GEM Meeting

December 18, 2006

photos by Liz Ilg

Cleveland area residents who have been living with the chemical emissions and odors from General Environmental Management came to an Ohio EPA meeting at the City of Cleveland Public Utilities Building last night.  A fire at the company yesterday morning underscored the safety hazards at the plant, which had a major fire and explosion in April.

After listening to presentations from the Ohio EPA and City of Cleveland Division of Air Quality, long-time Slavic Village area resident Marlane Weslian, summed up the meeting this way:  “I feel like nobody is looking out for the residents who are having to smell this and the long-term health concerns from it. Let’s find a way to shut this company down until we’re sure it’s not causing health concerns.”  Weslian said she has frequently been forced to go inside her home to get away from the sickening odors.

Betsy Russ, who works downtown and held a sign saying “GEM Stinks,” described her reaction to GEM’s major fire explosion in April:  “When I found out what it was, I was afraid to breathe.”   The purpose of the meeting was supposed to be to provide public information about the hazardous waste violations at GEM, but the agency representatives said they could not talk publicly about any enforcement action under consideration.

Ohio EPA Environmental Specialist Greg Orr, who inspects GEM, characterized GEM as an “illegal hazardous waste facility,” but claimed the Ohio EPA cannot shut it down.  George Baker, Chief of Air Quality Enforcement for the City of Cleveland, said the city has received more complaints about GEM than any other facility, and yet has never taken a test of chemical emissions from GEM.   

Downtown area bed and breakfast owner Robin Yates described the smells which reach his inn early in the morning and late at night, after the city’s stated hours or operation from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Yates asked Mr. Baker whether he considered GEM to be a “huge problem” for the City of Cleveland, and Mr. Baker replied that it is the biggest problem facing his agency.

Although this was advertised as a public meeting, citizens wishing to attend were required to produce photo id’s, have their pictures taken, wear a name tag with their name, photo, and a bar code displayed, and return the name tag on the way out.