BANGOR (AP) – A de-icing agent used by the Air National Guard and at Bangor International Airport is blamed for making a nearby stream smell bad, and some neighbors fear it is making their children sick.

Propylene glycol has been draining into the stream in violation of state environmental law, according to an official from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Cleanup costs have not yet been determined.

In recent months, Birch Stream has caught the attention of residents of Griffin Park apartments, who noticed a yeasty odor.

The sweet odor, similar to that of baking bread, was somewhat inviting at first, but now parents are wondering about the possible health effects on children who inhale the chemical while playing outside.

Ann Birmingham said her 15-year-old son Tyson suffers from migraine headaches after playing basketball outside. The headaches get better only when he goes to school or to a friend’s house, she said.

Other parents living in the 50-unit complex said their children were experiencing headaches and respiratory


“I think it’s something coming from that stream,” said Gina Pratt, whose 9-year-old son Corey has suffered from headaches, vomiting and fever. He has had multiple tests, but doctors can’t figure it out, she said.

Birmingham noticed the odor two years ago and began keeping a journal. On April 7, the odor was particularly overpowering, so he called the fire department. Firefighters traced the smell to the airport.

Assistant Fire Chief Darrell Cyr contacted the DEP, and officials came to investigate the next day.

Propylene glycol is considered nontoxic, but its presence in the stream is a still a concern for officials.

The use of the de-icer at the airport and Maine Air National Guard base has tripled since 2000, largely because of increased military flights since the Sept. 11 attacks, said Ed Logue, the DEP’s regional director.

The Air Guard used an estimated 116,000 gallons over the winter, and the airport used 47,000 gallons, said Rebecca Hupp, who called it an “exceptional” year for volume of air traffic.

While only a portion of it ends up in the stream, Logue still believes the chemical is responsible for the yeasty smell.

“I think there’s definitely a connection between the increase in propylene glycol use, the stream’s deterioration and the odor problem people are experiencing along the stream,” Logue said.

Despite the link between the smell and the chemical, health officials are not so sure the chemical is responsible for illnesses.

Since propylene glycol is nontoxic, it’s unlikely that inhalation would cause health problems for Griffin Park residents, said Eric Frohmberg of the state’s environmental toxicology program.

For now, the Maine Air National Guard is considering several options, including treating the de-icer on site, recycling it, or diverting it to the city wastewater treatment plant, Logue said.

Logue said he anticipates changes will be made before colder weather arrives this fall.

The airport is also looking at similar changes, but it could take up to two years to implement them, Hupp said.

AP-ES-05-10-03 1214EDT

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