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EPA says decision about Kalamazoo’s ‘Mount PCB’ will come this summer

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Many residents can see the 80-acre, fenced-off Allied site from their backyards in Kalamazoo.

The Environmental Protection Agency hopes to select a cleanup plan by this summer for an old landfill site in Kalamazoo that's full of toxic material.

The Allied siteserved as a dumping ground for the paper mill industry for decades. There are 1.5 million cubic yards of material at the site laced with polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs. Some neighbors have dubbed it Mount PCB.

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

The Allied site is just one location in a larger Superfund site that stretches along 80 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

A decision on what to do with the waste at the Allied site has been delayed for years. At an informal meeting with EPA officials last night, residents were told the decision will now be delayed until this summer – or at least that’s the EPA’s goal – to pick one of five proposed solutions.

But Bruce Merchant, a consultant for the city on this project, says the delay is not such a bad thing.

“I think there’s some encouraging movement there as far as openness to looking at some more data and making sure we’re doing the right things,” Merchant said.

Merchant wants the EPA to look closely at water samples, to make sure the chemicals in the landfill aren’t going to leak into an aquifer the city uses for municipal water.

Gary Wagner heads a coalition that wants the waste completely removed. That’s still the most expensive option, but it’s come down dramatically in price from more than $300 million to $189 million.

“Now perhaps, when you’re looking at these various cleanup alternatives, now you’re only talking about a multiple of four or five rather than 15 or 20, right (for total removal). So it is encouraging to see what I consider a more realistic figure for the total removal option,” Wagner said.

The EPA says the change in price is because the landfill near Detroit that can handle the waste lowered its prices.

Other options include consolidating and capping the material in place. You can review all five options in detail here.

Whatever the solution, the city would like the site near a residential neighborhood to be available for redevelopment.

“Whatever happens, we need to have something we can use when we’re done. It can’t just bet this empty landfill with barbed wire around it, chain-link fence," Merchant said. "It has to be usable, because 45 acres of landfill is just not going to help, not going to be productive at all to the city.”

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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