Peter Kurzy (left) Otsego City Manager watches as wood liquors from the Otsego Falls Mill are sprinkled from his makeshift sprinkler truck on East Dix Street. Otsego employee Fred Vaughn is pictured on the right holding his nose.Bardeen’s Paper Mill #1 became the Otsego Falls Mill in 1934. In 1955, Menasha  Wooden Ware   became sole owners, buying out David Greene who was arraigned on  river pollution charges.

Part 2: Pollution solution was to spread it on roads

Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

This is the second of a two-part series on 1953’s “Year of the Big Stink”

After an Oct. 5, 1953, issue of Life Magazine published  a photo of dead carp clogging the Kalamazoo River, it brought national attention to the plight of paper mill pollution. Locally, fingers were being pointed.

Observers in Otsego said the City of Allegan does not handle 100 percent of their sewage through their disposal plant and since several of their sewers empty directly into the Kalamazoo River, that could account for the dead carp found below Allegan.

However, the Water Resources Commission said the most significant portion of the pollution came from upriver at the Otsego Falls Mill. Stepping up production, they were increasing the organic waste dumped into the river, squeezing off the carp’s oxygen.

Leading up to big fish kill, warm temperatures and humidity mixed with the sulphites in waste from the mill and formed sulphuric acid that discolored the lead paint on houses. It stunk tremendously and was blamed on everything from atom bomb blasts in the west to “mysterious” fogs rising off the river.

Otsego Falls Mill was ordered to limit their oxygen demanding waste loaded into the river during summer months or shut down. Mill officials said the cost of land filling was too prohibitive and they were being unfairly treated since there were several other mills in the area.

However, Otsego Falls was the only company manufacturing wood pulp in the Kalamazoo Valley. Sulphuric acid is used to break down wood fibers and has its own distinct odor. Other mills used reprocessed paper and rag fiber.

To help keep the mill waste out of the river and jobs intact, the Sept. 24, 1953, edition of the Allegan Gazette, showed new Otsego city manager Peter Kurzy standing on East Dix Street experimenting with sprinkling the dark brown liquors from the Otsego mill on city streets as a dust deterrent. Kurzy said it had a moisture-absorbing quality and, when dry, was as hard as many asphalt bonds.

An estimated 45 million gallons was spread in Allegan County.

Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at or at (269) 673-5534.

For the full story, pick up a copy of the Oct. 4, 2018, issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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