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State says hundreds likely sickened by toxic chemical

Oct 29, 2006

A report from the state Department of Human Resources says 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.

A survey issued last week by the department shows consistent symptoms among those after the Philip Services Corporation 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, burning eyes, coughs or sore throats, nausea and difficulty breathing. Of those surveyed, 187 people sought medical attention.

Still, plant officials say while the smell was inconvenient, there is no proof it caused residents to get sick.

Paul Butsavage, area operations manager for the plant, says quote "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.

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