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Kalamazoo rallies to pressure EPA to remove hazardous paper mill waste

More than a hundred people, a dozen strollers and a few dogs lined up and marched about halfway around the Allied landfill site in Kalamazoo Wednesday night chanting – “What do we want? Cleanup! When do we want it? Now!”

It isn’t a typical landfill. It’s where a paper mill dumped decades-worth of waste that’s laced with cancer-causing chemicals.

Everyone here wants the pile gone. They don’t care if it’s the most expensive option and the company that owned the site went bankrupt.

"In the future, when the historians write about this city, they're going to say that in a time of maximum danger there were people in this city that stood up for their neighbor."

“In the future, when the historians write about this city, they’re going to say that in a time of maximum danger there were people in this city that stood up for their neighbor. There were people in this city who stood up for the generations to come,” Kalamazoo City Commissioner Donald Cooney told the crowd.

For a number of reasons, the city wants the site available for redevelopment. There’s also concern the polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, might leach into the city’s drinking water.

Cooney and others think the public pressure will prompt the Environmental Protection Agency to choose what they see as the only acceptable option - total removal of the waste.

At other sites upstream that are contaminated with PCBs, the EPA consolidated and capped the waste.

Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell urged the crowd to write their elected officials, sign petitions, and post yard signs to keep the pressure on. He asked them to tag the EPA on Facebook and Twitter to make their message clear.

“I want pictures of yard signs. I want your children standing at the fence looking in, wanting to get in and play. Whatever you need to do to make people understand that this is about a community that is not going to take this poison,” Hopewell said as the crowd cheered, “Can you do that for me?”

Lisa Moaiery is raising her family in Kalamazoo. She wanted to help, so she’s been volunteering with a coalition that organized this rally.

“But then I actually came across a quote of Pete Seeger and he said something along the lines of ‘the right song at the right time can change history,” Moaiery smiled. She closed out the rally with her new song “Take It Away.”

The EPA hasn't made a decision about the Allied landfill yet. It expects to issue a feasibility study that looks at all the options for the site in the next month or two.

Hopewell and other Kalamazoo city leaders have a meeting in Chicago Thursday that could be pivotal for the future of the site. The “pre-decisional discussion” could help iron out a major difference between what the EPA and the company that would do the work estimate the removal option will cost.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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