Short exposure to Kalamazoo mill odors not harmful, agencies say

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KALAMAZOO, MI – Michigan state toxicologists say industrial gas emissions exposure to Kalamazoo is not being detected at levels considered harmful for short-term exposure.

However, investigators are still working to determine whether prolonged exposure could be problematic for the health of people who regularly breathe the chemicals.

The Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy hosted a virtual meeting on Tuesday, October 5 to brief the public on air sampling activities around Graphic Packaging International on the north side of Kalamazoo and to answer questions about the problem.

“Hydrogen sulfide results shouldn’t be a short-term health concern, but we keep in mind that this is only a snapshot of time when thinking about long-term exposures. term and what might be going on there, ”EGLE toxicologist Keisha Williams mentioned. “The assessment of health problems for long-term exposures, as well as for other factors is still under study.”

Williams gave an overview focused on hydrogen sulfide or H2S, which is one of the main chemical researchers focused on.

H2S is also present in GPI emissions.

Williams said not all of the answers are known today. State officials are currently examining possible long-term health issues and other factors, she said.

A map shows the locations of air monitoring activities in Kalamazoo as part of an investigation by state and federal agencies.

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also spoke on Tuesday.

Marta Fuoco, an air quality monitoring scientist at the EPA, explained how the agency used a mobile air monitoring vehicle with the primary objective of testing the area for hydrogen sulfide. the wastewater treatment plant and the GPI plant. They also looked for other pollutants while monitoring for three days in Kalamazoo, Fuoco said.

Most of the values ​​detected were below the reporting limits, she said. They detected low levels of methane, at concentrations considered inert, she said. Low levels of VOCs have been detected, she said.

Odors were detected downwind of the plant and treatment plant, but the EPA did not detect any “reportable” concentrations of H2S, benzene, toluene or P-xylene, a she declared.

EPA field operators smelled a “distinct smell,” but could not determine where it was coming from, she said.

“We could smell some odors but we didn’t see any hydrogen sulfide,” she said.

Fuoco responded to a question about the location of the hydrogen sulfide and if it is in the valley. She said H2S is a heavy gas and is found in low areas.

Former Northside resident Brandi Crawford-Johnson called and asked why people were burning eyes in the neighborhood.

“What could be the cause of the burning eyes?” What chemical? Crawford-Johnson said. “Could it be methane? Could it be hydrogen sulfide?

Reid said hydrogen sulfide can cause eye irritation. It could also be caused by other chemicals in the air or by allergies, he said.

For some time now, citizens have been voicing concerns about an odor in the city’s Northside neighborhood and also raising questions about potential health issues caused by air quality issues.

“One of the things that we have really heard from the community is that this particular community feels very overloaded and under-represented, especially from an environmental justice perspective,” the said. EGLE moderator Jenifer Dixon providing an overview at the start of the Gathering.

MDHHS toxicologist Brandon Reid said a health assessment will be carried out to determine if chemicals around the facilities pose a public health concern. Once the assessment is complete, the MDHHS will make recommendations and issue a public report, he said.

Reid spoke about an asthma prevalence survey in the community. H2S is not known to cause asthma, he said, but people with asthma may experience more severe symptoms or effects when they breathe it in.

The foul odors can cause headaches and impact people’s quality of life and well-being, Reid said, and the agency is concerned about that as well.

Investigators are also studying other sulfur compounds, ammonia and VOCs, he said.

Hydrogen sulfide is not considered a developmental toxicant that would interfere with infant growth, he said, responding to a question about infant mortality.

GPI has installed hydrogen sulfide monitors and modified processes at its wastewater treatment plant to reduce odors, said Monica Brothers, EGLE’s air quality inspector.

The city’s wastewater treatment plant has also taken steps to reduce odors, installing odor monitors and carbon scrubbers to reduce odors, she said. The city is also installing a biofilter to suck the stench out of the sewer system.

Brothers said hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas with a strong smell of rotten eggs that is produced naturally in the environment, but can also come from various industrial processes such as paper mills and wastewater treatment.

EGLE is monitoring hydrogen sulfide and will continue enforcement discussions with the company, Brothers said. The officials showed the locations of air monitoring equipment and the route of the mobile air monitoring.

GPI has received eight notices of odor violation from EGLE over the past decade, Brothers said.

Graphic Packaging said in a statement to MLive on Tuesday night that it appreciates the information provided by government agencies at Tuesday night’s community meeting. The company is encouraged by the data presented, GPI said in a statement to MLive, noting the conclusion that there are no short-term health issues related to the chemicals being assessed.

“We understand that the assessment of health issues related to long-term exposures and other factors is still under investigation. We will continue to work alongside city leaders and state and federal regulators, to ensure we remain a key part of solutions that improve the health and well-being of our neighbors in Kalamazoo. For more information on our ongoing efforts, please visit Kalamazoorecycles.comThe company said.

Related: Asthma kills the Kalamazoo family living near a stinking factory. Now the state is investigating asthma in the neighborhood.

The city of Kalamazoo approved a tax rebate for an expansion of GPI in September 2020 – a tax rebate of $ 1.6 million, spread over 12 years, or an average of $ 133,333 per year, according to GPI.

But commissioners were forced to return to the drawing board when the state of Michigan only agreed to one year of the 12-year tax relief plan approved by the city. The state said the tax relief request could not be based on a contingency that requires GPI to reduce odors, such as the Kalamazoo plan adopted in 2020.

Commissioners discussed a new plan proposed by city staff at meetings in September 2021, but decided to defer voting on the issue until after EGLE’s October 5 meeting.

The Graphic Packaging factory is located next to the predominantly black neighborhood of Northside in Kalamazoo. Some residents are suing the company, claiming odors and dust reduce the value of their properties and harm their health.

Related: What is that stench? How to report bad industrial odors to Kalamazoo

The company has participated in the ongoing odor working group meetings with the city of Kalamazoo, EGLE and others. The issue of odors was discussed behind closed doors in private “sub-quorum” meetings including city commissioners who once stood regularly and have since been disrupted.

In August, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said epidemiologists were assessing “the prevalence of asthma and associated hospitalizations” among people living around the Graphic Packaging Inc. plant at 1500 N. Pitcher. Street.

EGLE said in September that it had partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Kalamazoo to sample the air. The air sampling program is currently underway and is collecting short and long-term air quality data, EGLE said.

Read more: Michigan studies asthma prevalence near Kalamazoo smelling stationery

In September, EGLE issued a press release announcing three violations against another area facility, Wright Coating Technologies, at 1603 N. Pitcher St. The facility was burning used paint filters in ovens, according to EGLE.

Information on recent inspections, law enforcement, odor investigation plans and reports, and frequently asked questions about GPI can be found at Michigan.gov/EGLEGraphicPackaging.

EGLE staff continue to respond to complaints and conduct GPI inspections. Air quality complaints can be sent to Monica Brothers, [email protected] or 269-312-2535. Community members who have questions about the meeting or need accommodation can contact Dina Cozier at [email protected] or 269-243-0954.

Editor’s Note: Journalist Garret Ellison contributed to this article.

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