In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an order requiring Georgia-Pacific, Weyerhaeuser, and International Paper to remove sediment and soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from a 1.5-mile portion of the Kalamazoo River. Located upstream of the Otsego Twp. Dam in Ostego, MI, the impacted area falls into the Allied Paper Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Superfund site.

Removal efforts are expected to being in late summer and conclude by spring 2018.

Allied Paper Inc./Portage Creek/Kalamazoo River Superfund Site

Cleanup efforts for this stretch of the Kalamazoo River are a long time coming, as the PCB-contaminated sediment and soil was caused by paper manufacturing and disposal actions halted in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In total, the superfund site consists of five disposal areas, five paper mill properties, the 80-mile section of the Kalamazoo River from Morrow Dam to Lake Michigan, and a three-mile portion of Portage Creek.

Added to the Superfund National Priorities List in 1990, the project was previously managed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, but the agency opted to hand control over to the EPA in February 2002.

PCBs and the Environment

A mixture of up to 209 chemicals, PCBs are no longer made in the U.S., but their impact is lingering. Previously used as coolants and lubricators in some types of electrical equipment, the U.S. put a halt to the manufacturing of PCBs in 1977, after their harmful health and environmental impacts were revealed.

These compounds enter the environment during production, use, and disposal and can stick around for years, as they do not easily break down. The harmful impact of PCBs is spreads well beyond the point of release, as they can travel through the air at long distances. In addition to having the ability to strongly attach to soil, small quantities of PCBs may dissolve in water, but most affix to organic particles and bottom sediments.

Health Risks Associated with PCBs

PCBs are linked to many health hazards, with skin conditions — such as acne and rashes — the most prevalent among people with high levels of exposure. Additionally, studies of exposed workers have revealed possible signs of liver damage. However, most of the general population has not displayed any of these adverse side effects.

Exposure can also be detrimental to animals, as researchers have found many that ate large quantities of food containing PCBs over a short period of time developed minor liver damage or died. Those that ate smaller amounts of PCBs over a longer time period suffered from a variety of conditions, including anemia, acne-like skin, and injuries of the stomach, liver, and thyroid.

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