We don’t yet know if Kalamazoo’s Allied Paper Landfill can be cleaned up using microorganisms. The company that wants to do that, BioPath Solutions, is still testing its product. But if BioPath gets the go-ahead from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it might remove the waste. Many residents have said that’s what they want. But they would also have to deal with some noise and some unpleasant smells.
Like Kalamazoo, Great Barrington, Massachusetts is in the middle of its own toxic waste problem. In 2014, a contracting company started using BioPath’s product to clean up a PCP and dioxin contaminated site there. Or at least it was cleaning it up until residents started complaining about an ammonia smell just a few months later.
Heather Bellow writes for the Berkshire Edge, an online publication that covers the Berkshire region:
“So they had started the work and then we had this record rainfall and it flooded areas of the site. And basically it created this stagnancy that made everything start to smell. And the Catch 22 is that the only way that they could actually fix the odor problem was to go in and start working the soil again. But the heavy rains stopped them and also our state Department of Environmental Protection stopped the work because of the odor. So it was sort of this series of unfortunate events that led to the odor and then the stopping of the work.”
Bellow says some residents said they were having respiratory issues and many weren’t happy about the dust that the product left on their cars and porches. Ultimately, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection wasn’t sure BioPath’s product was even working.
Since then, Bellow says the company tested the product on several samples at the Great Barrington site and found that the contamination was reduced by 30 to 60 percent. President of BioPath Solutions Mick Warner says that’s a success.
“We were real enthused with those results,” he says.
Bellow says she believes the company is going to try to go back to work on the site, but it's unclear whether Massachusetts DEP will allow it.
Mick Warner of BioPath says it’s unlikely that a situation like Great Barrington will happen in Kalamazoo. That being said, Warner says work at the site will still be a little smelly and a little noisy - at least at first. Heavy, loud machinery will have to turn the waste and right now that waste doesn’t smell very good.
“When you move material that’s been sitting there for 40 years or 60 years - however long that material’s there - when you pick that material up it will have already been anaerobic as it’s sitting there today. And regardless of who does this work - us or the EPA - is there’s going to be potential for some odors just from exposing the material,” says Warner.
Edward Giddings and his family live on Burke Street. All that separates their home from the Allied site is the woods. He says as long as the landfill didn’t smell all the time - and the waste was truly being cleaned up - he could live with it.
“A little bad odor isn’t going to bother me. It’s like being near a farm. I don’t like the smell of it, but I know that it’s necessary,” he says.
Giddings’ neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous, disagrees. She says she already has breathing problems and a strong odor might make it worse. Plus, she says she doesn’t trust that it’s safe.
“What’s in your lungs? What’s getting into your lungs if you’re smelling all that?” she says.
Despite the noise and smell, BioPath could give many residents what they’ve always wanted - for the waste to be moved somewhere else.
“We’re anticipating that a fairly large amount of the material, we will not be able to get to the end point to leave the material on-site. So within our plan we’re planning on off-site disposal of a significant amount of material,” says BioPath's Mick Warner.
That means some of the higher concentrations of PCBs at the site will be shipped off elsewhere. Warner says if those concentrations are higher than 50 parts per million, the waste would go to special landfills - either near Detroit or Indianapolis. If the waste is lower than 50 parts per million, Warner says it would likely go to a similar landfill in Southwest Michigan.
It could go to Watervliet, Three Oaks, Buchanan, Three Rivers, Marshall, or Hastings. That doesn’t sit well with Ethel Wolf of Three Rivers, who says she can see Westside Landfill from her kitchen window.
“Anywhere that they’re going to put hazardous material, I feel just has the potential to get into the soil, perhaps even get into the air. So I’m certainly not happy with the decision to do that if that’s where it’s going to wind up, but I don’t think anybody would no matter where they decide where they’re going to put it,” she says.
BioPath Solutions plans to meet with the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the Allied Paper Landfill. That meeting had been scheduled for February, but has been pushed back to March.