Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#456 - Mysterious Motives at EPA, 23-Aug-1995

In 1990, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded the
construction of an incinerator in a residential neighborhood in
Jacksonville, Arkansas, to destroy dioxin-contaminated chemical-warfare
wastes. At the time, EPA's decision raised eyebrows. For at least 100
years in the U.S., the basic philosophy of public health policy has
been prevention. Since EPA studies show that dioxin damages the immune
system and reproductive system of humans, and probably causes cancer as
well (REHW #390, #391, and #414), no public health official favors
exposing people needlessly to dioxin. At the same time, no one --not
even the most ardent advocates of incineration --claim that hazardous
waste incinerators break down 100% of the chemicals that are fed into
them. Therefore, it seemed certain that people living near the
Jacksonville incinerator would be exposed to airborne dioxins released
during the burn. On the face of it, building the Jacksonville
incinerator in a residential neighborhood violated long-established
public health principles. This was perplexing.

EPA took the public position that there were no alternatives to
building the incinerator in a residential neighborhood. On three
occasions, a majority of voters in Jacksonville had voiced opposition
to a dioxin incinerator nestled among their homes. One obvious
alternative would have been to remove the waste by rail (a rail spur
serves the site) or even by truck, to a remote location where fewer
people would be directly exposed. Another obvious alternative would
have been to build a reinforced concrete building on the site and store
the waste in a secure fashion until better technology became available.
But EPA officials said it would be too "dangerous" to move the dioxin-
containing barrels of waste out of town, and too expensive to store
them in a special building on-site. This didn't seem to make much sense
at the time. The leaking waste drums had already been "overpacked" into
larger non-leaking drums, which could have been readily loaded onto a
train or a truck. And concrete buildings are not nearly as expensive to
build and monitor as incinerators or landfills. (See REHW #260.)

Arkansas governor --later U.S. President --Bill Clinton personally
promoted the unpopular incinerator for 12 years. "He's been beaten up
pretty badly over this," one aide told the NEW YORK TIMES. Still, Mr.
Clinton persevered, insisting on building a dioxin incinerator in a
residential neighborhood. (See REHW #311.) From 1990 through 1992,
citizens and government officials struggled bitterly over the
incinerator as it failed its test burns but was nevertheless declared
"safe" by EPA. (See REHW #311 and #312.) On October 27, 1992 --one week
before he was elected President --Mr. Clinton took time out from his
frenzied campaign schedule to sign an order officially commencing the
incineration of 13 million pounds of dioxin-contaminated herbicides a
stone's throw from homes occupied by families with children. The drums
contained an estimated 75 pounds of dioxin - -by any measure, a huge
quantity of a supremely powerful poison. (See REHW #312.)

After he became President, Mr. Clinton's appointees continued to
promote the Jacksonville incinerator. When citizens sued in federal
court to have the incinerator shut down because of flagrant violations
of EPA's own regulations, Mr. Clinton's EPA argued that loopholes in
the law allowed them to continue burning and releasing dioxin into the
neighborhood. Court documents reveal that the machine was unexpectedly
emitting large "puffs" of white smoke from the boiler itself, which
bypassed the pollution control system entirely --a clear indication of
improper pressures inside the machine. Incinerator workers were issued
gas masks, just 100 yards or so from families with children, who were
not issued gas masks. Raw waste was reported bubbling through the
boiler seals and baking onto the outside of the combustion chamber,
creating black smoke and strong odors, which wafted offsite into the
surrounding neighborhood --a malodorous caricature of how an
incinerator is supposed to operate. (See REHW #345.)

By this time Greenpeace chemist Pat Costner had demolished EPA's
decade-old claim that incinerators can destroy 99.9999% of the dioxin
fed into them. (See REHW #280, #312, and #318.) Internal EPA memos,
leaked to the press, revealed that EPA's staff agreed with Costner's
analysis. (RHWN #312) EPA's own monitoring data showed that the
Jacksonville incinerator was emitting 800 times as much dioxin as EPA
recommends as "safe." However, in court EPA argued that no court had a
right to shut them down until after the burn was completed. A federal
judge in Arkansas ordered the incinerator shut down as a public health
hazard, but EPA appealed and won on the basis that citizens can't claim
in court that they are being poisoned by a Superfund cleanup until
after the cleanup is completed. (REHW #345.)

In the summer of 1993 it was revealed that the Jacksonville incinerator
had done such a poor job destroying waste that the residual incinerator
ash --heaps of salt, 43% larger in volume than the original liquids fed
into the incinerator --were so contaminated with dioxin that they could
not legally be removed from the incinerator site. EPA's incinerator had
burned 9600 barrels of dioxin-contaminated liquid waste and in the
process had created 13,730 barrels of dioxin-contaminated salts. (REHW

EPA then built a 30,000-square-foot secure concrete storage building on
the Jacksonville site to house the 13,730 drums of incinerator waste --
a solution which EPA had previously rejected as prohibitively

In February 1995, EPA shut down the Jacksonville incinerator down, even
though not all the waste had been incinerated. The remaining 3260 drums
of heavily-contaminated dioxin wastes are now being loaded onto trucks
and driven across Oklahoma to a Westinghouse incinerator in
Coffeyville, Kansas --an alternative that EPA had previously rejected
as too dangerous.

