Tests needed to determine if PPE odors endanger health, expert says | News, Sport, Work

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz On Monday the Decorative Panels International plant in Alpena is located on the banks of the Thunder Bay River and Lake Huron. The plant is the source of a bad smell that aroused the ire of the residents. On Monday the Municipal Council of Alpena went behind closed doors to discuss possible disputes regarding the plant and the smell.

ALPENA – Future tests could help residents on the north side of the Alpena know whether to worry about their long-term health.

A state subpoena ordered Alpena Decorative Panels International to repair the source of the odors that inspectors described as “overwhelming and intolerable.” Residents living near the plant said the smells made them sick.

DPI officials last week told the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy that the company has taken steps to mitigate the odor emanating from its sewage lagoon, including adding water. of river and the aeration and recirculation of existing water.

“There has been no reported evidence or link to any disease in the community due to on-site odors,” Daryl Clendenen, DPI’s general manager in a statement to The News.

Environmental officials have yet to test the air to see if it could cause long-term health problems.

Odors and the chemicals that cause them can cause symptoms that are harmful to health, but scientists have a hard time linking odors to actual disease that doesn’t go away when the smell is removed, said Brandon Reid, a toxicologist at the Department of Health and of Michigan Human Services. Environmental health.

The only way to determine the safety of the air around a site as PPE is through air sampling, he said.

“We definitely wouldn’t trust our noses,” Reid said.

COMPLAINTS, STILL NO TESTS

When residents met with Alpena Mayor Matt Waligora last month to make complaints about the north side odor, many said the strong odors triggered headaches and asthma or other underlying conditions.

Waligora encouraged residents to bring health concerns to the local health department.

The District Health Department No. 4 told The News that the department “has no programmatic or judicial authority in this area” and that supervision for IPR matters rests entirely with EGLE.

Alpena residents continue to report offensive odors from PPE to an EGLE hotline for pollution-related emergencies, including complaints filed last week, EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg said.

Since 1 July EGLE has received 77 complaints relating to odors from the Alpena area. Not all complaints related to PPE.

The agency received several complaints specifically reporting alleged public health problems related to odors, Greenberg said.

Many residents who call the hotline claim that the smell – which one caller described as “sulfur, sewage and death mixed together” – makes them nauseous.

After completing the DPI response review, EGLE will decide on the next steps, including the possibility of aerial testing, Greenberg said.

DHHS has not tested DPI air, but is working with EGLE on odor issues involving DPI, spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said.

The odor of decaying vegetation identified by EGLE inspectors as originating from the DPI lagoon was identified at other sites as originating from sulfur-containing chemicals. These chemicals require special sampling and must be analyzed very quickly after collection, Sutfin said.

The agency doesn’t know when such tests might take place at the DPI, but will share the results publicly, Sutfin said.

OPINION OF AN EXPERT

As a specialist targeting sites where the state has concerns about environmental contamination and health effects, Reid often hears residents wanting to know if unpleasant and annoying smells will cause long-term damage to their health.

Most symptoms related to offensive odors, such as headaches or nausea, go away as the smell dissipates, whether the reaction comes from the smell itself or from a chemical behind the smell, he said.

Humans have widely varying levels of odor sensitivity, and experts who assess the risk posed by sites like DPI have a hard time doing this based on people’s reactions, Reid said.

The potential of a chemical to harm people through smell depends on the toxicological properties of the chemical “and how much of that chemical reaches the person smelling it,” Reid said.

A strong, offensive smell doesn’t mean a chemical is toxic or causes long-term effects, and scientists often can’t identify a chemical by its smell because some chemicals smell the same or don’t smell at all, he said. .

Saying that his company deeply regrets the inconvenience caused by the lagoon’s unpleasant odors, Clendenen, the director general of DPI, encouraged residents who feel ill to consult their health professionals.

“We are firm in our commitment to eradicate lagoon odors in the future and we sincerely hope this issue will be resolved soon,” said Clendenen.

Residents can report environmental problems to the EGLE Pollution Emergency Alert System at 800-292-4706.

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