Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / Industry and State Indifferent to Poisoning of Residents (cont.)

Industry and State Indifferent to Poisoning of Residents (cont.)

December 1, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

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Eric Borgeling, a 30-year-old mechanic at Port City Diesel and Truck Service, tells a different story. He was lying on the ground repairing a trailer hitch, and was about 150 feet from the well, when he witnessed a "series" of releases at high pressure between 3:30 and 4:15 p.m.

Mr. Borgeling said the two-man maintenance crew became agitated and began frantically spinning control valves as gas poured from the well, forming large white vapor clouds. He said when the cloud settled to the ground, his clothes became saturated. He suffered tingling in his limbs and a headache before being transported to West Shore Community Hospital, where he was treated.

"The gas was coming out so fast it was turning white," said Mr. Borgeling. "They were releasing it a good 15 to 30 minutes. The two guys working on it were standing to the north, so they didn't get it on themselves. We were to the south, and got covered."

"The way everybody has responded, it's as though it never happened," said Kathryn Kenny, the co-owner of Port City Diesel and Truck Service, who suffered headaches and memory loss as a result of the gas release. She also was temporarily hospitalized. "It just seems like everybody but us wants the whole thing to disappear."

Gary S. Cools, the 47-year-old co-owner of Manistee Auto Electric, which also was in the path of the gas plume, may have been the most seriously injured. Mr. Cools was in his shop when the building filled with a terrible smell. He says he developed a headache, a cough, and was growing weak.

His condition worsened as his arms became heavy, he began to choke and almost collapsed. Mr. Cools was transported to the hospital and treated with oxygen. Months later he still suffers from breathing problems. His medical specialists say it may be two years before he fully recovers.

"It was like breathing underwater through a soda straw," said Mr. Cools.

What is Hydrogen Sulphide?

According to specialists in chemical toxicity, hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that smells like rotten eggs, and is heavier than air. The gas is found in high concentrations in the deep Niagaran rock formation from which oil is produced in Manistee County.

Hydrogen sulfide causes injury, when inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream, by disrupting the central nervous system.The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health says that concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in the air of 100 parts per million can cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness, and are "immediately dangerous to life and health." Exposure to higher concentrations can cause unconsciousness and death.

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