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#64 - EPA Abandons Effort To License Ocean-Going Incineration Ships, 14-Feb-1988

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has "suspended all
agency activities supporting its ocean incineration program" because of
"severe budget constraints," the agency announced in early February.
The agency said cancelling the program will save $2.6 million per year.
The program was to develop rules for ocean-going ships burning liquid
hazardous wastes, to designate sites where such burning would be
allowed, and to establish criteria for evaluating companies seeking
permission to operate incinerator ships.

When the program was cancelled EPA was "nearing promulgation of final
regulations for designating ocean incineration sites off the coasts of
the U.S." and was just "weeks away" from seeking public comment on
proposed regulations covering the permit application process and
proposed criteria for evaluating permit applicants. The Gulf coast, the
East coast, and the Pacific coast all have been considered as possible
sites for ocean incineration in recent years. Citizen opposition has
been massive and adamant.

The EPA had had only two applicants for an ocean burning permit--
Chemical Waste Management, Inc. (CWMI), a subsidiary of the giant waste-
hauler, Waste Management, Inc., and SeaBurn, Inc., of Greenwich, CT.
CWMI owns two aging incinerator ships they bought from the Netherlands,
but on New Year's Eve, 1987, CWMI withdrew its application angrily,
blaming agency footdragging for its withdrawal, though to some
environmentalists it looked like ChemWaste might just be playing
possum. A spokesman for EPA said the agency's abandonment of its
rulemaking program had nothing whatever to do with ChemWaste's
withdrawal of its permit application a month earlier.

SeaBurn Inc. expressed surprise and disappointment at EPA's abandonment
of the program. SeaBurn has no ships but claims to have received
approval from the U.S. Coast Guard for a vessel design, and approval
from the EPA for an incinerator design. They claimed to have received
construction bids from shipyards but were awaiting an EPA permit before
beginning ship construction. An earlier firm in the business, At-Sea
Incineration, also of Greenwich, CT, had begun building two ships with
federal loan money when they went bankrupt. The EPA decision throws
into question the ownership of the two partially built ships that At-
Sea had started to build in Tacoma, WA. Litigation is underway among
private parties and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime
Administration, which had loaned money to At-Sea. The 1972 London
Dumping Convention says an incinerator ship can only sail under the
flag of a country that has "regulations resembling the parameters
delineated under the convention." The U.S. has no such regulations so
the ships, when completed, could not operate under U.S. flag in U.S.
waters. It seems possible, however, that the ships could operate under
foreign flag, or under the flag of a foreign subsidiary of a U.S. firm
if the foreign country had issued the necessary regulations.

The EPA said that its suspension of its rulemaking for ocean
incineration could be reversed if money becomes available in the future.

Beth Milleman of the Coast Alliance in Washington, DC, said she is
"very pleased" by the EPA decision but said she did not understand "why
they had to come up with that half baked story about losing their
funding." She points out that for a decade EPA has continued to support
ocean incineration as a method of hazardous waste disposal despite lack
of public and congressional support, despite scientific and legal
concerns raised during public debate on the issue, and despite the
recent decision by several European governments to abandon ocean
incineration in the North Sea by Jan. 1, 1995.

Ms. Milleman said EPA's decision to close up shop within weeks of
ChemWaste's abandonment of its permit application was "no coincidence"
and "speaks volumes about who is setting hazardous waste policy in this
country." She added that "if the EPA has any sense, they won't start
the program up again." The Coast Alliance can be reached by phone:
(202) 265-5518.

--Peter Montague

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U.S. DEATH RATE SURGED DURING SUMMER OF 1986: CAUSES DEBATED

A mysterious surge in the U.S. death rate during the summer of 1986 has
statisticians and medical professionals confounded and disturbed. Data
collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville,
MD, reveal that somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 more Americans than
usual died during the period May-August, 1986. Deaths from pneumonia
were up 18.1 and deaths for "all infectious diseases" were up 22.5%
compared to the same period in 1985.

Marvin Lavenhar, director of the division of biostatistics and
epidemiology at the New Jersey Medical School in Newark, says, "You
can't escape the fact that something happened in the summer of 1986."

The WALL STREET JOURNAL Feb. 8, 1988, reports that one researcher, Jay
M. Gould of the Institute for Policy Studies, in Washington, DC,
believes the increased deaths are statistically related to the cloud of
radioactive fallout that covered the U.S. from the Chernobyl nuclear
disaster. The clou reached the U.S. in early May, 1986. The amount of
fallout on this country varied from place to place with rainfall.

Mr. Gould compared deaths in each of the nation's nine census regions
with the amount of radioactive iodine-131 reported by U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitoring stations, which
regularly measure radioactive iodine in cow's milk. In states like
Arizona and Texas, iodine levels were lowest and so were deaths. In
California and Washington state, iodine was highest and so were deaths.
Mr. Gould reports a consistent pattern across the country: the higher
the iodine levels, the higher the deaths. Infant mortality figures also
correlated strongly with iodine levels. A statistical correlation does
not prove a cause and effect relationship.

Mr. Gould's work has set off a debate among medical people. Most cannot
accept the idea that modest increases in radioactive iodine and other
fallou could cause such noticeable health effects. Fallout levels in
Europe were 100 to 1000 times higher that they were in the U.S. during
the same period and Europeans are not reporting increased death rates.
Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass, emeritus professor of radiological physics at
University of Pittsburgh, who has figured prominently in past
controversies over the effects of low-level radiation on health,
asserts that low doses of ingested radiation are more destructive of
cell tissue than higher doses of shorter duration. Others dispute this
hypothesis.

Neal Nelson, a radiation biologist with the EPA, says Mr. Gould's
analysis i "of interest " and "should be evaluated on its merits." Dr.
Donald Luria, chairman of the New Jersey Medical School's department of
preventive medicin and community health says, "You cannot look at this
blip on the data base an say 'So what?'" After a negative initial
reaction to Mr. Gould's hypothesis Dr. Luria said, "I've been persuaded
that there is enough there to merit a good look. It would be unwise to
treat Gould's findings dismissively, and equally unwise to
overinterpret them." Mr. Gould can be reached at (202) 234-9382.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: death statistics; death; health; health statistics;
radiation; nuclear power; chernobyl; soviet union; data; national
center for health statistics; pneumonia; fallout; iodine; irradiation;
infectious diseases; marvin lavenhar; studies; findings; jay gould;
institute for policy studies; iodine-131; ca; wa; az; ernest
sternglass; neal nelson; epa; donald luria; physicians; incineration;
ocean incineration; epa; siting; criteria; regulations; citizen groups;
cwmi; wmi; SeaBurn, inc; ct; at-sea incineration, inc; dot; federal;
beth milleman; coast alliance; congress;