Kelly Welker knew Seattle’s Georgetown area was an industrial neighborhood when she moved here nine years ago. The air quality isn’t great. But lately, she says, it’s been getting worse.
“I had never experienced going outside of my house and having my eyes burn within a couple of minutes,” Welker said. “Having my sinuses burn within a couple of minutes.”
Welker is among the Georgetown residents who say that for the past few months, clouds of harmful dust from a recycling operation have been stinging their eyes, coating their tongues, and at times, making it difficult to breathe. They’ve contacted environmental regulators, but they say nothing has changed.
Welker said her 4-year-old son’s eyes often get red and irritated, and it’s difficult to keep the windows open in her home. She said neighbors have also been noticing a fine, powdery dust regularly covering their lawns, their windowsills and even getting in their mouths.
Welker and other local residents and business owners say they’ve traced the dust back to CDL Recycle, a division of Drywall Recycling Services. It’s a company that collects and sorts construction debris.
CDL Recycle president Brian Thompson said his company is doing what it can to control the dust.
"We're taking care of anything that comes from our facility," he said. "We've invested a quarter of a million dollars in dust suppression this year so far."
Thompson says his company has installed misting systems to damp down the dust. It's also putting up tarps around its building.
Welker and her neighbors say those measures have not been enough. They have been filing complaints against CDL Recycle with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Mario Pedroza is supervising inspector for the agency, and he said he's aware of the issue.
"We have been out to the site several times. We have made contact with the complainants, lately, almost on a daily basis," he said.
But because the agency has been unable to find definitive evidence that the dust is coming from the the CDL Recycling facility, Pedroza said, it has not taken any action against the company. Instead, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has flagged these complaints as a priority.
Many residents think the dust they're seeing is mostly drywall. And some varieties of drywall may have components that are harmful to human health, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Thompson said just a small fraction of the material his company handles on a daily basis is drywall.