Kalamazoo PCB protest urges action by EPA

May 15, 2013

Kalamazoo City Commissioner Don Cooney marches with a banner Wednesday evening
Credit WMUK

Officials from the City of Kalamazoo head to Chicago Thursday, May 16th, to meet with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They’re looking for answers about the future of PCB contamination in the Allied Paper Landfill. City officials, residents, and groups including the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition and Michigan United held a march and rally Wednesday urging the EPA to remove all of the toxic waste.

People gathered for the march in a cul-de-sac in the Homecrest Circle neighborhood, the residential area closest to the landfill. Neighborhood association President Dick DeVisser pointed to a fence not far away. "That fence right there is the Superfund site fence. It's not on the property line. The contamination with PCB's actually extends up into these neighbor's backyards."

Dick DeVisser
Credit WMUK

DeVisser says, when PCB contamination created by the paper industry was left at the site after an earlier clean-up in the 1990’s, the EPA itself said that it wouldn’t be safe to leave it there permanently. "Today, now that a dollar sign has been assigned to the project, suddenly that's not the truth anymore. It's okay; it's not going to leak and who cares about development anyway? Well, we care about development. Right there is potential tax base for the city. It's potential green space. It's potential commercial development, and it's sitting there waiting for the EPA to do the right thing."

DeVisser and the other marchers headed down Portage Street to Alcott Street and a rally at Goodwill Industries, not far from the gate leading into the Allied Paper Landfill. It began with what could be a first - a song about a PCB dump: Lisa Moaiery’s Take It Away.

During the rally a series of speakers urged the EPA not to follow through on strong hints that it might “cap” the contamination in the landfill and leave it place. Critics say that would blight any chance to redevelop the area and poses a threat to Kalamazoo’s drinking water.

The EPA says completely removing the waste could top $300 million. But Kalamazoo City officials say that estimate is way too high. They point to a quote by the toxic waste disposal firm EQ that’s much smaller.

Bruce Merchant
Credit WMUK

Bruce Merchant, who just retired as the city’s public services director, is among those heading to Chicago today to discuss the disparity in cost estimates with regional EPA officials. But Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, who’s also going, says he wants to hear something else from the EPA: "The date for when that first truck arrives, when that first shovel goes in there, when that shovel-load starts getting on those trucks and its headed for Ann Arbor or wherever, points east, where it belongs, where it's intended to be."

Edison neighborhood resident and Michigan United activist Graciela Valdez says removing the toxic waste from the Allied Paper Landfill it’s worth whatever it costs. "A full clean-up is expensive but it is the right thing to do to insure the health and safety of all who live in our neighborhood. One cannot put a price on how valuable health and safety is to each one of us."

Wednesday’s protest was not the first at the landfill. After a public uproar in 2007, the city fended off an EPA plan to add even more PCB waste to the site as a dam on the Kalamazoo River near Plainwell was removed. The new campaign to force a total clean-up of the landfill has the support of Republican Congressman Fred Upton as well as both of Michigan’s Democratic U.S. senators.

Kalamazoo State Representative Sean McCann says, like others at yesterday’s protest, he hopes the EPA will agree to haul the waste away. "I've seen an EPA that's cleaning up the Kalamazoo River from an oil spill. They've been very firm about making sure Enbridge cleans up the oil that their spill left behind. So, I don't quite understand this EPA that's working here, really not in favor of cleaning up the land that's right across the street from us."

The EPA’s regional headquarters in Chicago says it will announce its final decision on the Allied Paper Landfill later this year.