Residents sick of onion odor, illnesses protest Saturday

Tue, 08/01/2006 - 4:07pm
By: Ben Nelms

They were not deterred by heat, humidity or pouring rain. A group of more than 130 residents of north and central Fayette and south Fulton counties participated in a day-long protest Saturday against the sickening onion-like smell of propyl mercaptan released from the Philip Services Corp. plant on Ga. Highway 92.

Protesters along Ga. Highway 74 at Oakley Industrial Boulevard in Fairburn numbered from a half-dozen at times to between 20 and 30 during the morning hours. But between 9 a.m. and on until 6 p.m., more than 130 found their way to the street side, hoisting homemade signs that beckoned passing residents to notice the plight suffered by many in the 40-square-mile hot zone area.

Area residents who say they have been sickened for two months by the chemical released at the PSC waste treatment plant just south of Fairburn and just north of the Fayette County line petitioned both counties and pleaded with Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to shut the plant down.

A temporary shutdown did come late Friday, only hours before the promised protest would take place. Though appreciative, residents decided to go on with the protest because the real issue, they said, transcends anything temporary.

“They did not shut the plant down per our request for further investigation of our illnesses but because of rodent problems, etc.,” said north Fayette resident Connie Biemiller, one of the protest organizers.

“I am glad the EPD is partially listening to us,” Biemiller said. “However, the seriousness of this matter is not being stated at all. It is clear to me that we must continue with the protest for the plant to be shut down permanently per the edict of Fayette County. Their edict is based on the widespread documented illness throughout the county, not because of internal plant violations.”

Along with determined residents were others. State Rep. Virgil Fludd, Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts, Fayette County Commissioner Peter Pfeifer, Tyrone Councilwoman Grace Caldwell, Mario Avery and Scott Vaughan from Fairburn and U.S. 3rd Congressional District candidate Mike McGraw made their way to the protest site.

But many of lesser-known residents, those affected by the sickening smell, were there. Others could not be. Of those present, some were sick but braved the day regardless. Their names were Latrice, Lina, Connie, Earl, Clare, George, Marie, Grace, Jackie, Cindy, John, Tanya, Nicole, Sheryl, Nancy, Judith, Freda, Nell, Linda, Dick, Beverly, Tia, Eugene, Lewis and many others.

Fayette and Fulton counties are calling for the plant to be shut down permanently. Those residents familiar with the problem are questioning whether oniony mercaptan is the only chemical capable of escaping the plant and posing a threat to them and their families along the Fulton-Fayette border.

Neither the state nor local officials can answer that question, since the plant has not provided required records of everything processed at the plant for the past two years, according to the state EPD.

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