An Indiana lawmaker wants environmental officials to test air around a wood recycling plant to determine whether it could be emitting potentially dangerous fumes blamed for making some Gulf Coast hurricane victims sick.
The Associated Press reported that Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka, has asked the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to hold a public hearing before renewing an air discharge permit sought by VIM Recycling Inc. in western Elkhart County.
Fry said he is concerned the plant could be emitting formaldehyde, a preservative used in construction materials that can cause health problems, such as breathing problems.
Lawyers for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita accuse the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of negligence for sheltering them in trailers – many made in Elkhart County – that had elevated levels of formaldehyde.
Tom Holt, VIM’s public relations consultant, said there is nothing to worry about and accused Fry of playing politics with the issue to gain favor with the plant’s neighbors. Holt said Fry knows that a state Department of Health survey of the plant’s neighbors failed to find evidence of health effects from VIM operations.
“In summary, we did not find levels of nosebleeds, asthma and allergies that are out of the ordinary,” state health commissioner Dr. Judith A. Monroe wrote to Fry in a Jan. 30 letter. “This does not mean necessarily that there are no health effects from VIM operations … only that we did not identify any.”
Holt added that IDEM has detected no formaldehyde or heavy metals in a mulchlike soil additive that VIM produces and is trying to market.
The plant’s Baugo Township neighbors have complained of severe breathing problems, worsened asthma conditions, rashes and children with nosebleeds – some of the same symptoms reported by displaced hurricane victims who lived temporarily in trailers, Fry wrote.
Fry noted that much of the materials VIM recycles comes from the recreational vehicle and trailer industry. Fry has faulted IDEM for failing to require VIM to crush those materials indoors.
Holt said formaldehyde gases were found to be escaping from the wood inside the FEMA trailers because the trailers were exposed to intense heat and humidity for long periods of time while being closed up. In contrast, all of the wood that VIM recycles sits outside and loses its formaldehyde – in a way that does not harm neighbors – before it is ground up, he said.