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State says more air tests needed near Kalamazoo plant

Leona Larson

Kalamazoo residents living near the eastside Graphic Packaging plant on Pitcher Street got some good news on Tuesday night. In an online meeting to update the public on air quality testing near the plant, state officials said the rotten egg smell from hydrogen sulfide doesn’t cause asthma or cancer.

Tuesday’s meeting provided detailed and technical descriptions of various air-quality tests conducted over the past year. Presentations were made by representatives from each of the three agencies involved; the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“The hydrogen sulfide results are not expected to be a health concern over the short term,” said EGLE toxicologist Keisha Williams, “but we are keeping in mind that this is just a snapshot. Lastly, the evaluation of health concerns for these long term exposures is as well as for other factors is still being investigated.”

Brandon Reid, a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Health, also said further study is needed to measure the health effects for people already diagnosed with asthma.

“We know many community members are concerned about asthma,” said Reid, “and while we know that hydrogen sulfide doesn’t cause asthma, we know that people with asthma may be more sensitive and more susceptible to the hydrogen sulfide in the air. And with the help of our epidemiologists with MDHHS we are hoping to learn more about the rates of asthma in the community surrounding Graphic Packaging and the water treatment plant and we will share those findings in our health consultation.”

Reid said the state is also studying the impact of chemical odors on personal stress levels as well as the quality of life for people who live in the area.

“We know that foul odors worsen quality of life,” said Reid. “It’s uncomfortable to live near them, they can cause headaches, they can discourage you from going outdoors or exercising. And even though these odors by themselves may not cause specific health effects, we know that they can affect people’s overall well-being.”

While there were no direct comments from the public, Jenifer Dixon who moderated the meeting for EGLE did read some comments and questions submitted by the online audience. Dixon admitted that while there were many questions that couldn’t be answered yet, she hoped this “initial” meeting would help to allay worries in affected communities.

“We knew we were not going to have all the answers for you. We wanted to let everyone know that there wasn’t a short-term concern with all the studies that we had done, and that we still had all these other things that we were looking at,” Dixon said. “But we didn’t want to just leave everybody wondering what the heck’s been going on over the last year while we’ve been working and you’ve been wondering.”

More information on the testing of the Graphic Packaging site can be found on EGLE’s website. A video of the meeting can be found on EGLE's YouTube channel. 

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