Agency reports Leavittsburg a public health hazard
Residents have complained of a rotten-egg stench for months.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
LEAVITTSBURG -- The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has categorized an area of Warren Township a public health hazard.
ATSDR, a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released a report Tuesday. The agency became involved when township trustees and LaBrae School District requested a review of environmental data for residences near Warren Recycling Inc.
Residents have complained for months about a stench of hydrogen sulfide.
Officials pointed to Warren Recycling, which operates a construction and demolition landfill on Martin Luther King Avenue, as the odor's source, but later reports said the facility was only one possible cause.
ATSDR's report echoes that finding.
"Elevated hydrogen sulfide levels ... likely are caused by industrial sources such as the Warren Recycling facility on Martin Luther King," the agency said.
Construction and demolition debris landfills can produce hydrogen sulfide gas through the breakdown of waste materials.
"ATSDR and local authorities have not identified all possible industrial sources of hydrogen sulfide in the area," it said.
The gas also may be naturally occurring in ground water.
Michelle A. Colledge, an environmental health scientist at the agency, said ATSDR's public health consultations typically determine whether health concerns exist. They don't identify the source of the problem, leaving that to regulatory agencies to determine.
Atty. Samuel F. Bluedorn, who represents Warren Recycling, declined to comment until he reviews the report.
The agency also was asked to make recommendations on what additional actions should be taken to protect area residents.
ATSDR found that levels of hydrogen sulfide in the air could at times pose a health concern, especially for people with respiratory conditions.
"It's not a serious threat as far as permanent injury or death," Colledge said. "It's more of a nuisance or short-term illness."
Problems could include headaches, eye irritations, nausea and worsened asthma symptoms.
"It's things that people shouldn't have to be exposed to in their community," said Lynn Wilder, an air specialist at ATSDR.
A public health hazard means that some sensitive residents may experience health symptoms.
The review involved air monitoring conducted over the summer within a quarter-mile perimeter of Warren Recycling.
"We do not know if areas beyond these locations fall into this category," ATSDR said. "This is why ATSDR is recommending additional air sampling in the community."
Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs and can be harmful at levels of high or prolonged exposure in enclosed areas.
"If you don't smell hydrogen sulfide, you are not being exposed to the gas," the agency said.
Detecting the smell, however, doesn't necessarily mean you will experience any health problems.
"People smell hydrogen sulfide at levels that are hundreds of times lower than levels that cause health problems," ATSDR said.
Colledge said most healthy children won't experience health problems if they're exposed to the hydrogen sulfide levels found, but some more sensitive children could suffer from the symptoms.
"If a child with asthma is going to school on a day with poor air quality, parents should be sure to send their inhaler along that day," she said.
The agency is working with township trustees, the school district, Warren City and Trumbull County health departments, Mahoning-Trumbull Air Pollution Control Agency, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Our Lives Count, a citizens group formed because of concerns about hydrogen sulfide in the environment.
Officials from ATSDR, Ohio Department of Health and OEPA met with more than 100 residents last month.
A task force comprised of the regulatory health and environmental agencies has been established to implement the recommendations.
For more information about the health consultation, residents may call Wilder or Colledge at (888) 422-8237 and refer to the Warren Township site when requesting assistance.
Colledge said she would likely meet with residents in about a month.
"We're working with 11 or 12 other agencies to address this problem and we're working as hard and quickly as we can to get things started," Colledge said.