Health Concerns Cited after Ohio Landfill Fire

Although people say they have multiple symptoms, officials say there's no data to support it.


June 23--They wheeze and cough uncontrollably.

Their eyes and sinuses burn. Their heads ache, and their mouths are numb from dryness. Their throats are sore.

They are short of breath, with occasional chest pains. They have stomach cramps. They feel nauseated, light-headed, dizzy, or just generally out of it for days at a time.

Many people who live or work near the Stickney Recycling construction and demolition debris landfill in North Toledo are coming forward with complaints of symptoms they've experienced since the landfill's huge fire the first weekend in May, when thousands of residents as far away as Point Place were urged to stay indoors because of what officials feared was in the air.

From a scientific standpoint, there's no data to support their claims, officials said.

A soon-to-be-released U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report will show that nothing alarming was detected in the air or in the Ottawa River during the fire, save for heavy soot in the nearby parking lot of Chrysler Group'?s Toledo Assembly Complex.

"What I was really happy to see was that we didn't have as much asbestos [picked up by air monitors] as we could have had," said Betsy Nightingale, the EPA'?s emergency response team coordinator at the fire and the report's author. "I was personally nervous about that."

Those federal monitors detected no asbestos, a fiber known to cause a lung cancer called mesothelioma that can be triggered by as few as one or two fibers.

Some fibers were in the air. But follow-up tests showed no evidence of any being asbestos, Ms. Nightingale said.

Eric Zgodzinski, Toledo-Lucas County health community and environmental services director, said he was nervous about asbestos getting into the air, too.

"I'?m comfortable saying they probably weren't exposed. But I can never say definitively," he said.

Both agree sampling results have their limits as they only examine a snapshot in time and are limited in scope to certain areas.

Nobody ever knows if any of the symptoms can be attributed to the landfill'?s operation, past or present.

But Debbie Zales, 61, of Majestic Drive, isn't letting the landfill off the hook.

"This is too coincidental that so many people in this area are having the same problems," she said.

Residents are not alone in their demand for answers.

Unions involved

Three public-employee union locals have been pulling records, meeting with city officials, and calling for a broader investigation, according to Steve Kowalik, Toledo regional director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 8.

The unions involved are AFSCME Locals 7 and 2058, which respectively represent city sewer-division employees and supervisors and professionals, and the Toledo Firefighters Local 92 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

"Our biggest concerns are the long-term, chronic effects of what our folks might have been breathing," Mr. Kowalik said.

Toledo City Councilman Lindsay Webb, whose district includes North Toledo, said she is mad at the city for not being more aggressive.

"This is heart-attack serious. You can quote me on that. This is serious stuff," Ms. Webb said.

She said smoke from the fire was so bad she wouldn'?t let her children play outdoors, miles away, that weekend at her Point Place home.

Mr. Kowalik said the two AFSCME locals, which represent more than 100 employees, are collaborating with firefighters, dozens of whom fought the blaze.

Representatives from Ohio'?s Public Employment Risk Reduction Program met earlier this month with city officials about the fire, he said.

Concerns cited

"I've met a lot of young guys. I'?ve seen the concerns on their faces. Words can't even describe it," Mr. Kowalik said, adding that many of his members have complained of sinus-related problems.

Will Ortyl, an employee of the city'?s sewer division, is among those demanding answers. He said he has experienced headaches and stomach cramps, and wonders what he and his co-workers might have been exposed to when they "had to drive through that plume of smoke."

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