Environment
6:51 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

Health concerns lingering after Kalamazoo River oil spill

It’s been more than a year since a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured... spilling more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. The cleanup continues. And people who live near the river say they’re worried about what they might have been exposed to when the spill happened... and what they might still be getting exposed to.

The majority of the oil has been cleaned up, but there are still significant amounts of submerged oil on the bottom of the river.

The Michigan Department of Community Health recently put out a report on the risks of contact with that submerged oil.

Jennifer Gray is with the MDCH.

“We concluded that in terms of long term health issues, so health issues that would stay with you after the contact was done, or things like developing cancer, that contact with the chemicals in the submerged oil wouldn’t really cause these kinds of effects.”

She says people could have short term health effects from contact with the oil - things such as skin irritation.

The assessment did not include any health risks from breathing in chemicals from the remaining oil. Jennifer Gray says her agency is currently evaluating air monitoring data from the early days of the spill... and says they’re continuing to look at other ways people might be exposed to the oil that remains.

The areas of the Kalamazoo River that were affected by the spill are still closed for recreation.

People who live near the spill site want local officials to conduct a long-term health study.

Riki Ott is a marine toxicologist from Alaska. She’s spent the past two decades charting health problems from people who live near the site of the Exxon Valdez spill and last year’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She’s in Battle Creek this week to talk with people affected by the Kalamazoo River spill.

“I could have zipped back in time and it would be the same things as Exxon Valdez residents and workers, the same thing I’ve heard in the Gulf for a full year and here now. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, rashes, these things are not going away. People want answers.”

Ott says it’s too early to rule out the potential of long term health effects from the Kalamazoo River oil spill.

“If the state is acknowledging there could be short term health effects, then that means there could also be long term health effects.”

The Calhoun County Health Department has petitioned the federal government for a long term health study on residents.