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#345 - Corruption Out Of Control In Arkansas, 07-Jul-1993

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was back in court in June,
once again defending the right of the Vertac incinerator to vent
dioxin-contaminated gases into a residential neighborhood in
Jacksonville, Arkansas.

The Jacksonville incinerator has been burning dioxin-contaminated
pesticides since last November as part of a Superfund cleanup at the
Vertac site. For more than a decade, the Vertac company manufactured
dioxin-contaminated pesticides in Jacksonville for use in the Vietnam
war. Vertac officials left town hurriedly in the mid-1970s, abandoning
some 30,000 leaking drums of chemical wastes. Despite local protests,
Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton personally approved the Vertac site
incinerator last November.

In mid-June two employees of the incinerator company signed affidavits
saying they had seen dioxin-contaminated wastes being intentionally
blown out the smoke stack. One of the employees said under oath that
she had regularly seen dioxin-contaminated pesticides oozing from the
hot kiln: "I have seen 2,4-D pesticide waste leaking from the seals
around the incinerator kiln. The waste oozes out from the seals and
burns on the outside of the hot kiln, giving off black smoke and a
strong odor," she said.

An EPA official stationed at the Vertac site confirmed publicly that
dioxin-contaminated pesticide wastes "ooze" from the kiln during
combustion. Rick Ehrhart, remedial site manager for EPA, told a news
reporter pesticide leaks from the kiln are "not unusual." He said such
leaks are "cause for concern" but that nothing can be done about them.
"You don't have a lot of control over it," he said.[1] Such leaks are
just "something that happens at all incinerators," he said.[2]

Even before these latest revelations, federal district judge Stephen
Reasoner in Little Rock had concluded in April that the Vertac
incinerator was a public health hazard and was operating "in violation
of the EPA's own regulations," and he ordered it shut. EPA and the
Vertac incinerator operators filed a joint appeal, and Judge Reasoner's
first shutdown order was overturned on procedural grounds. Reasoner
then heard new testimony, re-wrote his conclusions, and ordered the
plant shut a second time.

The day Judge Reasoner's second shutdown order was filed, the 8th
circuit court of appeals in St. Louis overturned Reasoner's order
BEFORE VERTAC AND EPA HAD EVEN FILED A SECOND APPEAL. No appeal had
been filed when the appeals court overturned Judge Reasoner's second
order and directed that Vertac be allowed to keep operating. It was one
of the most remarkable displays of judicial prejudice in memory.

In mid-June the two Vertac employees came forward and signed affidavits
[3] under oath saying they had witnessed continuing spills of hazardous
waste at the site, and had witnessed flakes of dioxin-contaminated
salts falling from the incinerator smoke stack "comparable to a light
snow fall."

Carolyn Lance, a Vertac employee, said in a sworn affidavit that she
had worked at the Vertac site two and a half years, first as a
maintenance technician, then in a warehouse dispensing parts to repair
crews. "[O]n May 14th, at about 2:50 p.m.," she wrote, "I noticed salt
flakes ranging in size from about the size of a nickel to the size of a
quarter falling through the air. The flakes were coming from the
incinerator stack. The release of hazardous salts from the stack is not
unusual at the Vertac incinerator," she said. "There have been several
other occasions when I have observed salt flakes falling from the
incinerator stack. These incidents last ten to fifteen minutes at a
time and are comparable to a light snowfall."

Chris DuJardin also worked at Vertac for two and a half years, as a
maintenance technician, and reported seeing the same incident May 14th.

DuJardin said in a sworn affidavit, "On May 14, 1993, at approximately
3 or 3:30 p.m. I was alerted by a co-worker that contaminated salts
created by the spray dryer pollution control system were spewing out of
the stack of the Vertac incinerator. Pollution control salts are
contaminated with hazardous chemicals that are partially removed from
the incinerator's gases by the spray dryer system prior to emission
into the air. It is my understanding that the salts are contaminated
with dioxins and heavy metals. Normally the salts drop through the
system and are collected in drums to be disposed of as hazardous
wastes.

"Initially, I didn't think much of the May 14, 1993 event," DuJardin
said in a sworn affidavit, "because the Vertac incinerator and related
systems experience frequent malfunctions and other problems requiring
constant attention.

"However, upon looking at the stack I became alarmed because of the
amount of salts and height of the salt plume blowing out of the stack.
The plume appeared to be headed in the direction of my home and a
nearby school attended by my nephew....

"It was obvious to me that the incinerator's 300 horsepower fan had
been intentionally turned on in order to clear the salts from the
system. The incinerator had recently been experiencing operating
difficulties apparently because salts had clogged various systems where
they normally should not be found.... As a result of the salt clogging
problem, the spray dryer component of the incinerator had built up such
pressure that the fiberglass housing of the system cracked. I was
involved in repairing the cracks in the spray dryer system's housing.

