Fluoride Action Network

Soil test demand at school blocked

Source: The Detroit News | August 26th, 2004 | By Amy Lee
Location: United States, Michigan
Industry type: Aluminum Industry

LYON TOWNSHIP — Residents who live near the Continental Aluminum recycling plant are furious because the South Lyon school board has refused to allow a state toxicologist to conduct soil tests at Dolsen Elementary School.

The school board this month declined a request from Christina Bush, a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health, to test the playground soil at the school. Bush is conducting a public health study to determine whether emissions from the Milford Road foundry triggered health problems in area residents.

“I am appalled that they just stopped and put the rock up in front of us once again,” said Dana Hamlet, a mother of two boys who lives about four miles from the plant. Hamlet’s 15-year-old son, Charles, a former Dolsen Elementary student, began battling migraines when the plant opened. Her 9-year-old son, Thomas, is a fourth-grade student at the school.

“It seems like the school board thinks that we’re trying to shut the school down. I’m not trying to shut it down. I just want to know that it’s a safe place for my children to go,” she said.

Bush and other state community health officials in March and April collected air samples at the school, which sits about a half-mile from the Continental plant. Results from the air tests are not yet available, but Bush said the soil tests are critical to obtain a “complete public health assessment.”

But school board President Peggy Connelly said they see no reason to continue testing, especially when the results from the air tests are not yet complete.

“We don’t see a need for her to come back,” Connelly said. “We would not refuse to let her come back to a board meeting, but we’re not inclined to proceed any further with this.”

Neighbors say the plant, which moved to the township from Detroit in 1998, emits odors, smoke and noise, and they believe it is responsible for nausea, headaches and sleeplessness some have experienced.

The air samples taken in the spring exhibited trace amounts of aluminum, cadmium, lead, zinc and other chemicals in the air, most of which occur naturally.

“Soil testing is a better gauge for long-term effects,” Bush said. “We can’t go back and test the air four years ago, but the soil will show a more accurate historical picture of what’s been deposited in local soils.”

Dolsen was the prime site for testing because it is public property and because it sits downwind from Continental, Bush said, adding she is researching her options to pursue soil testing in the area and has not ruled out Dolsen as a potential soil test site.

Continental President Bill Altgilbers, however, said soil samples could trigger more confusion.

“I personally believe that it’s difficult to identify sources from soil samples,” he said. “What’s in the soil could have been there for centuries. I don’t know how this would help anything.”

More than 150 residents sought to sue the company in a class-action lawsuit, filed in 2000, citing health-damaging air pollution released by the Milford Road plant on the southern edge of New Hudson. A judge refused to certify the group as a class action, but the cases remained in the court system.

Individuals involved with the cases say the parties are nearing a settlement, but a court order bars those involved from speaking publicly.

Bush’s study comes about a year after the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted a health consultation in response to residents’ concerns. That agency conducted tests of the emissions from the foundry’s stacks.

That report concluded that Continental’s emission of chlorine, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride did not exceed allowable state levels, but suggested further study to determine whether the emissions could be linked to health problems.

Connelly said further testing at Dolsen could needlessly cause parents to worry about the school.

“(Soil testing) would raise a red flag to me as a parent. I mean, if everything’s OK there, why continue testing?” said Connelly, whose five adult children all attended Dolsen. “It just seems like we’re beating a dead horse here.”

Both the federal agency and the study being conducted by the state Department of Community Health were prompted by a request from Lyon Township officials, who say residents continue to complain about noise and odor. Clerk Pam Johnson said the township has at least 200 formal complaints on file.

“I don’t know if this is a political thing with them or what, but you’d think they’d just want to get it done and over with and put it to rest,” Johnson said. “I don’t understand why they’re hesitant to do this.”

For Hamlet, the soil testing could answer the questions that for years have plagued her and other neighbors concerned about the emissions from Continental.

“I think they’re afraid of hurting people’s property values and the investment they have in their homes,” she said. “My biggest investment is my children, and their health and welfare is much more important than image or property values.”

You can reach Amy Lee at (248) 647-8605 or at alee@detnews.com.