Officials of Chemical Waste Management, Inc., are "either grossly
negligent... or they don't know what's going on [in their own
company]," says Buddy Cox, chief of the hazardous waste branch of the
Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). Chemical Waste
Management (ChemWaste), a subsidiary of Waste Management, Inc., runs
America's largest chemical waste dump, at Emelle, in Sumter County,
According to the Birmingham News (Sept. 27, 1987, pg. 1), Mr. Cox is
asking himself, "If ChemWaste officials in Baton Rouge could so badly
mishandle one of the most toxic of all chemicals [dioxin], then how
much confidence should the public place in the company's other
operations, including Emelle?"
This story begins in 1972 when surplus herbicide was shipped from Kelly
Air Force Base in Texas to a federal surplus property outlet in Baton
Rouge, LA. From there, it was sold to Louisiana hospitals, schools, and
other public facilities.
A teacher at Capitol High School in Baton Rouge noticed that plants in
the school's greenhouse were deformed with elongated leaves--a sign of
exposure to 2,4,5-T, a weed-killer typically contaminated with dioxin.
According to H.F. Calhoun, director of pesticide and environmental
programs for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry
(LDAF), samples from a ruptured barrel of herbicide outside the
greenhouse revealed 2,4,5-T, including "levels of dioxin that we would
have expected of military-vintage 2,4,5-T at that time." The herbicide
2,4,5-T was widely used to defoliate jungles in Vietnam; thousands of
American GIs are now suing the U.S. government and several chemical
companies for exposing them to the hazardous, dioxin-containing
herbicide. Because of the dioxin risk, all use of 2,4,5-T was banned in
the U.S. in 1986.
During 1983, Mr. Calhoun's department traced and recalled 14 additional
barrels of 2,4,5-T that had originated with that shipment from Kelly
Air Force Base back in 1972. Not knowing what else to do with the
dangerous wastes, LDAF asked their manufacturer to take them back. The
manufacturer hired Chemical Waste Management, Inc. (ChemWaste) to take
the drums away. Chemwaste hauled them away alright, but not to a proper
waste disposal facility. Instead Chemwaste rented a mini-warehouse--a
rental storage space intended for consumers to store household
articles. A typical cubicle in David Min-U-Storage, where Chemwaste
stashed the herbicide, rents for $35 per month. Mr. Calhoun's records
of the event include phone message slips, one of which reveals that
ChemWaste officials told the manufacturer of the herbicide that they
had found "secure storage" for the dangerous chemicals.
According to an official of LDAF, when ChemWaste arrived September 23,
1985 to pick up the chemicals, he asked them for a manifest. A manifest
is an official paper that declares where hazardous wastes are being
taken. The officials says he was told by ChemWaste that no manifest was
needed--a statement the official now recognizes was false.
Chemwaste hauled the 14 drums of poison to their rented consumer
cubicle, where it remained for two years. Storing chemicals in such a
place is a violation of federal law and state law, and it also violated
the rental contract on the space, which prohibited storage of chemicals
and other "inherently dangerous materials."
As luck would have it, thieves or vandals broke into several of David
Min-U-Storage's rental spaces, one of them ChemWaste's, and the jig was
up. Manager of the rental spaces, Kerrie Lemieux, told reporters she
entered ChemWaste's cubicle and smelled a "weird" odor. She saw all the
drums, called ChemWaste and asked if the chemicals were toxic and, she
says, "They told me no." Naturally, a flap ensued.
ChemWaste then shipped the wastes from the security of David Min- U-
Storage in Louisiana to their landfill at Emelle, Alabama, where the
wastes presently reside. Chemwaste's Emelle site is not authorized to
store or dispose of dioxin wastes, so acceptance of the waste at the
Emelle site was a further violation of federal law. The Alabama
Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has ordered ChemWaste to
remove the wastes from the Emelle site and to pay a $20,000 fine. ADEM
is also holding up issuance of a permanent license for the Emelle site,
which has been operating under a temporary license since 1980.
According to the Birmingham News, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency has ruled that Chem-waste violated its federal permit when it
accepted dioxin-contaminated herbicides at Emelle; however, EPA has
imposed no penalty on the company. EPA has a long, consistent record of
ignoring this particular company's infractions of the law, and of
fining the company amounts that are less than the profits the company
has earned by breaking the law. One whistle-blowing EPA official has
been widely quoted saying that it looks to him as if the EPA is a
wholly-owned subsidiary of Waste Management, Inc.
ChemWaste has fired the man chiefly responsible for arranging the
storage of hazardous chemicals in a flimsy public storage cubicle. They
have brought charges him, claiming he was acting as an individual and
not on behalf of Chemwaste the corporation. However, Mr. Calhoun's
telephone slips dating back to September, 1985, show that at least
three separate Chemwaste officials negotiated with Louisiana Department
of Agriculture over removal of the wastes and that Chemwaste, the
corporation, not an individual, rented the cubicle at David Min-U-
Storage. And by the time the federal permit at Emelle was violated by
acceptance of the dioxin-contaminated wastes, the ousted Chemwaste
official was long gone.
It looks as if Chemwaste is up to its old high jinx once again. It also
looks as if the U.S. EPA is winking at the continued violation of the
permit at Emelle, proving once again that where this particular company
and this particular federal agency are concerned, crime pays.
* * *
[Our thanks to Linda Wallace Campbell of Alabamians for a Clean
Environment, P.O. Drawer 1526, Livingston, AL 35470, for alerting us to
the facts in this matter.
ChemWaste is Waste Management, Inc.'s hazardous waste subsidiary. They
are expanding aggressively throughout the world. If you have a story
about them, please contact us.]
Descriptor terms: cwmi; al; herbicides; dioxin; pesticides; hazardous
waste treatment technologies; hazardous waste disposal technologies;
emelle, al; la; epa; wmi;