Credit: Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radi

Kalamazoo residents struggle with EPA over “Mount PCB”


People in Kalamazoo are rallying to get rid of a major dump site that contains cancer causing waste.

Imagine decades’ worth of wood pulp and grey clay waste from the paper mill industry. There are 1.5 million cubic yards of it and it’s laced with polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

Now, plop it in the middle of a neighborhood.

Sarah Hill lives a little more than a mile away from what neighbors have dubbed “Mount PCB.”

“What you see right now is a sheet pile wall that’s holding back a constructed mountain of PCB-contaminated materials and keeping it from dropping with gravity down into the Portage Creek. And the EPA said at the time, this is temporary, we will come back with a permanent removal approach,” Hill said.

Mount PCB is more formally known as the Allied Landfill. One of Hill’s concerns is the site was never built as a landfill; there’s no liner underneath it.

“One of the jokes that we tell amongst ourselves is let’s try and get a license for it and see what the EPA would do. They wouldn’t accept land-filling any kind of material there because it sits on top of an aquifer, it sits next to a creek; all the kinds of things that would violate its own rules,” Hill said.

The real human health risk from PCBs comes from eating fish from the Kalamazoo River. Over time, the toxic chemicals build up in fatty tissue in fish. For decades, there have been guidelines about how many and what type of fish to eat to avoid overexposure in the Kalamazoo River. PCBs can cause cancer, and other health effects.

This site is just a portion of the contamination that stretches along 80 miles of the Kalamazoo River, all the way to Lake Michigan. The Environmental Protection Agency has been cleaning up this so-called Superfund site for more than a decade.

Legacy pollution

Paper mills began to dominate the river valley in the late 1800s. But in the 1950s, some mills started recycling carbonless copy paper – commonly used for invoices or credit card receipts. In the 1960s, that paper contained PCBs.

Dick DeVisser grew up in Kalamazoo near one of the mills and still lives nearby.

“Of course the rotting paper fiber was not the most pleasant stuff to smell. It didn’t seem to be hazardous at least we didn’t think so. And it smelled like jobs so we tolerated it,” DeVisser said.

By 1971, production of copy paper with PCBs ended once people realized how toxic the stuff was. But it kept getting recycled at paper mills along the Kalamazoo River years later.

Companies weren’t allowed to just dump the waste after the Clean Water Act passed. DeVisser remembers the companies created big lagoons full of waste instead.

“With the sun and so on, exposure to the air, the top would crust over; much like ice on a pond in the winter time. And us kids were erratically foolish in those days and we would walk out on that crust. And I remember one of my friends falling in and we had to fish him out from under that layer of pulp. It’s a wonder he lived to tell it,” DeVisser recalls.

The debate about what to do with “Mount PCB”

City officials are worried the pile of PCBs will leach into the aquifer that supplies the drinking water for more than 120,000 people.

“So, you’re going to leave PCB contaminated material. You’re going to put a monitoring well there. What happens if you find PCBs?” Kalamazoo Public Services Director Brian Merchant wonders.

“All of the sudden you’re in reactionary mode. Then you’re in a cleanup mode and you’re not in a situation where you prevented anything,” Merchant said.

DeVisser and city leaders want the EPA to remove all the toxic material and send it to a landfill that can handle it.

“It’s about the money, the bottom line today is it’s about the money,” DeVisser said.

Total removal is the most expensive option, and the paper company that owned this site went bankrupt.

So now there’s only about $50 million in a trust fund to clean up this site. The EPA estimates it’ll cost $366 million; more than seven times that amount to remove the contamination. The agency told the city in March it’s likely to consolidate and cap the Allied landfill. That’s what they did on sites upstream.

“Well, upstream is an unincorporated area. Hardly anybody lives there,” said Gary Wager, executive director of the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition.

“There’s plenty of deer but they don’t vote, and they don’t carry signs and raise hell. So they were able to get away with that,” Wager said.

The coalition is planning a big march on Wednesday to show the EPA they’re not backing down.

