EPA / Enbridge Meeting in Kalamazoo Tonight

August 19, 2010

The EPA has announced a public meeting to discuss the cleanup of the Enbridge oil spill and the effects of the spill on the lower reach of the Kalamazoo River, below Morrow Dam. The meeting will begin at 6:30 pm with an open house, at the Expo Center, on the Kalamazoo County Fairgrounds. Then at 7:00 pm presentations by EPA / Enbridge officials begin, followed by a question and answer period.
Your attendance at the meeting is an excellent way to show your concern for our river, and to let both EPA and Enbridge know, that we are watching their efforts to restore our river.


Damage Above, Danger Below

August 4, 2010

The Enbridge oil spill has severely damaged the riparian environment above Morrow Dam. Here are some photos taken by Phil Schillaci, in Battle Creek.

The danger may lie in the event the oil spill spreads downriver, below Morrow Dam, and comes in contact with existing PCBs in the river sediments.  See previous, and will have more to follow on this.

Another question to ask:  “Where is the oil being disposed to?”  Three years ago, KRCC was able to change EPA-approved plan to dump PCB-contaminated river sediments into a former paper mill site, within the limits of Kalamazoo.  The waste was trucked to landfills, based on the level of contamination.  Anything above 50ppm had to go to approved landfill near Detroit.  Other material to commercial landfills in the region.

“What level of toxicity is the oil waste, and what type of landfill can accept it?”  Another good question I plan to ask EPA and other agency officials tonight on the stakeholder conference call.

Oil Spill Stakeholders Meet at Marshall High School

August 3, 2010

After remarks from the director of  the MDNRE, and various other agency spokespeople,  many of the 1500 or so people from the auditorium, went to the room set up to have various subject matter experts answer their questions.  There were tables set up with signs such as “Wildlife”  which were staffed by various agency respresentatives.  But the plan was ill-suited to conducting reasonable discourse and devolved to a cacaphony of too many people, in too small a room, trying to get questions answered by too few experts.

The college-aged woman wearing a USF&W polo was cheerful and gave general answers, seemingly coached by a more senior staffer nearby.  She deflected my repitition of claims by some volunteer groups about agency handling of efforts to rescue and cleanup waterfowl and other wildlife threatened by the oil in the river.

I tried to move to the next table, where Miss USF&W had directed me, to speak to a biologist, but one person was monopolizing his attention, while a half-dozen others waited impatiently to speak to him.

Meeting other people I recognized as long-time river advocates, we tried to introduce each other and have an informal discussion.  But the din was too loud and we dispersed.  Someone more skeptical than I, might suggest that this is exactly as the planners had intended.  We were in a high school, with lots of classrooms, that could have been used for topic discussions, with seating for the public and a much more efficient venue for questions and answers.

Outside the main entrance, a smaller crowd had gathered around the Enbridge tent, where cookies and bottled water were available.  Seeing Enbridge CEO, Patrick Daniels, finish a TV interview, I made my way over to speak with him directly. Tall and patrician, with a steady gaze, he seemed to focus on specifics of a question, and answer directly rather than responding with generalities and off-topic digressions.

I expressed concerns about oil moving downstream , potentially liberating known concentrations of PCBs and exacerbating the health risks to people and wildlfe in and near the river.  Mr. Daniels stated that every effort was being made to contain the oil above Morrow Dam, and that he welcomed MDNRE testing downstream to confirm his assessment that none of the oil could reach, let alone react with, the PCB contamination of the downstream Superfund site.

The Enbridge oil spill has caused damage above Morrow Dam.  An even greater danger could lie below the dam in the PCB-contaminated sediments.  Let’s hope that Enbridge and the EPA are correct in their current assessment that no oil will find its way beyond the dam, to further threaten our environment, the wildlife, and ourselves.


August 2, 2010

What is the impact of this oil spill on the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)?

If the PCBs along the Kalamazoo River had been cleaned up, we wouldn’t have to be asking this question. But because cleanup has dragged on we need to know what impact this oil, particularly the benzene that evaporates off of it will have on the PCBs embedded along river banks, flood plains and sediment. Ralph Dollhopf, senior on-scene coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that this impact is not yet known.
Scientists do know that PCBs are structurally very similar to benzene. PCBs are soluble in benzene as well as in other volatile and semi-volatile solvents found in crude oil. Some of the hydrocarbons in oil are themselves highly toxic (e.g., benzene, etc.) in both acute high level and chronic low level exposure scenarios.
One can imagine that if oil interacts with PCBs in the river and along the banks it might dissolve the PCBs and introduce them through the food chain and through contact as some solvents can carry PCBs through skin. Dr. Charles Ide, KRCC Board member and Director of Western Michigan University’s Environmental Research Center and Environmental Institute, says that “common sense says that our highest priority should be keeping oil away from PCB contaminated sediments in the superfund site, and also, sampling areas with known high levels of PCBs—for example, behind the dams and in Lake Allegan—to make sure oil is not present. Fish should also be sampled in throughout the site to determine if oil is in the food chain, and if there is a resurgence of PCB bioavailability.”

