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Dazed and confused

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Public officials say they’re mystified that residents living along two St. Clair Shores canals contaminated with PCBs are upset with them for not providing more information.

“We’re making every attempt to provide as much info as possible,” Jim Augustyn, on-site project director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told News Hits. “So we’re a little confused about their concerns.”

News Hits, in its role as an unlicensed mediator, is here to help clear up the confusion.

The problem is that these people are afraid that some of them are suffering illnesses related to PCB exposure. Because no attempt whatsoever has been made to investigate those concerns, they are anxious and angry.

So, the federal, state and local officials working on the problem may indeed be disclosing everything they know; but until they make some attempts to find out more, residents will keep raising a ruckus.

Some of those people, with the help of the environmental group Clean Water Action, held a press conference last week alongside the canals, where some of the highest PCB concentrations in the nation have been found. The toxins, which were used as coolants in electrical transformers and similar equipment before being banned in the 1970s, can cause a variety of cancers. PCBs can also cause liver damage and skin ailments.

Levels below 1 part per million are considered safe; PCBs in concentrations as high as 120,000 parts per million have been found in the Ten Mile drain system that feeds into two canals bordering Lake St. Clair.

At Thursday’s press conference, Donna Hetzel, who lives along one of those canals, said she’s been in contact with several neighbors who fear they may be experiencing ill health as a result of PCB exposure.

County health officials maintain that’s not likely. The contamination is concentrated in underwater sediments, so any exposure to humans would be minimal.

“There’s no reason to believe that these residents have experienced exposure significantly greater than the general population,” said Cole Shoemaker, a toxicologist for the Macomb County Health Department.

Such assurances, however, do little to assuage the fears of those people living along the contaminated canals.

“How can anyone say there’s no health issue if you haven’t gone from house to house and asked people?” argued Hetzel.

In other words, these people just don’t want words of assurance and speculation. They want an honest-to-gawd investigation and some real evidence.

We hope that clears up the confusion.

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or cguyette@metrotimes.com

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