The city wants the EPA to consider an offer from a landfill in Wayne County, one of only a handfull of landfills in the country that can handle major waste like PCBs. The company says it can remove the toxic material for $120 million, a third of the cost the EPA has quoted.

“Can they remove it for $120 million? I don’t know,” Merchant said, “I don’t think it’s going to cost $366 million though. We’ve got some major differences we’ve got to talk about.”

The EPA stresses it has not made a final decision about the Allied site.

It expects to issue a feasibility study in the next month or two. After that it’ll have public hearings and issue a final decision. An EPA official said the agency would like to begin work on the site in the fall.

Last week, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Sen. Carl Levin, and Rep. Fred Upton sent a letter to the EPA to ask the agency to strongly consider permanent removal of the PCB-contaminated waste.

Story By: Lindsey Smith


NY City Move Quickly Remove PCB lights in School-While CT Just Found PCBs in Schools


NYCity to replace possibly toxic PCB lights at IS 204 within two months. PCBs are suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins, which is why long-term exposure to PCBs is cause for considerable concern, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official said. The city has agreed to accelerate the timeline to replace potentially toxic lights at a Long Island City middle school after a PCB leak was found in the building earlier this month.

The city Department of Education plans to finish changing all of the light fixtures at Intermediate School 204 within two months, agency officials said Tuesday. Education officials had previously said the lights would be replaced at some point in the next nine years.

“It’s tragic that we have to wait until PCBs leak before we act,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who rallied Tuesday with concerned parents outside IS 204. Parent Nancy Nizza, 49, of Astoria, said she considered home schooling her sixth-grade son when she learned of the leak. Read more.

In CT PCBs Were Found at Both Southington Middle Schools Buildings

The school committee is facing contaminated building material as well as the probability of contaminated soil from an oil spill at DePaolo in July 1980, when an underground storage tank cracked and leaked more than 5,000 gallons of heating oil into the ground. According to Record-Journal archives, only 68 gallons were recovered because the oil mixed with clay, making it difficult to extract. Read more.


Stop The Madness – You’re Hurting Our Children


The future of our country will be the hands of our children.  But what does that mean?  We can raise our children with values and ethics and teach the basic lessons of life, encourage learning and education.  Yet our children and our future children are at risk of not being able to lead our country. Our children risk not being able to succeed in business, in society because of the environmental chemicals that they are exposed to every single day.  Chemicals are leaching from the floors that they crawl on as infants, beds that they sleep on nightly or the toys they play with and put into their mouths, all release dangerous chemicals.  What will their future be like?  How can our country grow and prosper or compete in the global economy?

Recently the Center for Disease our federal health agency reported that 1 out of every 88 American children is affected by autism. That is a 78% increase in autism since 2002 and 23% increase since 2006. As if that is not bad enough, the agency also reports that 14% of American children are affected by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Of course not all of these problems are the result of chemicals in a child’s environment but a good percentage are.  Looking at the chemicals that are in every day products, ones that are linked to these particular diseases, it is clear society can prevent the harming of children.  PCBs, for example are fond in our environment, in lighting and windows of schools built before 1980.  Lead is found in toys imported from other countries; paint in older building, homes, play grounds and around various industrial sites.  Brominated flame retardants are in mattresses, pillows, clothing and all types of furniture. Also there are Endocrine disruptors like phthalates found in PVC products that are all around us in flooring, toys, pipes, shower curtains and binds.

Not a single one of these chemicals in products are necessary for life or for comfort.  Every one of them can be taken out of children’s environment today.  We know how, and we know where to find and remove these threats.  We are just lacking the political will.

Our politicians need to stop the madness and find the conviction and courage to stand up to Corporate America and say no more . . .”Our children will no longer be sacrificed.”

If I as a parent deliberately, knowing harmed my child I would go to jail, yet in America corporations are above the law and spend huge amount of money to keep their unsafe product from being eliminated in our marketplace and environment.

