations."

MSU Associate Professor Jennifer Lee Johnson first met Roe at a research event in Martinsville, Ind., and was impressed with Roe's intensity and her findings.

"As soon as Sherry began sharing with me Kokomo's long and complicated history of industrial development, contamination, and health challenges, I knew this was a place I needed to visit and learn much more about," said Johnson.

Johnson thought that her students should also read Roe's book. Roe said, "that was the beginning" of her book being studied in a college setting.

Not only is Roe's book being used in environmental sustainability courses at MSU, but according to Roe's Profits Over People Facebook page, Johnson is planning on bringing 55 researchers to Kokomo to take soil samples and interview those who might be affected by the contamination. To that end Johnson developed a survey to collect information about community health and contamination.

“Dr. Johnson of Michigan State created a survey prior to the town hall in September about the contamination here in Kokomo,” Roe wrote. “If you live in Kokomo or have lived in Kokomo, I encourage you to fill it out. You can remain anonymous.

“At the bottom of the survey is an opportunity for you to include your contact information if you’d like to help, stay updated, or speak with Dr. Johnson directly. Dr. Johnson’s staff will be providing me with a list of those who indicated they would like to help or stay updated.”

The researchers planning a visit to Kokomo are actually Dr. Johnson’s students, who have formed research teams and have begun document searches on Kokomo and industrial contamination. According to Roe, the scope of the contamination is so large and widespread that it will take a long time uncover and remediate it all.

“Kokomo is one big plume, and this should be no surprise to anyone,” said Roe. “Dr. Johnson realized it would take a long-term plan to get the answers the residents of our community deserve. The 55 students in this semester’s class have been divided into research teams led by Dr. Johnson and will be locating and documenting thousands of files of our town and the contamination.

“This will be a long-term project and will most likely carry on into other class schedules. We will hold another town hall sometime after the first of the year, more towards late February or March, to update the community of the information documented.”

For more information about Roe, her book, and the contamination discovered to date, visit the Profits Over People Facebook page. To participate in the anonymous survey, visit https://forms.gle/5GmeUfsBhCxuBTZ37