EPA meeting will detail demolition of former Otsego mill powerhouse

Ryan Lewis, Editor

A public meeting Tuesday, April 2, will present the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to clean up and demolish a building on the former Rock Tenn paper mill in Otsego.

The informational meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at Otsego City Hall, 117 E. Orleans St.

EPA on-site coordinator Paul Ruesch said he will present details of how EPA contractors will clean out toxic asbestos and demolish the former power house at the mill property, 431 Helen St. He will then answer questions of those in attendance.

Work is expected to begin in April on the large, deteriorating building. The agency anticipates the cleanup will take several months to complete.

Heavy machinery will be on site, including trucks and a demolition crane.

The asbestos is being removed because its microscopic fibers can be inhaled and irritate lungs. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said long-term exposure can cause lung scarring, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The substance was often used in insulation. Though its use was banned in the 1970s, the material is often still present in older buildings.

EPA crews will take measures to reduce dust on the site, mostly by spraying it with water and mist.

As with last year’s work along the Kalamazoo River, air monitors at the perimeter of the property will provide real-time updates of how much dust is being kicked up, to prevent asbestos from spreading from the cleanup but also to maintain air quality.

Licensed haulers will take all the material to an EPA-approved landfill permitted for the disposal of asbestos waste. Crews will recycle as much of the metal in the building as possible.

This is actually the EPA’s second foray into cleaning up the site. In 2011, a grant-funded survey of the property found approximately 200 drums and other containers of chemicals the EPA deemed hazardous and removed the following year.

The work next month is being done as a time-critical action after Allegan County and Otsego city officials requested emergency funds for the cleanup last June—primarily due to evidence people were sneaking onto the hazardous site. Neighbors have seen lights at night; there is also graffiti.

The vacant paper mill stopped operating in 2004.

For more information, visit EPA’s webpage at response.epa.gov/rocktenn2 for additional information.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.


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