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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Op-Ed: Praise for MDEQ & Corporate Staff

This is a letter forwarded to me about some noteworthy people in Michigan Dept. of Enviro Quality.
I would like to call your attention to some individuals who are noteworthy. I thought about saying “extraordinary” but they would probably feel uncomfortable with that. A bit of background is called for. A juice processing facility in Paw Paw, Michigan had historically sprayed fruit juice processing waste on adjacent fields. In July with 95-degree temperatures, sugar wastes smelled awesome! Since becoming the new operators, Coca-Cola upgraded and significantly expanded the facility. A new water reclamation plant replaced the spray fields. Effluent from the plant now enters the Paw Paw River.

Currently neighbors are concerned because of the uncertainty over where the groundwater might carry the wastes. As you might expect, neighbors wonder if the groundwater will impact their wells, health, or property values. The Coca-Cola, with MDEQ oversight has installed monitoring wells and is testing neighbors’ wells. To allay concerns, Coca-Cola is providing bottled water to some of the homes. Although never used at the facility, arsenic has been found in several wells including a school.

So is the spray field area responsible? If you lived next door, should you be concerned? Most people are not hydro-geologists, chemists, toxicologists, pediatrician, internists, nor pubic health experts. Yet all of these people may play a part in helping residents know if there are risks and
who may be impacted, and when.

Coca-Cola should be very grateful that they sent Dirk Lundsford, to the Coca-Cola as plant manager. Dirk deserves credit for creating a series of public meetings hosted by Julie Pioch, Van Buren Extension Director, to help the community understand by bringing together “credible experts”. The transparency of the meetings are due to the candor and participation of neighbors, Dirk, and state agency staff: MDEQ geologist, Eric Chatterson and MDEQ toxicologist, Amy Perbeck, along with Dan Fields, Coca-Cola plant environmental director. Coca-Cola should be grateful to the neighbors who have insisted on being heard and are willing to continue to refine their questions and gather and provide health information.

At last week’s meeting, Amy and Eric helped the neighbors better understand how groundwater moves and what the risks are from some of the substances found in the water samples. As a long time observer and participant in public meetings I can tell you that how you respond is as important as what you have to say. I believe that the majority of people felt that each participant actually cared about their concerns.

So, Dirk Lundsford and Dan Fields, Julie Pioch, Amy Perbeck, Eric Chatterson and neighbor Dianna Stump and the other residents, my hat is off to you. You deserve recognition for your part in insuring an atmosphere of respect and concern. It is so easy for pieces to fall through the cracks that always exist. There won’t be many here.

Chuck Cubbage