KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — An investigation by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has determined that hydrogen sulfide and other “volatile organic compounds” are causing odor problems around parts of Kalamazoo.
The agency first received complaints back in 2020 from people who live in the Northside and Eastside neighborhoods. They reported foul odors that caused health problems like headaches, nausea and eye irritation.
The investigation led MDHHS to the Graphic Packaging International facility on North Pitcher Street and the Kalamazoo Water Reclamation Plant on Harrison Street.
GPI has been on the radar of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy for more than a decade. The facility has been served with several odor violation notices. In February, the company was fined more than $100,000 and given a compliance plan to draw down those odor issues.
“We appreciate the trust of the community members who reached out about their concerns with regard to the odors they have been smelling and believe this consultation will provide information to help address their concerns,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a release. “We will continue to be active in the community, collecting and reviewing air monitoring data as it comes in to watch for any additional hazards going forward.”
The report says hydrogen sulfide and other compounds were detected at high enough levels where people who are sensitive to odors could experience negative health issues. For now, the agency recommends staying indoors and avoiding outdoor physical activity when the odors are noticeable, particularly people with sensitivity issues or recurring respiratory problems.
The agency is planning to install air sampling equipment at different spots around the community to continue monitoring for hydrogen sulfide.
Representatives for the city of Kalamazoo responded to the claims on Tuesday, saying they have already spent more than $5 million on upgrades to help mitigate the odor issues, including newly installed air scrubbers and a change in protocols in loading trucks and the number of trucks that carry materials.
“The City of Kalamazoo considers the public’s concerns over air quality emissions as a top priority,” Kalamazoo Public Services Director and City Engineer James J. Baker said in a statement. “Kalamazoo remains steadfast in efforts to address the presence of gases and their odors in air readings throughout the city.”
The MDHHS has planned two community town halls to discuss the results of its investigation and answer questions. The first will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 18 at Mount Zion Baptist Church on Roberson Street. The other will be held at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 24 at the Urban Alliance in Kalamazoo.