Jennifer Clark and Dr. Charles Ide contributed to this article.

Enbridge Pipeline Leak Fouls Kalamazoo River

July 29, 2010

Slow-moving water looks good, but has oil-sheen

The Enbridge pipeline leak that put about a million gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek, and subsequently, the Kalamazoo River, continues to threaten wildlife, habitat, and people in Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties in SW Michigan

Calhoun county officials have called for the evacuation of homes along the affected stretch of the Kalamazoo River.  Citing the potentially health-threatening effects of breathing benzene fumes produced by the oil as it travels downstream, and any physical contact with the crude along the banks, health officials are visiting affected homeowners to encourage them to leave the areas near the river.

Some reports are coming in that oil has passed over the Morrow Dam, the site picked by emergency response agencies as the best place for a line of defense to keep the oil from moving downstream.  Comstock High School has been designated as an emergency shelter for those who must leave their homes due to fumes or threats of oil inundation of their property.

Pipeline owner Enbridge, has established a hotline at:  800-306-6837, or in Calhoun county, call Hands On BC, at 1-800-250-5628 to volunteer / donate items.  In Kalamazoo county, call 211 for volunteer service line, And see their information at  www.handsonbc.org.

Oil globs in eddy of main current

Trouble in River City

April 11, 2009
Direct To You from Kalamazoo
Gary Wager is a native of Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo is where I was born and still live, 60 years later.  Nicknames over the years include “Celery City” for the innovative horticultural feat of commercializing the production of that veggie.   “Mall City” as the first US city to tear up a downtown street in favor of a pedestrian mall and linear cafe.  And “Paper City” for the many paper mills once clustered along the banks of the Kalamazoo River. 

In March of 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a plan to dump PCB-contaminated river sediments dredged from the Kalamazoo River, at Plainwell, into a former paper mill site within the city limits of Kalamazoo.  So in Plainwell it was the river cleanup project, but in Kalamazoo, it was the toxic waste dumping project.

An ad-hoc committee was formed of stakeholders, including City of Kalamazoo officials, neighborhood leaders, student leaders, and nearby residents to oppose the dumping plan.

PCB Protestors

PCB Protestors

After several public demonstrations, a forum on Western Michigan University’s campus attended by 400 citizens, letters and visits to elected representatives, the EPA and Responsible Parties (paper mill holding companies) announced a change in plans.

The toxic waste would now be trucked to approved landfills, based on levels, in parts per million of PCBs, to be properly disposed of in accordance with CERCLA (Superfund) regulations. 

It was in this crucible of immediate action to a perceived imminent threat that the group that became the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition was born.  Neighbors, city officials, civic group leaders, county commissioners,  college educators – a broad spectrum of concerned citizens collaborated in the grass roots organization devoted not only to preventing toxic waste being dumped in Kalamazoo, but to help provide transparency and accountability to cleanup of the entire Superfund site.

KRCC has convened the Allied Site Task Force (ASTF) in partnership with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council, to provide a venue to continue stakeholder dialog with the EPA and RPs.  The next meeting is in Kalamazoo, on July 28th.  The public is invited to attend a meeting at the Glen Room at the Radisson, at 6:30 pm.  We will be discussing results of additional testing conducted to better characterize the contamination at the Allied site, to determine any threat to Kalamazoo’s drinking water supply.

A main sticking point is the concerns about PCBs and other toxics leaking from the Allied site into Portage Creek, which flows northward, toward the municipal wellfield that supplies drinking water to about 120,000 people.  The concern pivots on groundwater contamination and the interface of surface and ground waters in the well field area.

To further complicate matters, the Allied site property owner, Millenium Holdings is a subsidiary of Lyondell-Basell, which has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization and protection from its creditors.  MH spokesperson David Roznowski has said that MH will follow through on commitments at the Alled site, which they own, but said bankruptcy court will have to determine liability settlements for downstream Superfund cleanup costs.

Next time:  A report on July 28th meeting between EPA/RPs and stakeholders, and a review of a World Cafe-style discussion held on June 15th at the Arcus foundation, to capture the visions that river activists have for the restoration of our river.