Associated Press, October 30, 2006
FAIRBURN, Ga. – An industrial waste plant is likely responsible for sickening more than 600 residents in Fairburn and nearby communities by exposing them to a toxic chemical used in crop pesticides, according to the Georgia Department of Human resources.
A survey issued last week by the department shows consistent symptoms among those polled – including headaches, sore throats and nausea – after the Philip Services Corp. plant released a noxious odor into the air in June. The culprit was propyl mercaptan, a substance used to give an offensive smell to otherwise odorless, highly toxic chemicals.
The smell has been blamed for hundreds of illnesses in residents and the death of some pets.
According to DHR surveys of 622 residents of Fairburn and Fayetteville, 96 percent reported symptoms such as headaches (74 percent), burning eyes (58 percent), coughs or sore throats (54 percent), nausea (49 percent) and difficulty breathing (45 percent). Of those surveyed, 187 people sought medical attention.
Since then, Fairburn and several other small communities in the area have passed resolutions calling for the plant to move. The state Environmental Protection Division has ordered the plant to refuse any more shipments of the smelly chemical.
So far PSC has been fined $100,000 for violations connected with the odor.
Still, plant officials say while the smell was inconvenient, there is no proof it caused residents to get sick.
“We have worked diligently to remove all traces of propyl mercaptan and ethoprop from the plant,” said Paul Butsavage, area operations manager for PSC. “While the odors may have been a nuisance, there is no scientific evidence that proves the odors were a health hazard.”
Residents say the odor – which smells like strong onions or garlic – persists even five months later.
Connie Biemiller of the South Fulton and Fayette Community Task Force, a citizens group formed to solve the problem, said the smell is so obvious that “my dog won’t even go outside,” and that she’s noticing dead birds and other creatures.
Fairburn is about 20 miles Southwest of Atlanta.