Pollution in Kalamazoo air for years has experts concerned about health long-term

KALAMAZOO, MI — City weather sensors have detected potentially dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide pollution in the air for more than three years, and experts are concerned about many years of chronic or lifetime exposure to the gas.

According to Environmental Protection Agency guidance, gas levels measured by sensors over a three-year period in Kalamazoo consistently exceeded 1.4 parts per billion; this is a concentration that could be dangerous for sensitive groups over a lifetime of exposure.

The amount measured in some sensors has increased several times that level over the years.

The sensor near Ascension Borgess shows average monthly levels that did not fall below 2 parts per billion for 31 consecutive months from September 2019 to March 2022, and all data available for this sensor. The sensor at Gull Road and Riverview Drive was at or above 4.6 parts per billion from September 2019 to August 2022, the latest data available.

Sensors placed near city infrastructure also show high levels. A sensor in the fine-grid building of the wastewater treatment plant was at 7.3 parts per billion or more during these 31 months. The sludge storage facility sensor has been at or above 5.6 parts per billion over the same 31 months.

Justin Colacino, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan, said it is worrying that overall readings have not dropped over time and remain above 1.4 parts per billion.

Exceeding this concentration shows that the most vulnerable people can have adverse health effects after years of exposure, Colacino said.

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A state ministry of health spokesperson responded to concerns about the readings, saying that levels don’t necessarily mean there will be health effects.

Being above the chronic reference level doesn’t guarantee that everyone will get sick, Colacino said. But you start to worry about the most vulnerable people, such as people young or old, or those with existing lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“This is a chronic scenario,” Colacino said, pointing out that high gas readings have been going on for more than three years, with the first readings in September 2019.

“Because it’s chronic, the health effects of these chemicals tend to increase over time, so a smaller dose can start to cause problems,” Colacino said.

Since the weather sensors came online as of 2019, they all showed levels above 1.4 parts per billion. In a sensor at Gull and Riverview, the average level was about 19 parts per billion in 2020 and about 14 parts per billion in 2021 on average.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 1.4 parts per billion is an estimated threshold at which daily exposure to humans by inhalation is likely over a lifetime without significant risk of harmful effects.

Kalamazoo hydrogen sulfide data at Gull and Riverview

Kalamazoo City data is about hydrogen sulfide levels in the air. Data from September 2019 to March 2022 is an average of 1 minute per month. Data from April 2022 to September 2022 is an average of 15 minutes of sample data per month.

“In this scenario, exposure is expected to have continued since at least September 2019 and will continue without mitigation efforts,” Colacino said.

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Chronic exposures can be thought of as exposures that persist over a long period of time through most of an individual’s life, he said.

Concentrations in the air exceed the EPA’s long-term exposure benchmark set at a reference concentration of 1.4 parts per billion, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services toxicologist Brandon Reid told the MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette in October 2021.

“We’re seeing short-term levels that are above long-term benchmarks,” Reid said, adding that researchers need to do more research to determine the potential impact.

At the time, exposure levels to chemicals that fell below 1.4 parts per billion over a lifetime were unlikely to be associated with adverse health effects, Reid said.

The raw sensor data was recently released publicly by the city of Kalamazoo on the scent task force page of the city’s website.

Unfortunately, the law does not require public notice if certain levels are exceeded, Colacino said.

Colacino and others in his lab are studying how environmental chemicals promote the development of chronic diseases such as cancer. They’re doing experiments with cells and mice to determine the effects of chemicals, and they’re doing human studies to determine health risk from different chemical concentrations, he said.

His degrees include a PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, an MA in statistics from the University of Michigan, and a MA in Public Health from the University of Texas School of Public Health at Dallas.

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Research in humans indicates that the respiratory tract and nervous system are the most sensitive targets of hydrogen sulfide toxicity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exposure to low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide may cause irritation to the eyes, nose or throat. It can also cause difficulty breathing for some asthmatics, the agency said.

Denise Trabbic-Pointer, a former environmental manager at DuPont with a background in chemical engineering and occupational health and now a volunteer at the Sierra Club in Michigan, found that guidelines for public exposure to chemicals are much lower and therefore more protective than workplace exposure. recorded. instructions.

“Part of that is because you can’t escape it when you live there,” she said.

He suggested efforts should be made to keep gas levels lower and more conservative than some levels seen in recent months. He mentioned the possibility of a local government setting a level that would trigger action from the city or gas source when this level is exceeded.

He said there was concern about the potential for chronic exposure based on the amount of time that levels were detected.

In addition to the sensors, the gas is also detected by smell.

Jaylen Bean, 19, works at Walgreens on the corner of Riverview Drive and Gull Road.

“I’ve been smelling it for years,” Bean told the MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette. He thought there was a trash can nearby. Learning that the smell is probably from industrial gas makes him wary.

“If it’s dangerous, maybe we shouldn’t have that many people in the area,” Bean said.

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