MONTCALM COUNTY, Mich. – Folks living near the Central Sanitary Landfill in Pierson are raising serious concerns about the smell and their groundwater.
Wednesday night, the Department of Environmental Quality (D.E.Q.) and landfill management tried to answer some questions, but not all the neighbors left the public hearing at ease.
Judy Howard lives a few miles South of the landfill in Sand Lake, she says she can tell when she’s getting close to Pierson.
“We could smell the gas and our noses and throats were burning.”
Howard says she’s concerned about the health and safety of everyone living around the landfill, so she attended the meeting at Pierson Township Hall.
“I was thinking about all the people in the neighborhood inhaling such a strong smell.”
Dozens of people with similar concerns showed up – it was more than the D.E.Q. expected.
Landfill management showed diagrams and maps, explaining an updated plan to keep nearby well water safe. The same area had groundwater contamination back in 1989. Three years later, the D.E.Q. told the crowd there was a plan in place to clean up the water.
“Everybody’s safe around here,” explains Fred Seller from the D.E.Q, adding that the water has been safe for years and well water tests consistently show no contamination.
But many of the residents are still uneasy; especially after listening to their neighbors tell stories about loved ones getting sick, friends with rare diseases sometimes living on the same block, or entire families with allergies and asthma who suddenly didn’t need medicine when they moved out of the area.
Jeri Hayden has lived nearby for more than 22 years.
“(The smell is) rotten eggs,” she says. “It’s a horrible feeling, it burns your eyes, nose and your throat and we get severe headaches.”
Hayden is fighting a rare cancer, and says the odor – which seems to get worse late at night – is not helping.
“It’s really hard for me to try to recuperate. I can’t breathe at night in our house.”
Sellers explains that the gas released from the landfill contains sulfite compounds, but at safe levels.
“People are particularly sensitive to (sulfite compounds) and they pick them up at very low odor threshold,” Sellers says.
While the D.E.Q. sympathizes with the unpleasant smell, Sellers says the landfill’s air quality is compliant with it’s permits, and burns off anything harmful before the gas is released.
“The best thing people can do is remove themselves from that area if they’re experiencing (strong odors) in their house,” Sellers suggests. “They need to get out of the house, get some fresh air, maybe open some windows.”
Hayden says that doesn’t work.
“You can’t open up your windows to air your house out, because (the smell is) coming from the outside.”
Many of the residents asked the panel for more testing to help boost their confidence, while the landfill and the D.E.Q. remained confident that the surrounding groundwater is safe, and the smell is just an unfortunate part of living in the area.
The D.E.Q. is expected to make a decision on the landfill’s updated remedial action plan by March 13.