"I decided to inform Mr. Dan Fuller, operations coordinator, about the
salts coming from the stack.... When I told Mr. Fuller about salts
coming from the stack, he told me it was steam, not salts, that were
being emitted. I told him I knew it was salts because I had been
outside and had seen the salts falling to the ground and being blown
away. Mr. Fuller responded to my concern by saying, 'prove it.'

"... Since leaving the site on May 14, 1993, I have expressed my
concerns to the media, investigators from the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) criminal investigation division, and Arkansas
Assistant Attorney General Charles Moulton. Despite my communication
with various government officials, the Vertac incinerator continues to
operate," DuJardin wrote.

In her affidavit, Carolyn Lance described other serious problems at the
Vertac site. She wrote, "I have seen 2,4-D pesticide waste leaking from
the seals around the incinerator kiln. The waste oozes out from the
seals and burns on the outside of the hot kiln, giving off black smoke
and a strong odor. I understand that D-waste [2,4-D pesticide waste]
was leaking from the kiln as recently as Monday, June 14, 1993. Over
the last six months I have observed at least one period of time when
waste leaked from the seals and onto the outside of the kiln every day
for about a thirty day period. Since January 1993 I have observed
wastes leaking from the kiln seals at least every week, sometimes
dribbling down onto the concrete pad the incinerator sits on," Lance
wrote.

EPA administrator Carol Browner now has an opportunity to confront the
corruption in Jacksonville head on. Attorneys for local citizens
opposed to the Vertac incinerator wrote her in late June, asking her to
intervene personally to "stop the poisoning" in Jacksonville. Attorneys
Richard Condit and Mick Harrison of the Government Accountability
Project (GAP) in Washington, D.C., said, "Our clients do not wish to
resort to direct confrontations with EPA and the Clinton
administration, but they will not stand by and continue to be
poisoned." Browner's office said it would take several weeks for the
administrator and her attorneys to draft a reply.

The reply, when it comes, will reveal unmistakably what this
administrator is made of.

Is "poisoned" too strong a word for what EPA and the Vertac operators
are doing to the people of Jacksonville? How dangerous is dioxin? EPA
has been studying this question for the past 2 years, and some
conclusions are beginning to emerge.

For at least a decade, EPA has considered dioxin so dangerous that
humans shouldn't be exposed to it at all. Then the paper industry and
the Chlorine Institute convinced EPA officials to take a fresh look at
available scientific evidence.

Dr. Kenneth Olden, director of the National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences (NIEHS) said recently, "I've looked at the data, and
I'm not aware of any new scientific studies that suggest it's not as
dangerous as we thought it was."[4] Dr. George Lucier of NIEHS says
dioxin is not only a carcinogen but it also increases the risk of
diabetes, reduces sperm count, and can cause birth defects by
disrupting the normal working of human calls. "I would say one's
concerns about [existing] environmental levels of dioxin have not been
diminished by recent scientific evidence," Lucier said.[4]

Linda Birnbaum, whom SCIENCE magazine calls "EPA's top dioxin
researcher," says, "In my opinion, there is no reason to believe that
dioxin is less hazardous than had been presumed in the past."[5] Taking
into account "toxic equivalency factors" for dioxin-like chemicals
(dibenzofurans and some PCBs), the current average of "dioxin
equivalents" in the blood of Americans is 50 parts per trillion [ppt]
and "Fifty ppt is a level we should be concerned about," Birnbaum told
SCIENCE.

In sum, the current best science says there's already enough dioxin in
the bodies of average Americans to create health risks. An incinerator
like the one in Jacksonville, raining dioxins down upon the heads and
homes of local citizens, is a public menace.

--Peter Montague

=====

[1] Sandy Davis, "Vertac leaks common, affidavit says," ARKANSAS
DEMOCRAT GAZETTE June 22, 1993, pgs. 1B, 3B.

[2] Sandy Davis, "Lawyer's letter asks EPA chief to stop 'poisoning' at
Vertac," ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT GAZETTE June 25, 1993, pg. 2B.

[3] Both affidavits are available from us for $4.00 each.

[4] Eric J. Greenberg, "Feds Warn of New Dioxin Dangers," NEW YORK
DAILY NEWS June 24, 1993, pg. 14.

[5] Richard Stone, "Dioxin: Still deadly," SCIENCE Vol. 260 (April 2,
1993), pg. 31.

Descriptor terms: epa; jacksonville, ar; vertac chemical co;
incineration; superfund; lawsuits; government accountability project;
ar; pesticides; 2,4,5-T; cbw; bill clinton; whistle blowers; stephen
reasoner; spills; hazardous waste; occupational safety and health;
carol browner; dioxin; kenneth olden; niehs; george lucier; linda
birnbaum;

IMPORTANT INCINERATOR MEETING OCTOBER 15-17

The Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (CCHW) and Ralph Nader
will co-sponsor a strategy session October 15-17 in Washington, D.C.:
"Smoke and Mirrors: Ending the Bad Science of Incineration." Phone Mike
Williams at CCHW: (703) 237-2249.

Descriptor terms: incineration; cchw; ralph nader; washington, dc; mike
williams;