In this story, Mr. Clinton's EPA would appear to be guilty of
malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance --all the 'feasances'
possible. But there is more.

Despite all the problems at the Jacksonville site, a study funded
jointly by EPA and by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry (ATSDR), was released May 2, 1995, showing that dioxin
in the blood of people living near the Jacksonville incinerator had
actually DECREASED between 1991 and 1994. In other words, while the
incinerator was releasing dioxin into the neighborhood, the dioxin
levels in the blood of people living nearby had gone down, not up.

From this study, EPA officials immediately drew optimistic conclusions
about incinerators in residential neighborhoods. The ST. LOUIS POST-
DISPATCH reported, "The Environmental Protection Agency says the new
study proves that dioxin could be burned safely at Times Beach."[1]
Jacksonville went so well that it should be repeated in Times Beach,
Missouri, EPA is now saying.

The ATSDR pulled together a "peer review panel" of outside "dioxin
experts" who agreed that the new study showed that dioxin levels had
gone down in people living near the Jacksonville incinerator.

Then Greenpeace chemist Pat Costner of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, sent a
Freedom of Information Act request for the data and let it be known
that she would be providing an independent analysis of the findings.
With that, the EPA-funded researchers sharpened their pencils and
examined their data again. A month later they announced they had
discovered that their first conclusion was false; now they said dioxin
levels in the blood of families living near the incinerator had gone
up, not down. It turned out that the principle researcher, Dr. Morris
Cranmer, had done his arithmetic wrong and ATSDR's peer review panel of
"dioxin experts" had failed to notice the huge mistake.[3]

Pat Costner's 28-page analysis, published this month, leaves the
Cranmer study in tatters.[4] For example, the incinerator had been
burning for 8 months before the "pre-burn" blood samples were taken--
and these were probably the "dirtiest" 8 months of burning because the
incinerator was new and the company had never operated an incinerator
before. The "control" group was selected from the town of Mabelvale,
only 25 miles from Jacksonville. EPA says air pollution from an
incinerator travels at least 50 kilometers (31 miles) --so the
"control" group was almost certainly exposed to dioxin from the
Jacksonville incinerator. In addition, there are several other
incinerators that pollute Mabelvale with dioxin--one of them operated
by EPA itself in Jefferson, Arkansas. A worse "control group" could not
have been found.

Furthermore, the selection of the study group itself biased the study's
results. Youngsters under 18 and people over 65 were excluded --the
very people most likely to spend time at home and be most affected by
the Jacksonville incinerator. People who had elevated levels of dioxin
in their blood to begin with were excluded; these were the people who
had been most-exposed by the site in the past and therefore would be
most likely to be impacted by the incinerator, which was built directly
on the old site.

In sum, the Cranmer study seems to have been DESIGNED to reach false or
misleading conclusions. Dr. Cranmer was well-qualified for conducting
such a study. In 1988 he had been convicted by a federal judge of
bilking the federal government out of $9.5 million dollars. He appealed
his conviction and lost. While he was serving his sentence of
"community service" he was hired to do the Jacksonville study.[2]

Costner offers many additional criticisms of the Cranmer study. And she
shows that the data reveal a dioxin increase of 22% in the blood of the
Jacksonville residents who participated in the study.

Despite these remarkable revelations, EPA today is still insisting in
public that burning dioxin-contaminated wastes in residential
neighborhoods is entirely safe, and is good public policy, pointing to
Jacksonville and the Cranmer study as evidence. Today EPA is promoting
dioxin burns in Times Beach, Missouri, in Holbrook, Massachusetts, at
the Crab Orchard site in southern Illinois, and at other sites around
the country.

What could possibly be motivating this $7 billion-per-year bungling
behemoth? Why in the world is EPA eager to burn powerful poisons,
releasing the residuals directly into neighborhoods where families
live? If readers can suggest possible EPA motives, we'd be pleased to
hear them. We are perplexed.

--Peter Montague


[1] Tom Uhlenbrock, "Researcher Reports Drop in Level of Dioxin in
Blood," ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH June 10, 1995, pg. 4B. The POST-
DISPATCH missed the actual public meeting May 2 but U.S. EPA officials
made available to the paper's reporter a transcript of the hearing.

[2] Sandy Davis, "Defrauder still able to collect federal
funds," [Little Rock, Arkansas] DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE July 8, 1995, pgs. 1B,

[3] Tom Uhlenbrock, "Dioxin Findings Reversed; Neighbors of Incinerator
had Higher Blood Levels," ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH July 12, 1995, pg.

[4] Pat Costner, "The Incineration of Dioxin-Contaminated Wastes in
Jacksonville, Arkansas: A Review of the Inhalation Exposure
Study" (Greenpeace: Eureka Springs, Arkansas, August 7, 1995).

Descriptor terms: epa; dioxin; incineration; jacksonville, ar; bill
clinton; lawsuits; dre; ash; landfilling; hazardous waste; above-ground
storage buildings; ok; aptus; ks; coffeyville, ks; westinghouse; atsdr;
morris cranmer; hazardous waste incineration; superfund; holbrook, ma;

Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (21)