Just look at the statistics above or the rising cancer incidence in children across the country.  This is an election year where we have a chance to ask the hard questions and vote out of office those that intend to harm our children to protect corporate interests.  Everyone needs to get involved, today, so that we together can reverse the trend and protect our futures. For more information


Autism and Environmental Chemicals


CHEJ has been talking about the dangers of PCB’s in school lighting fixtures and how the chemical can affect children’s health. Last month, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that autism spectrum disorder now affects 1 of every 88 American children — a 23% increase from 2006 and a 78% increase from 2002. CDC also reported that ADHD now affects 14% of American children.

As these disorders continue to affect more children across the U.S., researchers are asking what is causing these dramatic increases. Some of the explanation is greater awareness and more accurate diagnosis. But clearly, there is more to the story than simply genetics, as the increases are far too rapid to be of purely genetic origin.

The National Academy of Sciences reports that 3% of all neurobehavioral disorders in children are caused by toxic exposures in the environment and that another 25% are caused by interactions between environmental factors and genetics. But the precise environmental causes are not yet known.

To guide a research strategy to discover potentially preventable environmental causes, a list of ten chemicals found in consumer products that are suspected to contribute to autism and learning disabilities.

This list was published today in Environmental Health Perspectives in an editorial written by Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, director of the CEHC, Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and Dr. Luca Lambertini, also of the CEHC.

The top ten chemicals are:
1. Lead
2. Methylmercury
3. PCBs
4. Organophosphate pesticides
5. Organochlorine pesticides
6. Endocrine disruptors
7. Automotive exhaust
8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
9. Brominated flame retardants
10. Perfluorinated compounds

The editorial was published alongside four other papers — each suggesting a link between toxic chemicals and autism.

There are things we can do as parents as concerned taxpayer and citizens. First, is to remove chemicals in areas that children frequent. As you may know CHEJ’s Children Environmental Health Program has been working on identifying and the removal PCBs in school lighting fixtures as well as removing other environmental chemicals from children environment such as emissions near schools.

As a humane society we cannot allow this devastating neurological problem to continue to rise in our children. It is time to speak up and out about environmental chemicals and children’s health. It is time to ask our health authorities to explore where children may be being exposed and eliminate that source of exposure. This is especially true in the case of PCBs and school lighting(schools built before 1980 and had no retrofitting) since this is a win win situation. The school district can remove exposure and save money on the energy efficiency of new lighting fixture.

Our children are our future. Let’s protect them . . . our future depends on their leadership.


CHEJ Group Training Call: PCBs in Schools: An Invisible Threat to the School Environment


Did you know that schools that were built prior to 1979 may have old lighting fixtures that contain a toxic chemical called polychlorinated biphenyls or PCB’s? In New York City public schools, testing uncovered high levels of PCBs coming from old lighting fixtures and now the city is replacing the lights.  The PCB levels found in air are a health risk for school children and school personnel. Learn how you can find out if your child’s school fluorescent lights contain PCBs by joining our briefing call.

Join our panel of speakers on Tuesday, February 21st at Noon to 1:00 PM (EST) for a Training Call on “PCBs in Schools: An Invisible Threat to the School Environment”.

· Makia Burns, CHEJ’s Childproofing Our Communities Campaign Coordinator, will outline the problem of this banned chemical, PCBs, in the school environment.

· Dr. David Carpenter, Director, Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, will discuss the health effects of PCBs and children’s special vulnerabilities to chemical exposure.

· Anne Rabe, CHEJ’s Be Safe Campaign Coordinator, will discuss how you can take action on this problem and possible funding for schools to replace toxic lights.

After the presentations, a 30 minute question and answer session will be held.

About the speakers:

Makia Burns, CHEJ’s Child Proofing Our Communities (CPOC) Campaign Coordinator joined CHEJ in 2010. The CPOC campaign educates communities on children’s special health vulnerabilities and brings together community leaders to collaborate on efforts to prevent harm from toxic exposures in their communities.  Makia works with groups from across the country faced with toxic hazards and assists them with developing viable solutions. With over 10 years of labor organizing experience, her specialty is campaign coordination and strategy. She is credited with organizing thousands of new union members.

Dr. David Carpenter, Director, Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany is a national expert on PCBs. He directed a large, interdisciplinary study on the PCB contamination from the General Motors Foundry Site in Massena, NY, which is adjacent to the Mohawk Akwesasne Nation, a Native American community that traditionally eat fish from waters heavily contaminated with PCBs.  Dr. Carpenter has conducted health studies of other PCB-exposed populations, including an Alaskan Native population living on St. Lawrence Island, residents of Anniston, Alabama who live near to the Monsanto PCB manufacturing plant, and residents living along the PCB-contaminated portions of New York’s Hudson River and Massachusetts’s Housatonic River. He has published numerous articles on human exposure to PCBs and experimental studies with animals exposed to PCBs.

Anne Rabe, CHEJ’s Be Safe Campaign Coordinator, has over 30 years of organizing experience on environmental issues.  For 18 years, she was Director of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, a statewide grassroots organization in New York State helping communities harmed by toxic pollution and organizing campaigns on State Superfund, air pollution, and other issues. She co-founded the NYS Labor & Environment Network, a coalition of labor and environmental groups working on corporate accountability, and Don’t Waste New York, a statewide organization that successfully stopped a proposed nuclear waste dump.  From 1980 to today, she has organized a community/labor campaign on the NL Industries uranium waste dump in Colonie, NY. She has a BA in Political Science/Journalism from the State University at Albany, and has received eleven regional and national awards for her environmental work.

RSVP today by emailing @chej.org


CNN Spotlights Indoor Air Quality Impact on Student Learning


An estimated 14 million American children attend public schools that are in urgent need of  extensive repair or replacement and have unhealthy environmental conditions, including poor air quality, unsafe drinking water and inadequate safety systems. This weekend, CNN will spotlight the dire condition of schools and the health hazards posed by poor indoor air quality. [Read More]

CNN’s report on indoor air quality in schools airs on Saturday, January 14 at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET.  The program will re-air again at the same times on Sunday, January 15.

Visit CHEJ’s Focus on Schools webpage to get more information about threats to the school environment and how you can take action.

Contact Makia Burns, CHEJ’s Childproofing Our Communities Campaign Coordinator at (703) 237-2249 x21 or mburns(at)chej.org for additional information or organizing assistance.

Parents in New York City sue over PCB cleanup timetable


A pilot study started to address PCB contaminated caulking in New York city schools bloomed into a much larger problem. The study discovered there was also PCBs leaking from lighting fixtures that pose a threat to human health. A debate ensued about the severity of the threat to human health especially children who has a special vulnerability to chemicals. Children bodies are in a constant state of change and can consume more toxins into their bodies more than adults. Read more >

PCB’s Raining Down on NYC Students


Members of Congress from New York City joined with community and environmental groups this week to press EPA to take a more urgent approach to testing for and removing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from schools.  

“We are concerned that these results indicate that the problem of PCBs in New York City schools is more severe than previously contemplated,” 13 House representatives wrote in a letter to EPA . “Resolving this problem will require extensive testing and remediation across the city in a manner approved by the EPA and using facilities and services approved by the EPA.”

New York City’s agreement with EPA was to set up a pilot program aimed at testing five schools for PCBs in window caulk, but the city also ended up replacing lights that were exposing students and teachers to the chemical.  Given the extent of potential PCB contamination from caulk and electrical equipment, “there certainly has to be a source of funding found for this at the federal level,” New York Lawyers for the Public Interest Litigation Director Miranda Massie, whose nonprofit firm has gone to court to push for broader testing, said in an interview.

“This is a problem with midcentury, brick-and-mortar construction — it’s not limited to schools, and there is no reason to think it’s limited to New York City,” Massie added. “In ultimate terms, this is going to be like lead or asbestos. It’s a massive, nationwide remediation project.”